Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Gentleman Smuggler*

Miles was a middle aged ordinary gentleman. Though the fact alone that he was a gentleman, was , nothing ordinary, not in the modern world anyway. His grey hair that stood up like wire in places, was shoulder length and sometimes gave him that crazy Einstein look. His voice crackling, almost rough but always pleasant. Very polite Mr. Miles was, nothing that you would associate with a criminal or a smuggler.
In fact when one thinks of a smuggler, the image is more like of a youngish tall shaven headed tracksuit gorilla than this almost petite man, but this elegant man was in fact, a smuggler.

This simple gentleman, spent his time travelling to Switzerland spending a couple of weeks there and then travelling back to the United Kingdom nothing an every day business man wouldn't be doing, except for one thing he disliked flying, whether for the lack of elegance or fear of heights he disliked the metal birds and always travelled by train, the first class carriage of course. He was comfortably, and without much effort making a nice little profit on each trip, which made being a gentleman even easier. His hands never saw a hard days work, and his elegant smile decorated his face quite beautifully. He was not stupid, nor he was wise, in fact he was almost a typical middle age man.

It was the morning of the 11th of November. Nothing special, a day like any other, miserable, cloudy and rainy, like most days in that particular part of the world - the English Channel.

After boarding the ferry to Dover, he was now wasting his time on the ferry spending his hard earned money, getting perfume, cigarettes and other gifts for his wife, enjoying a late breakfast in restaurant, and generally occupying himself with other pleasantries to make the time go by.

Soon enough, as the time passes at gratifying pace when you are enjoying yourself, the boat was docking in Dover. Mr. Miles was extremely calm, in fact his kind looking face expressed very little emotion at all times, it must have been something he learned while doing his job. He has done this so many times, that there was nothing to worry about. Queue, passport, exit, train, home. Simple as that, nothing to worry about, just an ordinary procedure. Part of the job.

Shortly he was pacing through the tunnels towards the stable ground. The booze cruisers who couldn't afford a car were already on the bus with their bags full. But this elegant smuggler disliked being pushed around, and was hoping that another bus will turn up soon. Considering himself lucky a couple of minutes later he spotted another bus driving through the port, nearing the ferry he just arrived in. Only a couple of passengers more came out of the tunnel and the bus stopped with the doors opening right in front of Mr. Miles, once again he thought of himself as a lucky man.

The bus was slowly approaching the customs hall, where the whole Mile's effort to hide his goods would come to it's final check. He could see that the queue was passing the EU customs desks fluently, nothing to worry about, it's the beginning of the work day for the customs officers they were in a good mood and not looking at either the people or the passports twice. At once the bus came to a halt and, Mr. Miles stepped trough the sliding doors of the customs hall, it seemed like everything stopped abruptly. He could not work out what was going on, but then he looked at one of the custom's officers and saw the poppy pinned on his lapel, then disastrously slowly he raised his head, to acknowledge what he already realised. It was almost 11 AM the 11th of November - Remembrance Day. Now the time was coming for the two minute silence. One of the officers curtly announced the beginning of the two minutes silence - within moments the room was deadly silent, except for a rather loud ticking. Mr. Miles was standing absolutely still hoping no-one would notice, but he felt as if he was ticking as loud as Big Ben !
For the first time that day he felt like the time had stopped. By then as the first minute ended people around the room started staring directly at him, trying to understand, where did the noise come from. Now Mr. Miles was fearing that he may not get out of this little escapade dry, but he tried not to give up his hope. Just one more minute, passport control and he could be in the taxi heading towards the train station, but the seconds seemed like minutes, and the remaining sixty seconds felt like an hour for him.

As soon as the two minute silence was over, Miles, was asked by a couple of officers to go to the room on the side, and it is then he realised the trip was over for him, no train home, his wife won't get a bottle of perfume upon his return, as there will be no return in the foreseeable future.

Thought's were running through his head and soon enough he was asked to remove his quality coat. As he did so, he did not show any emotion or loss of dignity, it seemed like if the elegant smuggler felt anything that particular moment, it was disappointment. After he took his coat of, the custom's officers could not hide the look of curiosity on their faces. Mr. Miles arms were covered in expensive Swiss watches all ticking away...

* - The original title was The Ticking Smuggler, but I decided to rename the story as the title disclosed too much of the plot.


Richard said...

I finally read through it and pondered it a bit and feel unworthy to give comment since I hardly ever write anything to completion myself. So here are my unschooled thoughts:

I don't think the original title gave away too much. I actually thought he was transporting a bomb. Perhaps The Ticking Traveller might be a better title.

