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Fic Commentary - Signals - (1/?) - dorsetgirl
July 6th, 2008
08:40 pm
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Fic Commentary - Signals - (1/?)



Mikey requested a DVD Commentary on Signals because “it was the inspiration for the Undercover series”, which I’m not sure I knew before, and which I must say makes me feel pretty good! She said she would love to have “background on your inspiration for particular scenes and how much you planned out ahead etc.” (What you see below is why I don’t keep a diary, or post thoughts or opinions to my journal, because I find it impossible to be brief.)


Well. As to planning out ahead, I did no planning at all before I started writing. Nearly all my fics start with the opening line popping up in my brain and asking to be written down. Even An Unhappy Man, my one fic ever which I planned and planned and planned, had its opening line itching to be written down long before I had any idea of the structure. (For that one, I did know exactly what the story was going to be – I just wasn’t sure how best to tell it.)


So, I did no forward planning for this fic. Specifically, I did not set out to write about power plays in the 1970s gay world, or about office politics as related to sexual attraction, or indeed anything at all apart from the rather delicious image of Sam blatantly showing off his body for Gene. Sorry, Mikey! So what I’ve done below is simply to talk about what I can remember of the writing process, and the few occasions on which I made conscious choices. Here’s how it was...





One bright sunny day in the Summer of 2007, I took my children swimming. While we were in the water I got the idea of writing ‘Sam and Gene go swimming’. Now, I’m not very strong on visuals, so what came into my mind next was not a picture of Sam on the diving board – although that wasn’t far behind! – but the first sentence, exactly as it appears in the posted version below.


Resisting the urge to call out “Gene! Look at me, Gene!”, Sam stood poised – and posed – on the highest diving board. Days like this, he thought, he really did feel like the kid in this relationship.


If I were writing this now, I might linger longer on the image of Sammy poised and posed *drags mind back from happy place*. I don’t know where that opening sentence came from, but once I’d got it, the obvious next step was to look at what Sam and Gene were doing that reflected their different personalities, and the way in which Sam – not having been through the War, never having been married – is in some important ways more carefree than Gene has ever been. So I wrote him doing kid stuff (racing and icecream); showing off for Gene (racing and diving) and enjoying innocent self-indulgence (icecream and sunbathing).


All afternoon he’d been alternating between the swimming lanes and diving boards; indulging in informal races over a couple of lengths and then perfecting his somersault to pike. In between, he’d bought himself an ice-cream, and spent half an hour lying by the outdoor pool soaking up the sunshine.


I vaguely remember having problems with pov in this one; it was quite rare for me in that a number of the sections could equally have been either pov, so I had to make conscious choices, which I don’t do very often. However, it stood to reason that Sam would always be aware of where Gene was and what he was doing, so I needed to show that. And where better to see Gene than from the top diving board.


From where he stood now, he could see Gene in the distance, still sitting in the cafe with a newspaper, his cigarettes and yet another coffee on the table by his right hand. The coffee was a late addition; originally he just had his newspaper for something to do, and his cigarettes for the period detail (it’s taken for granted he could smoke indoors). Then when Sam goes off to the changing room later on, I needed to give Gene a reason to stay in his seat a little longer if he decided to, so I gave him the coffee. He’d been there since Sam had gone off to change, declining to reveal what Sam saw as a magnificent body to the gaze of other swimmers. I love that body, but it always seems to me that Gene would feel its imperfections when compared to Sam’s lithe, toned splendour. “You know what happened last time, Gladys”, he had said. “Any running down the tow-path on a Sunday, I’ll do with me trousers on thank you.” This was a blatant attempt to invoke visuals from the show because I wasn’t too sure of my abilities in calling up pictures in the reader’s mind. I can barely do it in my own mind, after all.


So next I had to think why these two men who love each other so much have such different approaches to what to do on a Sunday. (One thing this fic illustrates is the fact that for me, writing Gene and Sam is all about their home life. They live together, and love each other, and are totally each other’s centre and safety. I really don’t tackle the policing at all.) 


