Some shots I took just as the sun was setting, Highgate Wood, North London:
I’m about a third of the way through my second novel and also at the point where I need to introduce a major new story angle in the earlier chapters. I’ve also changed the name of the story from Halfway House to EggHead (the central character’s nickname) and I have some exciting storylines in mind.
EggHead explores the consequences of a twelve-year-old boy’s actions following a short but particularly nasty bullying campaign against the boy. At this stage in the story, the central character, now nineteen, is struggling to rebuild his life in a remote village off the North Sea.
A couple of hours have gone, and I’m in the hut with a dry pair of socks and trainers on, sharing a bottle of cider with Angus, Terence and another man, Bill. Jeff’s gone off somewhere. Angus and Terence seem to have forgotten what happened earlier. It doesn’t seem that relevant now. I’m still here after all, and I guess I’ll be around tomorrow and the day after. We roll up old dog-ends from a tin, smoke them and take it in turns to swig cider from the bottle. My hand still throbs, especially from the icy temperature, but I’ve learnt to ignore the sensation. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, save for the sugary milky tea Angus got me earlier. I prefer the tilt and the glow that alcohol brings.
The wind blows around in circles and the sea collides with rocks further along, causing foam-like sprays to form in the air and a spectacular pulling in of the waves. Dire; yet for me the hut becomes a place of warmth and safety and belonging, a place cut off from the rest of the village and what it represents: isolation. These men are kind. They’ve stopped asking me about my background. They accept me for who I am – and I, them. We’re four men who’ve fallen through society’s cracks; that’s all anyone needs to know. Together, we polish off the bottle of cider and smoke some more of the dog-ends from the tin. We stay out till late afternoon, till after dark, huddled close together for warmth as another day slips away.
Meanwhile my debut novel – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available of Amazon and Barnes and Nobles.
I’m working on a new novel, Halfway House, that explores a number of themes through central character Wayne at the ages of twelve and nineteen. As a twelve-year-old boy, Wayne took drastic action against his mother’s boyfriend Simon following a bullying vendetta on Simon’s part. At this stage in the story, the nineteen-year-old Wayne is struggling to rebuild his life in a hostel on the North East coast. In this section, his old mates come up from Manchester and take him out for the day.
Zipper and Darren pay for my lunch and my drinks, insisting that the meal is my Christmas present, and at some point they raise their glasses in a toast to me. Later, Darren drives us chaotically along the sea front, crying from laughter. We jump out further on, prancing around on the shore, throwing humps of sand at each other, joking around and shouting like yobos. Laughing, I take a look round at my surroundings. The shore isn’t any different from the promenade near the Halfway House. The sea here lacks colour too. The same freeze lingers. The sepia-like sky blends with the horizon, matching the fact that few people in these parts have money or jobs, yet for me the experience is entirely different. Today, I belong. Today, I’m human. Today, I’m with my mates, and that’s all that matters. I take in the icy winds and the biting northern chills, and they invigorate me. Even the sea looks beautiful. Even the grimy sand and broken shells.
‘What about the interview?’ I say.
‘Later,’ Darren says.
‘I really want to do it.’
‘Yep, you will,’ Darren says. ‘Stop worrying. It’s guaranteed.’
‘Hey, relax, Wayne, and chill out,’ Zipper says. ‘Any time you have to be back?’
‘Cool, my friend. We’re going for a little drive. ‘
Meanwhile, my debut novel – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Taken from a note I posted on Facebook:
Most recent album: Highgate Wood On A Sunny Winter Day/11/03/12
First, I had to decide why wanted to take these shots. Could I justify spending time shooting and editing on that particular day? I thought the day seemed sunny, and I saw the potential for capturing early spring photographs, especially original details, so I took the camera out of the case.