I liked the twist at the end, it was unexpected, the way he got caught in the Remembrance Day pause. I windered why you chose November 11th as the day. Following it up with "Nothing special...", surely you must have known it was Remembrance Day. So that part worked well once I got to the climax of the story.

I was not happy with the lead up to the climax though. Please don't take the following negatively, after all, I am just an armchair critic who has read a number of books on writing, but not done much writing (much like the man who has read all about India, but never travelled there, nor met any Indians but, yet, presumes to pontificate in great detail about Indians and life in India).

One of the rules writing books tell you is to show, not tell.

I think this paragraph is an excellent example of telling the reader what happened rather than showing what is happening.

After boarding the ferry to Dover, he was now wasting his time on the ferry spending his hard earned money, getting perfume, cigarettes and other gifts for his wife, enjoying a late breakfast in restaurant, and generally occupying himself with other pleasantries to make the time go by.

I see no reason to gloss over these activities with a brief summary. I think the story would be enhanced by showing the banalness of his activities.

Once aboard the ferry to Dover, he gazed into the grey murkiness blanketing the channel. A cosy destination awaited him on the other side of that. A warm fire and a snug wife would chase away the November cold. He tightened the buttons on the cuffs of his coat and tugged his collar up a little higher. He meandered to the gift shop and perused the duty free items. He smiled as he paid for some perfume for his wife, here was another item he would carry free of duty across the border.

I am not saying this is perfect (or even right), but I think it is more show than tell.

I also thought some descriptions were unclear:

His grey hair that stood up like wire in places, was shoulder length and sometimes gave him that crazy Einstein look.

With the first clause, I envision a balding man with wisps of hair sticking up. The part was shoulder length throws me because it is not consistent with the image I first formed. And the last part about the crazy Einstein look told me what I needed to envision him, but it felt like the author intruded into my reading experience because I didn't get the first two descriptions and had to say, "look, it is like this."

As I said at the beginning, I liked the story, but I would not consider it a final draft. And as a final caveat: I am not a professional writer, editor or even published. So take my comments with the true weight they deserve.

b said...

I agree with Richard's comment about the title and showing versus telling. I really do think that The Ticking Traveller is more clever and intriguing. And yes, I think that if you show the activities described (even if the showing isn't lengthy) and a bit more of the scene (like the scene around the bus), that would enhance the build up of the climax.

The story also implies a sense of urgency. He just wants to get through all these transportation hurdles, etc. so he can get home (?) and unload these watches. He seems to be a rather calm smuggler and I like that quality but perhaps the urgency could be developed a bit more?

I love the details of the things he buys for his wife and his general appearance and demeanor. A little more detail (by way of showing versus telling) would be great in this regard. Also, could the suspense be built and obscured? If the reader could be somewhat diverted or focused on the details of his travel, etc., the "discovery" of his watches would become more surprising and exciting.

I am hoping these comments make sense! I really do like how this ends and your description does evoke a particular image. With more showing and suspense, I think that the image of this story will be enhanced greatly.

Thanks for sharing this! What a fun read!!

carra said...

Richard constructive criticism is good whether you are an armchair critic or a professional editor. I like the points you made I was already looking into those paragraphs, but with the lack of time and concentration I haven't come up with anything to replace it. Funny enough i never heard about showing rather than telling, that is a brilliant point. I also like your suggested title very much, I might even change it and add some credit for your genius!
I wish I didn't feel so tired and could make some things out more clearly, but your comment is greatly appreciated because it is constructive and it gives me a better picture of how reader sees it therefor expressing the story's ups and downs giving me a great idea what needs to be developed. Your comment is much better than just:
"I liked that!" that does not explain anything at all!

carra said...

BI agree with you and Richard, and I must admit I never felt urgency in the story, for me it was like:
let's show that he is just going through the motions I might develop on that, it is certainly worth it.
How come everyone knows about showing and telling and I don't? Did I fall out of a tree or something?
And again good points, I need to work on this, obviously a month is not enough and I have to go over it for another month, I am really a slow writer aren't I?
Thank you both for these comments and they are greatly appreciated. They really are. I will apply your advise most carefully and once the story is updated will post it here again for your perusal :)
A full hearted THANK YOU.

Richard said...

I know about showing and telling because I've read about it a number of books that covered it:

Make Your Words Work: Proven Techniques for Effective Writing, for Fiction and Nonfiction by Gary Provost

The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman

These two books are very similar. I liked The First Five pages better (it is shorter, tighter and crisper), Make Your Words Work covers a few more topics and provides a little more detail than The First Five Pages.

Wikipedia has an article on it.

I have no idea where b knows it from.

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