男女激烈动态黄图Tricks of the trade, discussion of design principles, and musings and rants about theater from a working theater technician/designer.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

In a white room with black curtains by the station

Battersea sequence is almost finished. In the middle of writing it I realized it was a pretty good Tomb Crawl.

Well, duh, that's why it was in the outline in the first place. I sort of forgot in the struggle to write the thing. So my protagonist is deep in a maze of passages, climbing and crawling and otherwise struggling to break through to spectacular hidden chambers, solving puzzles and dealing with dangers both environmental and human. Well, not really the puzzles. That will have to wait.

So about as close as I can get to a classic "steal the golden idol from the booby-trapped ancient temple" and not completely violate serious history and modern archaeology.


The rewrite was great and reinforces why the "get the draft on paper first" style works. I'm a revise-as-you-go but the idea is still there.

The first version of the abseil scene was perfectly functional. I had Penny open a few stitches so focus would go on that after the rescue and I wouldn't have to figure out what everyone's reactions would be otherwise.

Yeah, better choices. The revision, there's more emotion. She does not have a plan when she grabs him, so there's more tension and it helps advance the theme of her plunging into things unwisely -- something this book is going to make her think about more. And the obvious aftermath was, when I thought about it, that the guy she rescued would get angry and blame her for all of it.

I won't be surprised if I don't come up with a stronger way to play the Goldeneye N64 scene as well. That went decently. The Station A control room is really harder to describe. Little annoying stuff, like I can't say a paneled ceiling because it makes it sound like there's control panels up there. And it is also showing me that more and more I'm changing a place slightly because it is easier to describe that way. That's not good historical fiction work there.


I'm almost done with Battersea. Should clock in around 5K when done, right on estimates. Just have to figure out where I'm going with the White Room.

The only reference I've seen on it is it was a "minimalist mock-up" of a luxury flat with hot tub and walls that were mirrors when they weren't white. Here I'm changing history and making something more interesting but I am having trouble deciding what.

The conclusion to this is a grudging acceptance of preservation of history via redevelopment projects like this, where the old control room can be rented out for weddings (yes, just check their website). So I'd like that whatever the white room is, it pays homage to the original station and doesn't just use it as a convenient shell.

But I don't know what. Maybe I should just go with the hot tub. And black curtains.


White room scene is done. Going by the dates on blog posts, that's 6,400 words in 7 days. I'm hoping to get some of the next scene on paper before the weekend is over but I suspect it won't be many.

(And, yes, that means that over the Battersea sequence I name-dropped two movies, a game, two songs, an album cover, and four or five fictional characters. Plus made two more veiled Doctor Who references and there's a character who has clear roots to Blade Runner.)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

My poor Krell

Two steps forwards, one step back.

I figured out the basics of how the Goldeneye N64 scene should work. And decided the way I'd resolved the Eiger Sanction bit didn't.

Fortunately I'm getting better and better at changing the whole thrust of a scene while keeping bulk of the work. Basically, I'm getting faster at knocking out raw prose and I'm not in such a love of my words I feel I have to keep the original draft. So I can throw out an entire dialog exchange and, using what I learned in writing the previous one, whip out a completely new one in almost no time.

I hate to agree with the "rough draft at any cost" crowd, but having something on paper, anything at all, does make it easier to work out the wrinkles.

So, yeah, I've got skullduggery in the control room. And Control Room A is pretty wild:

That's the 1930's one; construction started n 1927, they started generating power in 1934 and tidied up until 1935. They spent money lavishly on this side; it was all designed to let important visitors stroll around admiring the "Temple of Power" (yes, they called it that).

And I was so careful to set things up so my characters infiltrate through to Station A. But even though they weren't able to finish Station B until after the war, spent a lot less money, and had to "make do" with stainless steel. this is what they ended up with for Control Room B:

And that's the one that looks like a set from Forbidden Planet. Also easier to describe, and could make for more convenient blocking (that is, arranging the not-really-a-fight scene.)

Well, I think I've already bollixed up enough of my description. I'm using the excuse that the building was changing almost daily once the reconstruction started, and I'm selectively drawing elements across a span of a couple of years, anyhow. But that doesn't excuse that I am really not sure what the turbine hall looked like. For all the time people have been writing about this place, getting complete descriptions is tough.

