Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Writing - All smoke and mirrors

When you are writing a story with well developed characters they often take the story and run with it, this I have written about on previous occasions. At around 05:30 this morning I had one of those moments when Patrick A Steele spoke to me! No I haven't lost my marbles, well no more than usual, I suppose it could be categorised as a moment of inspiration. The story I'm writing tentatively entitled as 'Most Wanted Artefact' is progressing quite well, I am in the middle of the tenth chapter (28k words). The inspiration came from the lead character and he suggested a move which hadn't crossed my mind but which will assist him in the fullness of time. It is not within the bounds of possibility that the suggestion will put him at considerable risk but nevertheless I will take his suggestion on board.

Back to reality

The government announced with some pride that the inflation rate has dropped below 2% this month. That sparked my interest as I have noticed no significant change in the prices I pay for things on a regular basis. I decided to look into how the government works out rates of inflation. The results are worthy of a Booker-Man prize they are so indecipherable.
I began with CPI - Consumer Price Index - because this is the official measure of inflation and as if that wasn't confusing enough it is also known as the HCPI (H = harmonised). The CPI calculates the average price increase as a percentage for a basket of 600 different goods and services. I wanted to know what type of things were on the list to examine how relevant it was to ordinary people. All I could find was the following:-

The basket of goods and services chosen reflects changes in society's buying habits. For example, on 23 March 2009, rosé wine and takeaway chicken were added to the basket, whereas volume bottled cider and boxes of wine were removed.

Personally I haven't bought either for at least 20 years and you can count on the fingers of one hand the frequency with which I've bought rose wine! Eventually I found the list of the 600 items and it is pretty exhaustive including things like hiking boots to gardeners fees and private school fees; as well as everyday foodstuffs! 
However, the next question was how is the information surveyed. Remembering that the government produce monthly inflation figures there must be a method of conducting surveys. Apparently, they interview 6000 households to obtain their data. So, like the can of worms, I found the strand households and decided that I wanted to know how many there are in the UK. There were 26.4 million households in 2012. 
It is now maths time!

26 400 000 divided by 6000 = 4,400 divided by 12 = 367ish. 

That is the number of households divided by the number of surveys and then divided by the number of surveys each year. I was trying to find out the chances of being asked to be involved in the survey each year. If I've performed the maths correctly then each month you have a 1:367 chance of being interviewed each month. Now that seems a little odd in that in all the years I've been aware I have never known anyone in the north east or Yorkshire that has been surveyed! It just makes me wonder whether they ask the same folk every time!!

So why spend a blog on this topic? Well, apart for my tendency towards conspiracy theory which I like to explore, it goes back to Steele and options he gives me when I am writing him. It's all smoke and mirrors because although I created him I can't always read his mind and it follows that planning a mystery from front to back wouldn't work for me - it has to flow according to his personality. If you are a budding writer don't be sucked into the security blanket of THE PLAN that some writing coaches will encourage you towards. Don't get me wrong, I need to have an outline of where a story is going. In the case of Cessation I knew the type of ending there was going to be even before I had put the metaphorical pen to paper. BUT don't be a slave to a detailed writing map it will stifle the creativity you are trying to develop.

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