Next, I deal with the settings. The camera, a prosumer compact, allows considerable control over settings. However, it isn’t an SLR, although the user apparently can fit other lenses. I set the controls as follows: aperture-priority mode, aperture F8, ISO 100 (to avoid noise), white balance sunny. A month or two earlier, I’d accidentally kept an indoor white balance while taking shots of Regents Park and ended up with heavily sickly blue photos.
The settings done, I took a walk to Highgate Wood, North London, and started shooting. At first, I wondered exactly why I was doing this. Didn’t all the photographs seem the same? But then, I shifted my attention to the viewfinder rather than LCD, and I saw that these photos appeared more original and convincing.
After a while, I left the scene with the images stored on a memory card. Later that night, I transferred the images to the laptop and started the processing stage, using an open source software program called GIMP (or IMP, as I refer to it). I set the print resolution at 300 and cropped where necessary. Relying on the viewfinder instead of the LCD meant that I had to rotate, and therefore, crop many of the images. I forgot to select something called GEGL until midway through the process. In GIMP, GEGL allows a greater scope for developing the various color options – largely because GIMP only supports 8-bit files. (Confusing.)
Once I’d dealt with image size, rotation and cropping, I turned my attention to the editing stages. First, I enlarged the images on screen. Then, I took a look at the histograms and Levels. The tonal range. I created a new level to avoid destructive editing (confusing in itself). As advised in a book I read recently, I moved the Highlights slider to the left to lighten the scene and the Shadows to the right, careful to stop when problems appeared in the image.
Next, I created another level and turned my attention to the color balance, particularly in the midtones. Scenes differ and demand different editing actions, but I tend to emphasise a slight red and slight yellow over colours like cyan or blue.
A level on, and I dealt with the saturation and hue. Normally, I prefer less saturation to more. At this point, I flattened most of the images and saved them under new names, but on a few occasions I applied an unsharpen mask or a Gaussian blur.
Then I sent them to various online places, such as Facebook, yahoo and WordPress.
I didn’t think any of the images seemed suitable for black and white, sepia or various duotones, but I always have a keen interest in black and white or sepia, and I understand that the unsharpen mask may often be the final stage in creating a good black and white image.
I’m about a quarter of my way through a new novel, Halfway House, told through the eyes of central character Wayne at the ages of twelve and nineteen. In this section, the twelve-year-old Wayne is having problems with his mum’s boyfriend Simon who’s becoming increasingly nasty. Like my previous novel Secrets, Halfway House is part psychological thriller.
Time to go. I inch open the bedroom window and slide it up. Climb over the window ledge and land on the other side, nearly falling flat on my backside. My heart hammers in case Simon comes out after me and stops me from getting to Uncle Graham’s. I hurry down the rear steps in the wet, past the lock-up sheds, along the dark side alley that links to the main road. Then I’m on the main road, running towards Uncle Graham’s house, ready to tell him everything about the last few days. The rain and wind thrash me as I run, soaking my anorak and digging deep into my trainers and socks. A few people pass by, turning to stare as I leg it along the street.
I reach a second set of lights. Nearly there now. Suddenly, a car pulls up by me and a bloke jumps out.
Simon’s mate from Sunday. The one who watched me from the kitchen, cracking his knuckles. ‘Oi,’ he shouts. ‘Get in the car.’
The street’s empty. I make a dash for it, but he’s quick. Within a split second, he’s caught up and grabbed me, yanking my arm back roughly. ‘Word of warning,’ he says as he pushes me into the car where the other mate’s sat behind the wheel. ‘Play up in the car, and you’ll get a hammering from us and a hammering from Simon. Got that?’
I downloaded the photo editing software GIMP a couple of evenings ago and am getting used to it after a frustrating start. The software’s open source and doesn’t cost a thing. Personally, I think it has some powerful features, in particularly those to do with manipulating colour.
Originally, I took the photo below in automatic mode last year (although I never use automatic now). Using GIMP, I went into Color Channels and selected Monochrome. With the first photo, I brought the black and white image, chose colorize and altered the hue and saturation.
Queen’s Wood, North London