Friday, June 2, 2017

Super- Recognisers and the Sewers Of Mexico City.

“The Super-Recogniser and the Sewage of Mexico City”

Not a phrase you hear that often but to explain it all, here is  my guest blogger, Gail Williams. Or GB as she is known in writing world. She has just signed a three book deal - the Locked series and I am going to get my little paws on  the first edition ASAP. She was shortlisted for the 2014 CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Competition, she's a feature writer and comic book reviewer.  She has also had a lot of short story success - not always in crime - steampunk, horror, erotica and general fiction. 
It's rumoured that she owns the world’s most imperious cat. She has not met Mrs Brambles.
Here's what she has to say in a blog I was going to subtitle Faeces and Faces.

You could be forgiven for not recognising how the two items in the title of this blog go together.  In a rational world, they probably don’t.  But I’m a writer, so rational doesn’t stand a chance against imagination, nor in this case, reality; and odd things happen when you go to conferences.

Suppose I should start for the top.  Hello, I’m GB Williams.  I write crime fiction.  I’m even getting published later this year, but that’s not what this blog is about.  Like a lot of writers, I attend writing conferences, and the most recent was CrimeFest 2017 in Bristol.   When you hop between panels, paths cross, you meet people.

This year in Bristol I bumped into Caro Ramsay, who I’ve been fortunate enough to meet before in Bloody Scotland events and at CrimeFest, and we got talking, and sat together attending a couple of the panels. One panel touched on the subject “Super-Recognisers,” which got us both scribbling notes for future reference. 

If like me before the event, you’ve never heard of super-recognisers, they are people who never forget a face.  Literally.  It sounds clichéd, but no more than 1% of the population is believed to qualify as a super-recogniser (at least according to  Super-recognisers can spot faces in crowds and on CCTV footage, leading the London Metropolitan Police to create a super-recogniser unit to do just that for them.  This ability offers up all sorts of potential for dealing with illusive “people of interest” not just for the Met, but for authors too.  It’s not difficult to imagine how useful a super-recogniser character would be - possibilities abound.  I have a character, a young DC, who has now acquired this ability.  Unfortunately, her appearance is several books down the line from where I am now so she won’t be seen for a while, but I will be using this ability - well - she will.

This ability, like all abilities, is of course a spectrum, everything from the absolute inability to recognise a face through to this amazing recognition power.  Caro thought she might be leaning towards the super-recogniser ability.  That wouldn’t surprise me - after all, she remembered me and I’m the kind of average-looking that not only makes me forgettable, it means I am often misremembered, which can be a worrying experience in and of itself, but that’s another future plot for you.

Just to prove that I’m not a super-recogniser, aside from the fact that I’ve been known not to recognise my own mother in the street, when I saw Caro at CrimeFest, I was just holding a door for “the woman behind me,” and I had to do a double take to check it was her before I dared say hello.  The fact that this was the door to the Ladies is neither here nor there. 

While at the event, I also spoke with two men I’d met at writers conferences last year. One didn’t remember me either, which meant I didn’t feel so bad about not recognising him, then we started having a similar conversation to one we’d had last year - about Doctor Who, of all things - and we both remembered the first meeting. And yes, okay, I am a geek, I know. The other man did remember me, but had to actually jog my memory of him, which is a familiar embarrassment.   It isn’t that I don’t care about people, it really is that I just don’t remember faces well.

By now, you’re probably wondering how the Sewage in Mexico City comes into things.  Well it doesn’t: that’s kind of the problem.  Still, I’m getting ahead of myself, and as I write this I’m wondering how it came up too, because we were waiting for another panel to start, and this came into the conversation, but I honestly cannot remember how. 

Now, it’s an odd thing that needs some explanation or you are just going to think me totally weird.  Well, okay, you probably already think I’m weird. I’m just not weird in the way that this story could make me seem weird if I don’t give some background.  I’ve worked in a number of industries, and I am currently in the Water and Sewage industry.  I have worked in this industry longer than any other industry.  So I am more aware of what happens after the flush than most people will ever want to be.

Sadly, this means that I take an interest in sewers and sewage treatment, not just locally, but around the world too.  Without going into mucky detail, sewers usually work with gravity, and water (and any solid suspended in it) flows downhill. The centre of Mexico City is sinking, so gravity is doing what gravity does, which means the sewers are flowing the wrong way and collecting sewage where they shouldn’t.  So when I hear about a man who spends his working life diving into the sewers of Mexico City, I am going to watch a programme about him (Supersized Earth with Dallas Campbell, if you’re interested).  You have to admit, someone who dives into a lake of waste water - including all the things that we know are in there but don’t want to talk about - is one brave individual. 
                                      wiki image of Mexico City

It’s also the kind of thing that sticks in the mind.  Faces not so much. Sewer divers, oh hell yes.  Quite why my mind then thinks that this is the kind of detail that it’s okay to mention in polite society is anyone’s guess, I don’t know, but I did.  Did I mention being weird?

Mind, I am also a crime writer, so it also stuck in my head that one of the things that this diver has had to cope with is human corpses.  Now that’s another fertile source of plotlines, how did a dead body get into the sewer system?  Why?  Accident or aggression?  See now I have all sorts of twisted plotlines running through my head, and enough technical knowledge to use them properly.

And that is kind of the point.  The great melting pot of a writers mind can make a plot line out of anything - A body gets stuffed into a sewer, the act is caught on CCTV, then the people doing the stuffing have to be traced, hence the use of a super-recogniser. 

There you go, weirdness takes the most disconnected facts and grafts them together into something usable.

As the weirdness goes on, and I suspect you’re all now trying to back away,  I’m going to go hide back in my cave (office), but not without a big thank you to Caro for continuing to talk to me, and allowing me to ramble on her blog.  [If you want to see me ramble on my blog, it’s or my website:]  And I will be at Bloody Scotland this year, where I hope to see Caro again and anyone else willing to talk to this weirdo, and remember - just because I’ve meet you once before, doesn’t guarantee I’ll recognise you (sorry!). 

For Caro Ramsay   02 06 2017


  1. Great column, Gail, thanks. I've heard of diving for dollars, but I've never heard of diving for turds. Interesting career path ("This job is going to shit!")

  2. You are fascinatingly weird. I like that in a human. I am very good at facial recognition, but very bad at associating a name with the face unless it is someone like Mr. Bean. How much pay would you guess a sewer diver gets? Enough?

  3. I have already written my rats in the sewer book - I was in a Stephen King fame of mind - but I do get fascinated by people who are enthusiastic about their jobs, whatever they do. I've heard that Chicken sexers get paid a fortune but I've never met one...

  4. Having read your delightful post, GB, there's no question in my mind that you and Caro are sewerly kindred spirits.

    1. Why thank you Jeffery - that is compliment indeed!

      (Well to me, not sure about Caro :D)

    2. I'm sure she's off somewhere blushing with joy.