Sam couldn’t understand why anyone would want to spend the whole of Sunday afternoon sitting around doing nothing; he’d had far too many of that sort of Sunday when he was a child after his father had gone away. Sunday afternoons were when Ruth retreated mysteriously to her bedroom to be alone; Sam realised now that she had probably been crying up there and hadn’t wanted him to see. My Mum used to lock us out in the garden on a Sunday afternoon after my father died when I was five. I was an adult before I realised why she did that, and I used the idea here. He’d had to sit quietly downstairs by himself, waiting for tea-time.


I was pleased with myself over this next bit; action is the bit that really doesn’t come naturally to me, and also I was very new to flashbacks, memories, tying things together. To everything, really. I often say I don’t make conscious decisions in my fics, but as I look at this story I do remember thinking about quite a lot of it. So anyway, I had to find a phrase to indicate that we were out of Sam’s head and back there on the diving board.


He shook off the memories, positioning himself at the very end of the board. He allowed himself to fall forward, turning over once then straightening his body and legs as he accelerated towards the glittering water.


I originally didn’t have an adjective for the water, but the sentence didn’t seem to flow properly. Once I decided to put one in, “glittering” was the only way to go, because I was – although it’s not stated – seeing this as a brilliantly sunny day.


* * *


From the moment I got the first line delivered straight into my head, I’d always intended to have Gene ogling Sam. That’s why he’s standing up there posing, after all. I remember taking absolutely ages to decide about which point in the narrative I should switch to Gene’s point of view. Some of Gene’s thoughts below could have gone further up, when we first see Gene in the cafe. At some point I must have chosen to put them here, but I don’t remember it. I badly wanted Gene to drool over Sam’s perfect body on display for him, but I knew that he’d be very wary of being caught looking, so I showed him thinking about that.


Gene had been aware of Sam standing at the end of the board, but he felt daft watching him openly, knowing that he tended to take on a soppy look if he looked at Sam for too long. Seeing Sam leave the board, he did allow himself to watch him all the way down, enjoying the perfection of Sam’s body as it arrowed downwards, achieving entry to the water with scarcely a splash. The description of the dive was added later, to show Sam’s style in contrast to the Greek guy Sam is about to meet at the foot of the diving board steps.


Part of Gene would have liked to be in the water with Sam, but he knew it was better this way; less chance of embarrassing himself. He couldn’t swim as fast as Sam, he was never quite sure how Sam could enjoy looking at his body, and the sight of Sam in those little trunks raised issues that in a public place were best hidden behind the newspaper. Two words: blue jeans.


And now follows the expo for why Gene likes to sit around on a Sunday. At that time, it was still the done thing to explain or at least note the absence of the Missus in every fic, although I don’t tend to bother so much nowadays.  Reading this again after so long, I quite like it. Not the style, which seems pretty stilted to be perfectly honest, but the content.


A larger part of Gene was quite content sitting here in the cafe. When the wife had first left, he’d spent many lonely Sundays in the office, just chatting to the Desk Sergeant half the time, pretending to work on case notes the other half. Even before that, one way or another for as long as he could remember he had spent Sundays working or doing what other people wanted, or in his early days simply trying to avoid the old man. This way he got to sit around doing nothing with a coffee and the paper, while watching Sam strut about posing for him under the guise of practising his diving technique. Gene knows his Sammy pretty well, doesn’t he!


I have no memory of deciding that the story was going to be about Sam being attractive to other blokes. But he surely is.


Only trouble was, Sam never seemed to realise that Gene wasn’t the only man who enjoyed looking at him. Glancing up, Gene saw a big, confident-looking Greek move up behind Sam, who was again waiting in line for the highest board. The man was taller than Sam and twice as broad, with Mediterranean black hair coating his back and shoulders. As he approached Sam he smiled and said something, gesturing up at the board.


