Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Agenda

Today I received an unsolicited phone call from a company offering me PPI compensation. I get a lot of calls like this, despite being on the TPS list. If you work from home you probably will, too. You will also understand how annoying they are. Mr S suggests I just don't answer the phone. But as a freelancer, if a number comes up that looks halfway legit, I kinda have to answer in case it's work related.

I've had various strategies for getting rid of these people. I went through a phase of just being Very Angry at them. I'd demand to speak to their line manager. I'd demand to be taken off their records. I'd tell them how Very Angry I was to have had my working day interrupted. I would finish the call feeling rattled and Very Angry for quite a while. And then, because I'm generally not good at being Very Angry, I'd feel guilty about my behaviour; embarrassed at how I'd spoken to a fellow human who was just trying to do their job.

My next tack was simply to hang up. But that felt incredibly rude, too. The passive aggressive sort of rude.

So I decided (and this seemed like a perfectly obvious next step at the time) to make gentle animal noises down the line until they went away. Generic bird sounds or what I describe as the Lonely Cat.

Then I realised that it was weird. (I gave it to a character in a story to do and understood via third person quite how sinister it was.)

In my fiction writing I've been thinking a lot about dialogue and how to make it feel authentic. Every character in a story needs an agenda all of their own, ensuring that no character is simply a foil to get some point across for the other. The things they say will lean into their own agenda. The dialogue that I admire most from other writers is the dialogue that tightly pits characters' agendas at each other. Both have something they want, both will only shift so far before they start tugging in their own direction. This works most effectively I think when the desired thing is in some way not altogether known to them - when it's subtle or cerebral. For example, the stilting dialogue between the man and woman in Hemingway's Cat In the Rain.

So today when Kevin rang me from Pearl Refunds, with a very clear agenda for helping me reclaim PPI, I decided I had quite a different agenda. He had interrupted me mid sentence on some new writing set in woodland. So I asked him about his favourite animal. I asked him if he liked squirrels. He wasn't sure about squirrels so I explained a bit about them. Bushy tail, acorns etc.

He said "snails?"

So we had a bit of a chat about snails. Snails were more his thing, after PPI, of course, which he mentioned again.

But I was persistent about the squirrel agenda. "They were in decline," I told him. "But they seem to be making a comeback."


"No, squirrels."

After a bit he sighed and said, "Mrs Schofield, do you want PPI?"

"No," I said.

We politely said goodbye. It all felt very civilised.

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