Saturday, 20 April 2013

Gimme Yer Money!

I know what you are probably thinking, but you are wrong. This is not yet another plea to buy my novel. It is actually something that a complete stranger screamed at me just after they had punched me in the back of the head. It is fair to say that this was not one of my better days. In fact, when I look back, it was probably my worst.

The day had not begun auspiciously. After a turbulent six hour flight from Sydney to Perth I discovered that my backpack had not been travelling on the plane with me. This left me having to check in to a hostel in a strange city with nothing but quite literally, the clothes on my back (and legs - I always travel in pants). To make matters worse, I was placed in a dorm with a loved up Scottish couple, a Korean guy who spoke no English whatsoever and a very creepy looking man in his fifties (many of his possessions were stored in carrier bags). And to cap it off, the entire place was infested with bed bugs.

As I walked into town (it was a long walk too - the hostel was about 3km from the centre) in 35 degree heat (celsius that is, for any Americans who may think that it was a cold day) I could not help but dwell on my decision to leave Sydney. I had been there for the previous six months and had lived in a nice flat, had loads of friends, knew the city well (and loved it) and had very recently hooked up with my hot flatmate after a long time trying. And now I had given it all up.

I was at my lowest ebb since I had started backpacking and searched for a sign, any sign to show me if I was doing the right thing. That is when it hit me. Not the sign (although I do tend to walk into them sometimes. Usually the ones that say To Let), but the fist. Straight into the back of my head. My first thought was "ouch", quickly followed by "what the f**k?" and finally just "???" For some reason, I was expecting to know the person whom had hit me. I didn't know them. And to make matters worse it was a girl. She was about sixteen.

     'Gimme yer money!' she screamed at me.

I stared back at her blankly. It did not feel so much like I was being mugged, but more that I was starring in a really dreadful amateur dramatic production.

     'Gimme yer money,' she repeated, this time grabbing hold of my t-shirt and raising her fist like she was going to hit me again.

     'F**k off,' I told her and pulled her hand away from me. She grabbed back hold of my t-shirt and repeated her threat. She tried to hit me this time, but swung her balled fist like it was a tennis racket and I easily blocked her attempted blows.

     'You aren't getting any money, so just f**k off,' I told her, but to no avail. She just kept digging her talons into my t-shirt (okay, so she did not have actual talons, but I have to try something to make the sixteen year old girl that was attempting to mug me sound threatening). Realising that she was not going to give in, I decided that I needed to walk away. This was not easy and I ended up dragging her along with me for a few paces, so I decided that there was no option but to shove her off a little more sharply and jog away (what? - it was a teenage girl. I could hardly stay and fight could I). Once I was free of her, I turned and stepped onto the road and straight into the path of an oncoming car. It did not hit me, but only just.

The child mugger had gotten me annoyed and I had not been having the best of days to begin with as I earlier stated, so this newest near catastrophe tipped me over the edge. I was filled with a rage that I had rarely felt before or since. Beating up the car would have been more ridiculous than the girl, if only a little more tasteful. Instead, I channeled all of my pent up energy into my feet and ran. I did not know where I was running to or when I would stop, I just wanted to keep on going. All the way back to Sydney if I could have.

Looking back, it is difficult to see how any positives could be taken from that dreadful experience in Perth (remember, it happened in broad daylight on a quiet residential area and there was even a police station on the same street). As writers though, we are perfectly placed to take the ghosts from our past and turn them into something new.

When working on my first novel, I soon realised that most of the action was to take place in the latter half of the story. The beginning, though well written, needed something adding to it. A bit of action to stir things up. When I had been working the harvest trail, I had heard many stories about the local children sneaking into camp and stealing clothes from the washing line and had contemplated working a little chase scene into the story based around this. Not a very exciting idea, backpacker chases kids to get his socks back! That is when the idea of a mugging hit me. It was perfect. An unexpected attack by seemingly harmless perpetrators on a sunny residential street. I would never have thought of it if it had not happened to me, as most people tend to think of muggings occurring at night in dark, creepy back alleyways.

What I did was to take an awful experience from my past and create something positive from it. Now when I think back to that attempted mugging, I look back on it fondly. If it had not happened then my story would not have been as rich for it. It was a sign after all, just not in the way that I expected.

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  1. What a horrible and strange day.

    However, as you write it, I can see the potential these events have for you to turn them into gold!

    1. A lot of my best writing comes from direct experience. My second novel is based on a nightmare border crossing where I was sold the wrong ticket by a travel agent (misunderstanding due to them not speaking English). I turned it into fiction by beginning with the premise of what may happen if it was not a misunderstanding, but a deliberate scam. Why would they want to do that? Through my writing, some of my worst memories are becoming my fondest, which is kind of weird!

  2. interesting dramatic moment here and reflection as to how you were able to use it as a writer. I'd like to use this post in the upcoming issue of The Woven Tale press. You can see current issue here:

    email me at referencing this post url.
    Thanks. Good read.

  3. Thanks Sandra. I have just had a look at the latest issue and I will be honoured for you to print one of my posts. I am sending the URL now.