by Zoë Sharp
There have been some brilliant posts here lately, and I’ve missed them, dammit.
I’ve been head down, full tilt in the latest rewrites which are finally, out of the way. (Hurrah!) Yup, I’m finally in that nice little cosy cocoon between sending off and hearing back, when all things are possible and all hopes are, as yet, undashed.
I have my fingers, eyes, and toes crossed. Which makes it pretty difficult to type, I can tell you.
But, this means I can get round to all the email that’s built up over the last couple of weeks. Most of it is very straightforward, but in among the usual correspondence is the odd little gem, like this request from a local librarian:
“I am giving a talk to the Mothers Union in September and the theme is ‘Handbags’. I am hoping to get some photos and details from famous people like yourself to send me a photo of their favourite handbag and what is the most unusual thing they carry around in it.
“I know this sounds like a strange request and perhaps like your famous character, Charlie Fox, you don’t have a ‘handbag’. Unless she carries her gun around in it!
“I look forward to your reply.”
How could I resist something like that? Of course, having the kind of twisted mind that I do, my first thought was, could this information be used for some sinister purpose? Not that I think for a MOMENT that a nice Lancashire librarian has any designs on my handbag, don’t get me wrong. But from such things as this, whole plots sometimes spring. I had a run-in with a car insurance salesman last week, and THAT is just crying out to become the nucleus for a serial-killer book, let me tell you. Oh, boy …
But anyway, back to the handbags.
I’ve never been a big handbag kind of a girl. Mainly because, if I carry one, it tends to become less of a dainty purse and more of a heavy duty rucksack. It’s simply one of the laws of physics that junk expands to fill the square of the space available. So it is with handbags. What starts out containing keys and a cellphone ends up filled with just-in-case essentials that require either weekly visits to the chiropractor to realign your spine, or employment of a pack mule.
So, if I’m just nipping out to run a quick errand, my wallet and change go in my pocket, my cellphone goes on my belt, and my keys are in my hand. This latter also doubles as a handy self-defence tactic, but that’s another story.
But, for longer trips, there’s other Stuff that a writer just can’t get away without. So, yes, I have an all-purpose handbag, and here it is.
Damn fine splendid, isn’t it? The G&Co refers to my literary agent, Jane Gregory & Company, and the bag was a Christmas gift several years ago. Not exactly ideal as a slinky dinky evening carry, I admit, but incredibly useful all the same.
And it certainly gets a lot of use.
In fact, this bag went all over the States with me, when I was touring FIRST DROP. It’s large enough to take a lap top, a rolled-up evening dress and a pair of heels, and small enough not to rick my back trying to lug it around. It has an outside flap covering the main pockets for additional security, and a strap long enough to go over my shoulder. Of course, for perfection I’d like steel wire in the strap, too, so passing bag-snatchers can’t knife through the strap and make off with it, but I try to a) be aware of who’s coming up behind me, and b) not put myself in those kind of locations to begin with.
So, what’s inside? Well, oddments, I suppose. Some of which I’d no idea were still there. In fact, when I emptied the contents out to make an inventory, it was a pretty good excuse to have a clear-out.
1. Swiss Army Knife memory stick
Since I acquired this at the Reacher Creature party at Bouchercon in Baltimore, I’ve carried it everywhere. Not just because I’m a big Lee Child fan – although, of course, I am. It’s a much smaller version of the Swiss Army knife I’ve carried for years, but it has all the essentials: back-up copy of the latest book (along with the memory stick’s original contents – the first chapter of GONE TOMORROW), pen, knife, nail file, scissors, red light. OK, not so sure about that last one, but everything else is great.
2. Headache pills, eye drops, antiseptic wipes
I get rotten headaches that I have to stamp on as soon as they start to rear their ugly … well, head, I suppose. Otherwise they’re the kind where even the weight of your own hair is too much to bear. So paracetamol and ibuprofen, which I occasionally take together for their anti-inflammatory benefits, in case of bad neck/back. The Visine is a lifesaver when I’m travelling, because air-con makes my eyes resemble two fried tomatoes, as does several days of continuous contact lens wear, if I’m away doing shoots. And the antiseptic wipes are so I can clean my hands before shoving one finger into my own eye to either insert or remove said lenses.
3. Elastic bands
Great for not only holding things together, but also for taking them apart. An elastic band will get the lid off a stubborn jar or, in my case, the stuck skylight filter off the end of a lens.