Well, I'm also thinking of going wild with The White Room. Somewhere, if you read the right trade magazines or knew the architects, you could get the correct story on the mock-up of a luxury suite that was constructed some time between 2008 and 2012. As of 2016, it was apparently one of those rumored grail-like objects among the roof and tunnel crowd. And almost certainly less spectacular in reality than it is in the stories.

Well, I'm thinking of doing something a lot wackier. A modern Art Deco, probably, although Spaceship Cabin is mildly attractive, especially with a Diesel Punk flavor. Thing is, it all depends on how the Control Room scene arc works out. It may be that the chapter will end there instead and we'll never see the White Room. White or not.

(There's a running gag in the Nine Elms Station dig about the Green tiles which are mostly white. You take your fun where you can find it.)


And I'm already wiped out after recovering from sick and pulling a full day at work in the heat. I'm glad tomorrow is a half day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Rapping crab

Well I dunno. I went to work, didn't feel good, and even though I stayed until 2:00 took myself off the clock for the day. And called in sick today. Probably not the virus. Feels familiar. Sometimes my gas line just gets some water in it and experience says the best thing to do is rest and wait for it to go away.


Moved my Animals and did some other minor edits but most of yesterday was doing a cover-to-current-point re-read of the whole text. This time, the politics stood out and some of the history was repetitive. It's a timing thing. I wanted to have the diary-writer give her W.W.II experiences but I wasn't able to set it up so that's the primary account.

This morning's task is to work out the mechanics for the abseil scene.

Here's the setup. The infiltrators are abseiling down into Battersea Power Station. Fawkes is showing off, makes a stupid mistake, and Penny has to put her own life at risk to save him.

My constraints, then, is I have to describe this so it sells the beats to the reader; that Penny knows what she is doing and Fawkes doesn't and the only choice open to her is a risky stunt. It would kill the scene if the reader has constructed it differently enough in their mind that they are yelling, "Just grab the rope, you idiot!"

It has to be concise, both for flow and to avoid the conservation of detail trap (aka the Chekhov's Gun problem). And for extra points; it should adhere to standard practice if any part of it reaches the standard of reproducibility (don't tell the kids how to make explosives at home), and it shouldn't require bad-naming manufacturers or products.

I was playing with having him set up for an Australian, but that just adds too much time and detail to the moment (even though it simplifies the rescue tremendously). Same goes for Dülfersitz technique.

I was tempted to use a gri-gri. A backwards gri-gri is an easy-to-make real world mistake, and they occupy that perfect place where they are suspiciously new and high-tech and novice climbers very much are attracted to it's auto-lock and ease of use and, as a result, put themselves and others at risk through not understanding it properly.

But that's too much explanation, and it puts too much emphasis on the particular tool and manufacturer thereof.

So I'm still flirting with a double-carabiner setup, wrapped incorrectly. The big problem with this is that the rope is still there and that confuses a lot of the rescue. (We call it rapping/rappelling here and shorten carabiner to 'biner. Europe prefers abseilling and shortens it to a crab.)

The best I've come up with so far is the basic tubular belay device (I'd call it a Reverso to make the text flow more smoothly but, again, Petzl.)

And this is where I feel my kind of detail is the right choice. Because this isn't a Wikipedia vomit. Sure, you probably could construct the mechanics of this with enough time reading up and watching videos. That's more or less how I learned. Except that I've actually done it. I've done standard, Australian, I've even used a gri-gri. And I've gotten it wrong. Nearly hurt myself bad at least once (used a belay device on a line that was too thin for it to grip properly and nearly burned my hand as well as pancaking).

Here's the trick, and I hope I can describe it with economy in the actual scene. The typical tubular belay device (sigh) has a wire loop that keeps it from sliding up the bight and also makes it easier to carry around. When you rig for belay (or abseil) you form a bend or bight in the rope and shove it into the device. Then you take a crab and clip it through the loop of rope and the wire loop as well.

I've done it a dozen times. It is always so obvious I've never gotten in even the slightest danger over it. You clip the wire loop (which is kind of in the way, especially if you are fumbling at this with gloves on) ...and miss the rope.

The clean way to do it is to unclip everything, attach the belay device to the rope, then bring the crab back to your harness and clip it to the belay loop. Then of course you do a buddy check, but Fawkes' arrogance in omitting that is easy to describe.

