top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlan Dale

Welcome Hints – They’re Stories With An Image Problem

or how fearful whispers may herald very promising fictional material

When I began plotting my début novel, Theta Double dot, I knew I’d need several twists of a technical nature. This was one of the main attractions of the basic premise. Committing actually to write a novel predicated on it pitchforked me into sudden urgent necessity.

My first instinct was to review my career for potentially useful material. After all, “write about what you know” frequently relates to experience, rather than isolated facts.

I didn’t have far to look.

The most immediately relevant example came from my work in the petrochemical engineering industry. I realised that one of our greatest dreads offered just the fictional nightmare I sought for my narrative.

Pressure vessel design procedures are necessarily festooned with interlocking checks on absolutely every aspect of every stage of progress. These cover the application of relevant design standards, material selection and manufacturing procedures, such as welding, painting, electrical wiring, fabrication and testing. The qualification of key suppliers’ or subcontractors’ staff, to carry out welding and other safety critical functions, forms another large group of categories. There are numerous others, but these were the most relevant to the tale that I wished to tell.

Such a rigorous regime of critically interdependent requirements naturally demanded meticulous, unflagging attention to detail, on everyone’s part. The associated documentation also required accurate and hence, (at least implicitly), safety-enhancing cross-referencing.

So far, so very predictable. Isn’t that the endless, implacable nature of work, for millions?

One other requirement existed, however, that offered me, as an aspiring novelist, with a game-changing difference between the utterly mundane and the devastating.

It wasn’t yet another verbose set of intricately correlated vital certificates, witnessed test results, technical or manufacturing dossiers. It wasn’t part of the blizzard of contractual paperwork accompanying each job.

It was a simple assumption.

Remove it, and, as I realised, this entire administrative and technical structure collapsed.

Just what I needed!

It was called trust. Mutual, overarching, omnipresent trust. Its absence was hinted at, the minute any document, result, drawing or result failed to match, confirm, verify or support its counterpart. That unmistakeable frisson of gut-wrenching panic would clap its icy hand on involved shoulders. Hushed murmurs instantly replaced normal speech. Files were hastily pulled from shelves and ransacked for corroborating data.

Worst of all would come the dreaded enquiry to a passing colleague:

“Have you got a minute, Steve?”

Another, perhaps slightly subtler version of this idea occurred in various guises in some of my earlier work.

I served my post-graduate apprenticeship at a diesel engine manufacturer, in the seventies. During my first appointment, in the drawing office, having completed my training, I began to hear hushed references to the “flat four”. This, in engine design parlance, was a machine with four horizontal cylinders arranged in two pairs, one pair each side of a common central crankshaft.

Most topics were freely discussed among the designers and draughtsmen, as in any other staff group or profession.

Whenever this beast was mentioned, however, nuanced undertones were accompanied by furtive glances over shoulders. This shadowy entity, apparently, was a prototype, from what little I managed to overhear, being developed with an overseas associate company.

During my entire time at the firm, I glimpsed it but once. I happened to glance through a pair of open test cell doors. There it was, lurking on its test bed, squat and crab-like, as if ready to scuttle into hiding.

Looking quickly around, I nipped in. The squat design, (contrasting with our other, more perpendicular diesels), plus the hose “tentacles” from its exhaust manifold ducting, suggested poised crustacean power.

Sudden rapid footsteps sounded. Several glowering, intimidatingly senior-looking suited individuals appeared in the not very far distance. I legged it.

Nearly fifty years later, I look back and can only relish the dramatic potential of that incident, and its excellent, tension-building prequel. Straight into the ideas file – short story? More blog posts? Article about seventies levels of transparency? Who knows?

My first novel, Theta Double Dot, a thriller, has been published by Austin Macauley and may be purchased from them, or Amazon.

Click on the links below, for the Austin Macauley or Amazon website page. I hope you really enjoy it – if you do, please leave a review on Amazon. Many thanks!

11 views0 comments
bottom of page