Always handy to have around, especially after that inadvised lunchtime garlic dip.
Yes, plural. I carry two. One is a little Maglite, which is wonderful for map reading in strange cities at night, when putting the interior light on would a) distract the driver and b) tell every drive-by gang-banger that Here Be fresh meat. Now I also have one of these little LED things that attaches to my keys, which is handy because I have it with me all the time, but you do have to squeeze it all the time you want it on. Very useful during power cuts in ladies’ lavatories. (Don’t ask.)
6. Giant tie-wrap
Officially, I carry this because of its versatile repair qualities. We were once doing a photoshoot on an extremely quick race car, when the down-force ripped away part of the front ground effects kit. A giant tie-wrap is just the thing to fasten the bits together long enough to get you home. And I absolutely DO NOT carry it because it would, entirely hypothetically speaking, make an ideal pair of instant PlastiCuffs for any would-be burglar or mugger. Uh-uh, no way …
I happen to like Splenda in my coffee, and can’t stand certain other brands, which are sometimes all that’s on offer. The only disadvantage with carrying this is that it rattles when I walk. Either that, or I’ve started to rattle when I walk. Hm, maybe I better check that out.
8. Ziplock bag of almonds and raisins
Emergency rations. When I’m in the middle of a photoshoot, I usually don’t have time to stop and eat, but if the shoot’s a big one, eventually my hands start to shake, which is not the best situation for a photographer. I stopped snacking on motorway services junk last year, and started carrying a bag of almonds and raisins instead. Marcona almonds are the best – lightly toasted. And, when you’ve finished eating, the Ziplock bag can come in useful, too.
9. Ear defenders in old film pot
You never know when you’re going to need a set of these. Not that I’m expecting gunfire, but the guy in the next hotel room could snore for Britain, in which case they ensure a good night’s sleep. And your hearing is so important – and so easily damaged – that it’s a good standby that takes up very little room. I keep mine in an old film canister, which is airtight and waterproof, and great for other things, too.
10. Notebook, propelling pencil, ruler
Ah, finally we come to the writer-y bits. I think best in pencil, and the last time I flew I was told you’re not allowed to carry a pencil sharpener onto a plane any more (?!) so I invested in a nice propelling pencil instead. And a ruler because I like to doodle house and room designs in anticipation of our next build.
And then we come to the slightly stranger stuff:
11. Out-of-date map of the London Underground
Hm, November 2007. Have they changed it much since then? Not sure. Still, very useful thing to carry, although since I stopped going to committee meetings for the Crime Writers’ Association, I don’t need to have it in there.
12. Neck pillow
This is still lurking in the bottom from the last long flight, I think. Occasionally useful to have in the car, but that’s where it ought to live – in the car.
13. two £1 book tokens for a bookstore that no longer exists
Damn, why didn’t I spend these before Ottakar’s was taken over by Hammick’s? Come to think of it, I think Hammick’s has now been taken over by Waterstone’s. Just how old are these things?
14. piece of extremely rude Dutch toilet paper
OK, not actually going to show much of this, just in case of offending any Dutch speakers out there. I happened across this in the loo of a little back street garage in Burnley, Lancashire. We asked the garage owner if he’d recently been to Holland, and he said no, it came from the Everything Less Than A Pound shop in the town centre. Out of prurient curiosity, we took some along to CrimeFest for Adrian Muller to translate for us. He did a bit of it, went very pink, and promised to do the rest later. Still, I now know at least one very rude word in Dutch …
15. Improvised knuckle-duster
Hellfire, what’s that still doing in there! This was something I made for my Creative Thursday workshop at last year’s Harrogate Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which was entitled ‘How To Kill Someone With Loose Change’ and was all about improvised weapons. This was a little piece I made out of a cheap table fork, and caused constant fascination at the event. But, I could probably be arrested on the spot for carrying it, so by the time you read this I will have already removed it from my person!
So, while I realise that all you manly men out there will, naturally, disdain at the idea of carrying a handbag, with or without such contents, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found in a pocket, bag, or the glove compartment of your car?
If you could only keep one item, what would it be?
In an ideal world, what would you LIKE to have in there. And no bottomless pints of beer or X-ray specs, please. Well, OK then, if you insist …
I’m away on shoots all day today – with my G&Co bag, of course – but I will be back to answer your comments later this evening.
And this week’s Word of the Week is salto, meaning a daring leap, or (in gymnastics) a somersault. Also, salto mortale, meaning a mortal or fatal leap.