The lazy way, especially if you already have the thing clipped on for easy storage, is to pull the rope to you, shove the loop in and feel for it with your fingers so you open the crab and close it again without losing the wire loop. Spin the lock closed on the crab and you are done.

Now I just have to write the scene.


That scene is done and I count a thousand words of new material but yesterday was mostly editing to that knocks the average down to five hundred. Unless I can figure out the NEXT fun sequence. Penny knows that one of the guys on this infiltration shot at her. What I want to do is having her sneak around the turbine hall or something trying to get behind him without giving him a chance to get the drop on her...and without being sure which guy it is!

Well, the turbine hall is gutted. The electrical rooms are still there and I might be able to plausibly do some sneaking. I suspect it will come out less exciting in print than it was in my imagination. That's what happened to the Highgate sequence.

Man, there's still a lot to go. The sword fight may take some figuring. And then the solo hack into the tunnel is going to be a few pages.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Hey, batter batter!

And now I'm excited again.

That's a crop from a brochure produced for the current redevelopment; officially begun in 2012 but wouldn't have opened this year even without the virus.

I cranked out 1,400 words of the Battersea Power Station excursion yesterday. Add 1,700 words for the UXB scene and that's a good weekend's work. Feels nice. I was still hot and feeling drained today -- I'm hoping it isn't mild/asymptomatic virus because I haven't been self-quarantining. But I'm hoping to get through the scene with the death-defying abseil stunt.

I do need a light rewrite or two. The "animals" is still happening on the coaling jetty but the framing is different. And it is so good to finally meet Guy (the closest thing I have to a pure antagonist in this book).

Just for my peace of mind, nobody on the Battersea hack has a regional dialect. Or an unusual way of speaking, even. There's only four of them and they are never coming back and Cynth is doing most of the talking anyhow so I am fine with just having a bunch of dialog tags here.

And the luck for this evening: I decided I really wanted to know which was Station A and which Station B. It took a bit of searching -- search results clogged up with far too many articles about the various redevelopment schemes -- but the one I finally found gave me the older Station on the West. And since the infiltration starts from the East, that means they will have to cross No-Man's Land (and, yes, real urban explorers gave it that name).


The thing that's worrying me more is, yes, that is a real redevelopment. A consortium of Malaysian developers, and several big names signed on for shop space and office space, including Apple Computers.

The big word around trademark questions is "Don't mess with the mouse." Well, I'm not sure I'd want to mess with Apple, either. Charlie Stross did, though. He had his character talk about "the cult of Jobs" in one book, and blame "a level-III glamour" on his purchase of what he identified in narrative as a Jesus-Phone. Which he booby-trapped, leading to a bad guy being magic-enhanced electrocuted by the ear buds, dancing in place with the wires white-hot before turning into a blackened corpse.

But then, Stross can afford lawyers.

My current rule of thumb is, if I am going to mention a real business it should be treated neutrally at worst. In fact, I just edited a line I had written about the fish & chips you can buy in the museum cafe at IWM London; from "They weren't good," to "They were better than I'd expected." Okay, honestly, museum food? Despite that particular cafe going out of its way to strive for and claim a higher standard. But it didn't harm the scene for the chips to be actually good.

The point is, during the Battersea hack I'm going to be saying some mean things about SP Setia and Sime Darby. And this is where I have to fall back on the second line of defense; it ain't libel if it's true. There should be a certain protection for opinion of characters and author, especially if it falls well within what a review or opinion piece might say.

Yeah, great time to realize that. The London Field School, the Lambeth Larks, two pubs, several shops and a few social clubs are all fictional. However, I'm also not just mentioning, but actually doing things in or with Transport for London, Crossrail, the Northern Line Extension, IWM London, The New Globe Theatre, the Trafalgar art project, Bradgate Park, the University of Leicester, The Foundry, The India Club, Potter's Field, Highgate Cemetery, Doctor Who, James Bond, Time Team, Detectorists, Dad's Army...

And Battersea Power Station.

I guess this is another bright line problem. Parts of this are historical fiction. Sure, the Nine Elms Shelter is fictional, but I am staying within what is reasonable for the place and time and I am very much getting the details right about the "ladder" shelter at Kennington Park or the Balham Station disaster.

And it is in part still travel fiction, so yes Trafalgar Square and the Tower of London and Black Cabs and, yes, fish & chips should be right.

