The Speaker Scam of 64 Clarke
You’ve got to give a character a job. Creating jobs for characters is a difficult thing for a writer to do, particularly if the writer wants to break away from the usual high incidence of novelists, publishers, academics and filmmakers as protagonists in novels. There’s the occasional supermarket manager, or call centre adviser, and obsolete industries sometimes get a mention in the shape of dads in a backstory, but that’s about it – the main character soon scoots off to London to break obsolete-industry-dad’s heart and hang around with writers, publishers, academics and filmmakers. There’s no great pantheon of literature devoted to plumbers, for example, as there is for journalism.
So, best is when you can simply invent a job for a character. Or, even better, when a job that almost beggars belief has already been invented for you. As in, actually exists, but sounds like it should be made up.
Which brings us on to speakermen, because that’s the chosen profession of one of the main characters in 64 Clarke. He’s a speakerman.
My first experience of speakermen was five, six years ago round near Canary Wharf, me, wearing oversized headphones and a space-cadet smile, beckoned over by two blokes in a white van; the kind of self-satirical blokes you’d expect to see driving a white van. The thing with wearing oversized headphones is that they’re supposed to deter random people stopping you in the street, but in this instance I might as well have had a flashing beacon strapped to the top of my head. The headphones were precisely what attracted them. Their opening gambit was something like, ‘You look like the kind of bloke who’s into his music…’ It’s not like you can deny it. Then, going into what was clearly a much-delivered speech, it became apparent they were trying to sell me speakers. I was, like, How am I supposed to get a couple of speakers home on the Tube? I’ve got speakers anyway, perfectly good ones. And do they really expect me to shell out – how much? – to them, a couple of obviously-wide relics of the rave era, right there on the street?
I got away finances intact, but thinking, Why? I mean, speakers aren’t exactly an impulse buy. Why speakers? And what doughnut would fall for a stunt like that?
The editor of the magazine I was working for, for one. Turns out he’d bought a pair a couple of months previously and he insisted that, while not brilliant, they were perfectly good, and easily worth what he’d paid for them.
Ever since, I’ve been approached countless times, although the last time (I put it down to advancing age and the downsizing of headphones) was in Notting Hill over a year ago when I was beginning work on 64 Clarke. Later that day, I plugged ‘speaker scam’ into Google and hey-ho, there was a whole online community devoted to this very sales technique. There are one or maybe two firms who manufacture the speakers, their chosen method of distribution is guys in a white van, and the speakers, while not the arse-kicking pieces of kit the van guys lead you to believe, work fine.
What a cool job, then. Not to have, obviously, but to give to a character. One who finds himself unwillingly immersed in this whole subculture of speaker-selling, and whose activities will dovetail with the story’s other characters and its central plot, which involves the kidnapping of a small child. Plus, it’s probably the first time a main character in a novel has had that particular job. Result. Next novel: plumbers, your time is now..
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