I think there was a Greek family at the swimming pool that afternoon, which might have influenced the next bit, although the man being Greek is not particularly significant. What I wanted was someone who in physical appearance would be a strong contrast to Sam and to Gene. So in contrast to Sam he was going to be big, broad-chested and fleshily muscular. To differentiate him physically from Gene I wanted him to be quite dark of skin, but in another point of difference he was also going to be hairy – back, chest and arms would be “pelt” rather than “skin”. This seemed to make him Mediterranean rather than Asian or African


Momentarily forgetting not to stare, Gene watched the daft sod smiling back at the hairy Greek like it wasn’t obvious what he was after. Gene could see the smarmy bastard touching his gold rings and necklaces as he smiled at Sam and stood just an inch or two too close. I saw this guy as being very overtly an Alpha male, but this being a family-friendly public space in the 1970s, any sexual display had to be very subtle. Hence touching the rings etc, as if to say “Look how rich I am”. As well as being big and strong and muscular, of course. And hairy.


For a DI, Sam could be remarkably naive, Gene thought. He’d even convinced himself the bloke at the hardware shop was only being ironic. Gene had tried to explain at the time, but it hadn’t sunk in.


Oh, the times I rewrote those few sentences. I had Gene in the cafe; I had the flashback written; now how the hell did I get from one to the other? Ladies (and gentlemen?), take your seats for – my very first flashback. OK, I possibly did some in Real Men Don’t, but this was the very first time I decided to do one; the first time I chose to give certain exposition in flashback form. This little bit of practice was to prove a turning point in the structure of An Unhappy Man, which had been in the writing for three months at this point.


It was essential to this scene that Sam be in the shop and Gene be waiting outside for him, but for a long time I couldn’t think of any good reason why Gene should wait outside. So I did what I so often do – I gave the problem to the character and let him bloody work it out instead.


As Sam had come out of the shop, Gene had straightened up from where he’d been leaning on the car. There had been no good reason why he couldn’t have gone in with Sam, but he’d said no. “I don’t shop, Gladys, get that through yer head right now. You want to bring all those books in here, you put up the shelves to stick ‘em on.” Yes, Gene wrote those lines himself.


Watching Sam juggle the unwieldy lengths of wood, he’d contemplated offering to help carry, but decided he couldn’t be bothered and stayed put, watching. Because he’s a lovable bastard, and because I love all those scenes where Gene is just leaning casually on the car.


Sam appeared to have pulled while he was in the shop; leave him alone five minutes off-duty and they were all over him, and he never seemed to notice. This one was practically panting. For obvious reasons it had to be only off-duty that Sam had these problems. I had presumably also decided by this point that it was important to the plot that Sam be oblivious to his effect on other men. I just wish I could remember something – anything – about getting the plot for this fic.


Sam’s new friend stopped abruptly when he saw Gene; he looked accusingly at Sam and asked a question Gene didn’t hear. I’m not sure why Gene didn’t hear the question – presumably to emphasise the fact that Gene is too far away to join in the conversation or thump the bloke. Gene watched Sam’s face as he said “Er, yeah”, his expression wavering between pride and confusion. Because obviously he is very proud indeed that Gene is His Man, but he’s totally confused as to why the bloke wants to know.


The bloke looked challengingly at Gene, who looked straight back and raised an eyebrow. The first indication that Gene knows his way around this world and will defend his “claim” on Sam.  Backing off, the man glared at Sam. This time Gene heard the words quite  clearly - “cock tease” - as he walked away. This struck me – and still does – as rather clumsy, but I had to find some way of making Sam aware of what had happened, and simultaneously giving Gene an opportunity to talk to him about it. Sam had still been staring after him as he reached Gene.


“You’re giving off signals again Sammy-boy.” Gene teased him as he opened up the car. ”Must have not shagged you hard enough this morning.” My fics don’t have titles until they go out and find one for themselves. Most often, it’s words or phrases, or perhaps a mood, from within the fic itself.


He started taking the wood from Sam (It’s his car, right? He says what goes where in it.) who was still standing there looking puzzled. Because he looks so adorable like that. Sam said “What? He called me a cock tease! But ...I only smiled and said hallo”.


Gene grinned at his indignation and confusion, then spoke more seriously. “Gladys, you put an arse like that in trousers like those, and cock-teasing is the least of what you’re doing. There’s all the fangirls to think about, for a start. You need to be more careful, I’m not the only bastard wants you, you know.”


It was central to the story that Sam not take the warnings seriously, because he simply doesn’t see it.