So it just feels weird and wrong to have events suddenly happening at Chelsea Power Station and The Museum of the War and Bushby-on-Thames and The Wooden O, just because I might have a sword fight happen on the premises or say something mean about the fish & chips.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

What's the vector, Victor?

Finally got to the Battersea Power Station sequence.

Not even sure I'm looking forward to it at this point. I've reached that point in the book -- I recognize it from two previous books now -- where it has become a total slog.

And I'm really concerned by how much shit there is in it. A cast full of Brits being verbally clever. Yeah, that will go well. Everyone is dropping local references constantly. Yeah, I suppose that would happen anywhere and a good writer would probably cut them out. Dialog is, after all, selective. It is an edited experience, a more focused version of what actually happens. Like everything in fiction.

So I got done with the scene when there are protesters outside (there's too much redevelopment happening in the area, mostly foreign money too), there are survivors from the time of the war and their family and reporters and someone from IWM London and they are all swapping stories about wartime London. And then they find what looks like a UXB.

At the moment, as generally happy as I am with that chapter, I consider it a greater gain that this is the last we'll see of Helen and Martha and poor old Douglas, Nyovani Brent from the museum and Marc the photographer. And Sir Anthony Robinson, but he was only there for a walk-on and one stupid joke. "Don't worry, mate. I'm sure she has a cunning plan."

(Yes, that's another unexplained English pop-culture reference. What did I say?)


And now I'm into the chapter where Penny is hooked up with a bunch of Urbex folk who are breaking into Battersea Power Station and one of them is the person who shot at her. So, yeah, it's Eiger Sanction with glowsticks and goth make-up.

Sort of. The Urbex folk are showing off and will be talking up a storm about their own mysterious world of sloaps and toads (Temporary, Obsolete, Abandoned or Derelict Spaces.) But they are also making a compelling case that by breaking in and taking photographs of abandoned spaces they are in their own way opposing the mindless bulldozing of redevelopment and helping to preserve a memory of the past.

So the first thing I needed to do was the meet-up. And that was thirty minutes of Google Map, the NOAA Solar Position Calculator, and TimeandDate, which I've been finding a little easier to work with lately than the Weather Underground. And, no, they can't do the Animals album cover, but the Urbexers can at least pose against the twilight sky with the power station a black silhouette behind them.


The damned name-drops are not going to stop. Once the excursion is done, the next is the Black Cab Chase (which since I don't have The Knowledge is not going to get well described) then a talk about a talk about comparing some themes in pre-war Pulp SF with famous sieges from mostly Western history. With two different undertexts going on.

And THEN I get to visit a theatre just long enough to get Pantomime explained, before running off to have a sword fight at the Globe.

The next chapter after that I hope I will have finished reading up on the "BRO" by then because that's when my protagonist finally figures out about the stash of guns and incendiary devices under the Nine Elms station. And her fellow reenactor babbles about ropey types pranging a cheeseeye kite on bumps and circuits but that's a nothing. I'm cribbing the one famous one and will leave it.

Although same scene we are also going to explain why a pig's ear, the sweeney, and nice bristols.

Japan. Japan is going to be way different.

Pity the long plan says Templar Secrets in Paris next....

Saturday, June 13, 2020

"Sword and magic heeeelmet!"

Yeah, I guess I got bored at work.

I've been working "Ride of the Valkyries" and the silly idea occurred to do a "learning the trombone" video that just cross-cut from first notes to simple scales to, well...  And add a helmet and some flames or something. Except that I hate wrestling with my green screen and it is too small for shooting a trombone performance.

So I made this an exercise in exploring all the "if you don't have casting resin, here's a hardware store substitute you can use" techniques. Substitute my little shop at work for hardware store, and I have several things that that are not really hardware store. Like a bolt of muslin cloth, like some industrial resin, like the white expanded foam. Even barge cement.

So I did this without a real plan, without mock-ups, and with a lot of "oops" moments as one of the materials didn't behave as intended. At least at the end of it, I'd managed to throw out all my Oomoo and Rebound and three cans of Bondo that had all gone bad. So it helped with the house-cleaning, too!

If you really need the whole list, I made a rambling post at the RPF. The shell is glue-muslin, the horns expanded foam reinforced with resin mixed 3:1 with Durham's Water Putty to thicken it, the studs are cast in Durham's using a mold made of white bathtub caulk on an original carved from the end of a dowel.

