JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: You know those disclaimers you see in blog reviews? Well, I sort of have one. I gave Deryn Collier's debut mystery, Confined Space, an enthusiastic blurb for its upcoming publication this June. But here's the thing: I wasn't the first in my family to read it. The advance reader's copy arrived, and was sitting on top of the mail. Since Confined Space had been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award, I expected I was going to enjoy it. I picked the ARC up and read the description.
"Ooo," I said. "The hero is a veteran of the War in Afghanistan. Cool."
Then my husband looked at it. "The heroine works in a BREWERY!" He vanished with the ARC. I didn't see it, or him, for three days.
Which leads me to suspect Deryn's combination of veterans, forensics, the beautiful British Columbia scenery and beer is going to make her a very popular author indeed. So sit back, crack open a cold one, and let Deryn tell you why brewing could be very, very bad for your health.
A closet crime fiction writer should not work in a brewery. I did, and I can tell you - it’s not a good idea.
Take for example the time I was asked to update a compendium of all the safety hazards in the brewery. I was supposed to cross-reference something or other, but was distracted by the siren call of hazards. Words like:
…Words like ConfinedSpace.
Do you see what I mean? You don’t? Well, maybe it’s just me then. I read a list like that and I get all excited. To me, each one is a jumping off place for a story. A potential chapter in a book called: How to Die in a Brewery.
Take for example Exposure to Carbon Dioxide. This gas is a by-product of the fermentation process. In many breweries it is recovered and stored until it is added back (as bubbles) to the finished beer. But what if the carbon dioxide escapes?
Not much of a problem, usually. So long as you are upright, you should be fine. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air. It will sink and disperse, and you will just go about your day.
But, say you have a character - say he’s a brewery worker – and he hears a sound. What if he goes to investigate and gets whacked on the back of the head by an unknown antagonist hiding in the brewery? Your character is unconscious on the floor when the CO2 starts to spill out of an open fermentation tank and sink. Remember - CO2 is heavier than air. Your guy is in trouble.
Do you see what I mean now?
Part of my job involved counting beer. Every Friday I would put on my steel-toed shoes (slipping hazards) and my safety eyewear (exploding glass) and my hi-vis vest (collisions with internal transport equipment). I would head down the fermentation hallways and the ageing cellars to take an inventory of beer-in-progress.
You might say I’m more of a words person than a numbers person and after a while of adding up all those hectolitres, my mind would start to wander to more interesting questions. Like…
How high does a fermentation tank have to be in order for a person to die when they fall (or are pushed) from it?
How long would a corpse lie on the floor at the back of ageing cellar #8 before it was found?
What would it be like to fall into a malt elevator? (And how long before anyone found the body?)
I became fascinated with those places in the brewing process where people interact with machines. There is so much potential for harm. Workers, it seems, remain alive only by the grace of a thousand precautions.
The question of carelessness could occupy my mind for whole days: What if someone forgot a step? Rushed through a regulated activity? Didn’t feel like taking a precaution one day? Which exact combination of missed safety measures would it take to build a tragedy?
Say you have this character – he’s a brewery worker. He’s working alone. He’s gone into a confined space – a tank – to repair it. Then there’s this other character – we can’t see him, we can only hear him. We know he’s there. He’s come into the same place to clean that same tank…
Do you see now why it is a bad idea for a crime writer to work in a brewery? Beer will go uncounted. Spreadsheets will not be properly cross-referenced. The only thing that will come of it is some crazy story.
What about you? Have you ever had a job worthy of a crime fiction plot? Please tell me I’m not the only one.
Deryn Collier grew up in Ottawa and Montreal and is a graduate of McGill University. After a very short career as a federal bureaucrat she ran away to the mountains of BC where she has been ever since. She has worked in a log yard, a brewery, as a doctor recruiter and a communications consultant. You can find out more about Deryn and Confined Space at her website. You can also read her blog and follow her on Twitter as @DerynCollier.