Sam stared at him for a moment then apparently dismissed the matter. “You’re talking bollocks; blokes were never interested in me before, so why should they start now I’ve got you? I don’t want anyone else.”


It took me a long time to work out how much talking they had done at various stages about this issue. I decided that this scene coming up was going to be after Gene had tried and failed to make Sam understand the effect he had on other men. But I couldn’t quite think how to write that bit, so I just copped out and said that it had happened!


Gene gave up temporarily, happy for the reassurance, not that he’d ever doubted. When he tried later that night to warn Sam again about the impression he gave with those tight trousers and the melting smile he seemed to think Gene was joking and took it as an invitation to investigate their effect on Gene.


And now breathe a sigh of relief as I manage to bring us safely back from my first official flashback. 


But watching Sam now, standing dreamily next to the hopeful-looking Greek, Gene could practically see the sign over his head, gleaming in the sunshine reflected off the water. It said “I like alpha males” or, as Gene often thought of it, “I could be yours, big boy”, and it had materialised the day Sam had chosen Gene’s arms and Gene’s bed.


I can see that sign. It’s neon, pink and green, and it flashes. It was the second visual I got for this fic, soon after I started writing, but it took a long time to work out where it should fit in the story.


Gene knew that Sam himself was completely unaware of it. I wanted to keep the story relatively simple, because it was already stretching my nascent technical capabilities further than I knew how to cope with. So I didn’t want any suggestion that Gene doesn’t trust Sam.


The big Greek could certainly see it, or would have done if he’d raised his eyes from Sam’s trunks. Having the Greek look down was written in afterwards as a link to the next para. Also, if I hadn’t said that, the Greek would have been staring over the top of Sam’s head. Which is probably very metaphorical, but doesn’t make a lot of sense in nice concrete story terms. For his own safety, Sam would have to know one day, Gene thought. He wasn’t looking forward to making Sam understand that other men wanted him just as much as Gene did. First hint that Gene isn’t as confident of his importance to Sam as he would like to be.


* * *

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(2 comments | Leave a comment)

Date:July 9th, 2008 01:38 pm (UTC)
This is why I love commentaries on fic:
I saw this guy as being very overtly an Alpha male, but this being a family-friendly public space in the 1970s, any sexual display had to be very subtle. Hence touching the rings etc, as if to say “Look how rich I am”.

That was an insight that I know I picked up on while reading -- that the Greek was drawing attention to himself, preening as it were -- but I had not actually put the idea to the fact that it was a public family venue in the 70s. Different world than mine (as I was five in 1974). This adds a fresh layer of depth to the proceedings for me, which I just love.

As for inspiration, Undercover came out of the scene by the car outside the hardware store, with Sam being genuinely perplexed by the gay male power plays around him. Women, we see these things because it is a survival instinct (who wants me? Why? Does he want her? What's his game? etc.) but Sam, not so much. heh. Anyway, it specifically started with Gene's comments to him and with Sam's confusion, and I just LOVED that dynamic so much that I wanted to build a whole story around Sam's confusion. So I did. (The next chapter, Appearances, which is almost done -- kill me now -- goes into the idea of Sam being a fish out of water a lot more, even).

It is interesting, particularly, to see behind the idea of the Greek alpha male chasing Sam, and how you set that up, and why. It works in the story perfectly, and it is a real treat to see your machinations behind the set up.

Off to part two!!!!

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Date:July 14th, 2008 08:05 am (UTC)
I'm very pleased you enjoyed this; I was a bit concerned because there seemed to be more commentary than fic, but that's just me. My kids often say "Yeah, OK, got it, you can stop explaining now."

Different world than mine (as I was five in 1974)

Well, OK, but I really don't think the Greek could be any more open in that place even nowadays. Even though homosexuality is legal and theoretically acceptable, I'm not sure I've ever seen a man touch another man, or even holding hands.

it is a real treat to see your machinations

This was the first fic where I actually thought about the structure, in terms of flashbacks, and where to put things. I had to do a certain amount in Real Men Don't, but that was more on the fly.

Thank you for letting me know how Undercover came out of this!
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