Fish Story is, at last, a story that doesn’t focus on Darius. Well, nobody has actually complained, but it was time for a change. This story centres mainly on our gay couple, Dougal Drummond and Sandy McCoy. I decided to send them on a summer holiday. This set up worked in my Cardiff stories when I sent Ianto and Alun on a walking holiday in the Black Hills and straight into a mystery of their own. Dougal and Sandy find their adventure a little bit upriver from Loch Ness.
Now, hands up anyone who isn’t from Scotland who knows the name of the river that flows into Loch Ness, or any of the smaller lochs it flows through before reaching the famous one? Most people have heard of the legends, seen the cartoon that reminds us that you never find a Nessie in the zoo, or even the film that came out in the late 80s but failed to inspire movie goers worldwide. But how much do you know about the topography of the area?
I didn’t. I had to do a fair bit of research to find out that the river is called the Enrick. The smaller loch just mile or so upriver from Ness is called Loch Meiklie. I think that might be pronounced something like ‘meekly’ but if anyone with local knowledge knows better, please let me know. However it is pronounced, Meiklie is, like most Scottish lochs, very deep – perhaps not deep enough to have its own Nessie, but deep enough to hide a few secrets.
Tighe Meiklie is, as far as I can work out, Gaelic for ‘Meiklie House’. Tighe is very similar to the Irish word used in the same context as well as the Welsh one, but I am far less familiar with Scots Gaelic.
In reality, Loch Meiklie is mainly a quiet holiday spot. There is a larger hotel, a couple of bed and breakfasts like the one portrayed here and a group of holiday cottages for self-catering. Fishing in the loch is the big draw. It appears in a number of angling websites as a good place to catch salmon and other freshwater fish. The idea that the guest house owner would supplement the food stock with freshly caught fish from the loch is perfectly feasible.
Mrs Bailie, who is so sweet to her two clean-cut, polite young guests who happen to share a bed, is very deliberately the antithesis of the guest house owners in Cornwall who have been making a nuisance of themselves in the courts over the past year and a half after refusing a room with double bed to a gay couple. Mr and Mrs Bull claim that allowing unmarried people to sleep in a double bed is against their Christian beliefs. The 2010 Equality Act says that they are wrong and it is costing them and their Christian fundamentalist supporters a lot of money to fight for their ‘right’ to be homophobic bigots.
Mrs Bailie is a true hotelier who treats all of her paying guests with a friendly smile and doesn’t mind about their private lives. I am sure that is exactly what happens in almost every hotel, guest house and lodging in the UK except for a handful of noisy types like the ones in Cornwall who choose to be unpleasant. Dougal and Sandy enjoy their home cooked dinner in cheerful circumstances, debating whether Omega 3 is something healthy that is found in well-cooked fish or a cat food – something I have often wondered about myself!
And afterwards they go for a romantic walk by the loch in the still warm dusk. What else would do lovers from Glasgow do in the countryside? It is then that the Torchwood mystery comes into play. I start it slowly with the vicious fish that tries to fight back, and investigating the fridge and going on to the sudden outbreak of violent behaviour among middle class people playing dominoes in the hotel lounge.
The story takes on a very slightly comedic tone with the antics of the guests, especially the soap-sud covered Mr Hallam. At that point I decided it would be better if nobody actually died in the story. It would change the tone a bit too much. The only real victims are fish and cats and one unfortunate bird. Of course, if you LIKE cats, or, indeed, fish or birds, it does all seem a bit cruel to them,
Dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine ARE, of course, hormones associated with anger or at least heightened emotions. Google is a wonderful tool for the fiction writer in need of details like that. I’m starting to get good at these hormones through writing Torchwood stories.
Google also provided a handy guide to Scottish dialect words. That combined with a couple of Billy Connolly DVDs gave me confidence to try a bit of rural Scots vernacular from Munroe –
If anyone in Scotland wants to suggest more accurate spellings or more vernacular expressions, feel free to contact me.
When Dougal and Shona finally reach Mr Randall the fish fancier, and hear his story about the blue jelly blobs he found in his garden we get to the actual inspiration for this story. There was a report in the news about mysterious blueblobs that had turned up in a garden overnight only to desiccate once the sun was up. A simple explanation was eventually given for the strange occurrence, but the comments on the Guardian article are worth looking at for some lovely conspiracy theory explanations and some great tongue in cheek ones.
And this is, of course, my Torchwood explanation –
The aquarium at Torchwood Cardiff was referred to in one of the spin-off novels that I got around to reading once when I was too ill to write my own. The title for reference was Slow Decay by Andy Lane, but personally I am not a fan of the novels. They twist the relationships within Torchwood far too much and most seem to go for a gruesomeness that wouldn’t be permitted on TV. And ok, that may be a case of the pot calling the kettle on both grounds, but that's my feeling. All the same, I thought the idea that Torchwood collects alien marine life interesting, given that they ARE beside open water and below sea level, and I wanted to get it into a storyline even in an oblique way. One of these days I might get around to a story based on the aquarium.
Did everyone get the mild Jaws homage, by the way “Dougal, you’re going to need a bigger gun.”