Storytellers make their living by creating the extraordinary out of the mundanity and drudgery of the daily routine. I like to eavesdrop on conversations at the beach; what other place exists that a desk-dweller can instantly escape their city life?
I don't like the weekends. The beach is filled with families trumpeting their freedom; or arguing over who left the shoes too close to the waves. These day-trippers jostle for position to increase their risk of skin cancer. This transient audience doesn't tickle my creative fancy, they are already transformed simply by their being there.
But during the week, when they return to school-run and bursting inboxes, that's the domain I inhabit. For at these time, the beach supports a humble, simple community. Their existence, more stable, more frequent, but ripe for transformation. For as these honest visitors enjoy the beach, so I enjoy listening their casual conversations.
As I sit here two dog walkers approach. They have to speak loudly to be heard over the waves, and as they pass by, I get an insight into their lives.
"…I arrived late but it was already in transit," one proclaims, her partner nods in acknowledgement, then looks straight at me.
"You've got to be careful with that," she says to her friend, while absently holding eye-contact with me.
Her friend continues, "after that, you've got to catch up with it on the move…"
They pass, leaving me with just a morsel of chat to play with.
But that's enough to get me started.
Perhaps they were talking about a courier delivery? Or maybe collecting mail from a post office? A casual observer might just see dog-walkers, but I imagine they are spies discussing a botched transfer of information. Because this is what I do, I'm a collector of conversations which I then convert into something altogether more exhilarating. After-all, no-one wants to read about two dog walkers on a beach talking about home deliveries.
I mould these two dog walkers in my head, adding intrigue here and teasing out the eccentricities there. And suddenly, I have my plot.
I surmise they should be tailing a target, their mission to prevent the target from harm. But by the time they were assigned, the target had disappeared, ...I arrived late but it was already in transit… and now, the spies' mission is to …catch up with it on the move. Which in my head, means limit the harm sustained by the target.
But that’s only one half of a story. Who are they tailing? I need to find some antagonists for my story so I can retire to the beach café where I always complete my write-up. Better get a move one, before it gets too close to midday and the café fills up with the blue-rinse squad. They're harmless, but they insist on paying individually which delays the waiting staff in supplying me with chai lattes to build my worlds. Time is pressing.
Further up the beach I see some regulars. Visitors who unknowingly are frequent characters in my stories whose conversations I write and publish. I make a living out of their careless banter.
A group of three retirees comfortably fill their deckchairs and pour tea from tartan coloured thermos flasks. They are here any day I visit, and when I arrive mid-morning they're always deep into conversation. It's like they've worked indoors their entire lives, and intend to spend the rest of it outside. At least until midday. At which time, they leave, presumably for a nap. What else is there to do?
I know everything about them, and I do mean everything. In my stories they're not a group of innocent retirees, they're the heads of various crime families, planning and settling their affairs. And when they describe their former careers, I invent how that would operate in the shady underworld.
One of them was a private tutor. She frequently mentions how clients misunderstood her teaching, and how she often needed to extend contracts because her clients couldn't learn fast enough. She didn't mind, as she'd often proclaim - it was easy money. In my head, she runs the enforcement, keeping the peace between the families. Dealing with digressions and ensuring everyone knows who's in charge.
Another one, a cleaner. I like to assume he's responsible for purging crime scenes of incriminating evidence, ensuring secrets are kept secret.
And the last of them. A limousine company owner who frequently talks about the hassle he's had from clients and the detritus he'd been required to clear-up. Some people, as he said, didn't know when to stop. I like to think he's responsible for disposing of difficult people - dead or alive. All crime syndicates need a way of disposing of inconvenience.
Certainly, these three will give me the material I need, so that I can remodel it. I needed to listen in to their tales, needed to get closer so I can indulge on their stories.
I stroll up the beach trying to act casual. We've shared this beach so many times they probably think I'm unemployed - to the contrary, I'm very much employed. Or perhaps they think I'm a just a lonely soul that nobody misses, staring out to sea with only the wind and the seagulls for friends.
There's a rock close to them, where I can overhear their conversation without me looking suspicious. I park my bottom there and stare distractedly at the waves. I'm not worried, I'm an expert at this.
They do not disappoint. As they absently refill their cups, I open my notebook and write. I build on my charade, looking out to the sea frequently, waving my pencil at the gulls, feigning inspiration from the ocean. But I'm not interested in that, it's just cover.
I feed off their recollections, the more mundane the better. What they remember as trivial interactions adds realism and depth to my stories. I transcribe direct quotes, misquote, paraphrases and the odd original parable. All of it, ready and waiting to become the wisdom of my protagonist, that I will transform with the tap of a keyboard and the swipe of a mouse.
And soon, they are done. And so am I. They pack up their chairs and their supplies, complete a formal farewell to each other and saunter off for a siesta.
They pass in front of me and I return their broad smiles, as I am just as familiar to them as they are to me.
I wait for them to exit the beach so not to arouse their suspicion, I might need them again one day. Then hastily, I gather my things and bustle up the beach to the café thinking about my chai latte. I need to complete my work while the ideas are fresh in my head.
I stumble over the sand, my brain too focused on what I need to write, but I keep going. The beach café seems so far away and I feel the details drifting away the further it is. I need to be closer, for the ideas buzzing round my head to find freedom onto the page before they are lost for good. I need to run faster.
I get to its front steps thankful to see I have succeeded in outsmarting the blue-rinse squad. But I find my way blocked by a looming figure in uniform is intent on barring my entry.
"I've got a car waiting for you sir, if you could just step this way please?"
"I'm sorry," I splutter, "you must have the wrong person, please I must get my chai latte."
The uniformed giant moves in front of me as I try to dodge.
"I insist," it says firmly and motions behind him.
I look around him to see parked at the kerb, a limousine. And stood next to it, three retirees smiling broadly.
"There's some matters my bosses would like to discuss with you."
And as the limousine pulls away, I see out the back window the two dog walkers waiting on the pavement. One is speaking into her sleeve as the other wears a look of failure and buries her face in her hands.
Perhaps I should have been more careful on who I eavesdrop.