So, yeah, learning experience. It works fine for what it was intended to be (really, I would have been just as happy with something even sillier and cruder looking. Maybe I'll add a shredded-paper beard when I do the video). The main complaint I had is too much going back and fixing stuff that didn't work right.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Not many people can pull off a decorative vegetable

It was probably a mistake to read so many things from UK authors while I was working on this novel.

Well, it isn't like I read most of what was on my want list. I just turned down a diary by a woman who worked at a lathe building parts for airplanes. During the war, that is. And there's another one which is mostly about the East End but still (from the sample chapters at least) all sorts of amazing things about being urban working poor during the war.

(And no, I didn't finish either of my archaeology books, either. Although I did read cover to cover a book about CRM planning. It wasn't actually much of a help but it was cheap.)

UK writers love being obscure. I was just reading a comment on Cockney Rhyming Slang that explained how the greatest art was coming up with one the listener had to strain to get. There's no street cred in using the slang everybody knows already.

And, well, using Ben Aaronovitch's books as an example isn't completely fair. He is writing for a post-Google audience. I think he completely expects you to notice when he is making a pop culture reference and, if you don't know it, type it into a search engine then and there. (Especially for ebooks as you can do that within Kindle Reader).

Example; when he's mentioned that some of the "Falcon-Aware" (as in, they know that magic exists) street cops have started joking about putting garlic buds in their lapels, "Seawoll suggested celery but I was the only one who got it."

So he's told you right off that celery in the lapel is a pop-culture reference and it is an obscure one, too. Oh and Ben used to write for Doctor Who.


I think I mentioned somewhere else that one of the things going on in these books is learning language and having fun with language. So Penny is picking up various sorts of UK usage and slang. But whereas the first book was largely blow-by-blow, covering every waking instant, this one crosses several weeks and there is quite a lot of "three days later..." in it.

So there's an entire scene where someone explains what "pants" means in British English. But within a scene or two either way Penny is referring to a cell phone as a "mobile" in the narration.

I'm really everywhere with the narration, anyhow. She's mostly using the American terminology and I've gone out of my way to assert it in a couple of places -- she describes Graham's place as a row house with entrances on the first floor, for instance. But various bits of correct (aka UK usage) language sneak in over time and most of them aren't explained to the reader except in context.


I have a scrap of graph paper where I jotted down the numbers from a couple of podcasters who believe in more structured plotting. It isn't quite Save the Cat level, but it is very much, "The first plot point must occur at 22% of the length of the book..."

Well, a quick stroll through the page counts and I'm coming within a few percent so far. And that's without having nailed down things with a heavily structured outline. Just instinct for how long to run a chapter and when something needed to happen. That's good to find.


Took a day and a half off work. Was so tired I ordered dinner so I'd have to stay awake (and hopefully get some writing done) while I waiter while I waited for it to arrive. Well, delivery was quick. The food arrived in under an hour and I was in bed in another. Slept twelve hours, and still was dragging today.

But I also got some four hundred words done that night, and another four hundred in the morning. Perhaps I've finally hit the place where it will start to go quickly.

Of course I'm plowing through another crazy conversation right now. The outline is, "Things become increasingly uncomfortable between Graham and Penny." (There's a blow-up scheduled in another couple of chapters). So subtext happening during a conversation. And what's the conversation? Why, about how the war changed society. Yeah, there's a few things there I have to look up as I go.


Stayed late today to have some peace and quite to practice brass. The trombone is now...functional. I can more-or-less get through a tune on it. I'd like to work the higher, sweeter register more but, really, I picked it up for the low end and all in all I like the trumpet better. The trombone lip is just too big and blubbery and the slide isn't as satisfying as tapping those trumpet valves.

So I pulled out the trumpet and my lip is still mostly there. Blew the cleanest, nicest-sounding (aka bright, sweet, brassy tone) "Slag Morning" (aka Pazu's trumpet tune from Laputa). But I've just barely got the C above the staff. I have lost a little lip in the reduced practice hours.

Oh and yes "Masterpiece Theatre" is next in my practice rotation and the damn thing starts on the second C. With a trill that's either on the top of the staff or just above it.

Plus I built a helmet. But that's another post.