Sunday, May 2, 2021

Going Internet Cold Turkey

Zoë Sharp

A couple of weeks ago, I went up north to do some refurbishment work to my house (the house I own but not where I live—it’s a long story).


What should have been a three-day trip away turned into two weeks—blame the pandemic. You see, when lockdown happened across the UK in March 2020, the construction industry was allowed to continue. Manufacturing, however, was largely shut down. This has meant that all the manufactured materials associated with building, or repairing anything to do with a property, are now in very Short Supply.


Fortunately, I rarely travel anywhere without my laptop, and I also had all my notes for the book on which I’m currently doing structural edits. So, between waiting in vain for things to turn up or be delivered, I was still able to work. The house is furnished, but otherwise empty.


And it has no phone or internet connection.


Because I’ve been away so rarely over the past year, I have around 3Gb a month of data allowance on my mobile phone. Normally, that’s plenty. But, I also have free access to a wi-fi connection when I’m at my desk.


No problem, thought I. People go on writers’ retreats in remote locations all the time, where they luxuriate in the lack of distractions such as phone signal or internet access in order to really get into the creative zone. They come back with oodles written, thoroughly refreshed and relaxed.




It seems that I am not one of those people.


I hadn’t realised how often I just nip onto my browser to look up a quick fact, mid-chapter—sometimes even mid-sentence. What I find can often alter what I write, or the way that I write it.


A few examples of questions from my current work-in-progress include:


What headgear is worn by female uniformed police constables in the UK?

(Answer: a bowler with a curly brim.)


What is the minimum and maximum time you can serve in the Royal Navy?

(Answer: you can enrol between the ages of 16 and 39 and serve up to 22 years, although the minimum length of service is four years.)

How fast is average walking pace, and how long would it take to walk 1.3 miles?

(Answer: average walking speed is anywhere between 2mph and 4mph, thus it would take you between 14 and 26 minutes. For my purposes, bearing in mind this walk was undertaken in the dark and in heavy rain, even allowing for some urgency, I reckoned somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes.)

What make of motorcycles are used by British police motorcyclists?

(Answer: most likely Yamaha or BMW.)


Is there a flower that symbolises justice?

(Answer: black-eyed Susan.)

Who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”?

(Answer: this is actually a bit of a grey area. Although this quote is often credited to Edmund Burke—including in a speech by John F. Kennedy in 1961—he didn’t use those exact words. It’s also attributed to John Stuart Bell, who said something similar, but again, not those exact words. Indeed, it appears that the earliest (closest) use was by the Rev. Charles F. Aked in 1916 in a speech asking for restrictions on the use of alcohol: “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.”)


Of course, back when I first started writing, it was pre-Internet, so I collected reference books, dictionaries, and encyclopaedias. It’s rather sad to note that charity book stores in the UK have largely stopped accepting encyclopaedias because everyone has been throwing them out. How things change. Makes me wonder how will we do our research in the future?


This week’s Word of the Week is bibliosmia, meaning the act of smelling a book for pleasure.



  1. If Elon Musk has his way, we'll just think the question and the answer will pop into our heads. You'll still need internet access though. Probably direct satellite link everywhere, so no problem at your house.

    1. Thanks, Michael. The only thing for which I'd consider having a brain upgrade chip fitted would be languages. If they come up with one that acts as a universal translator enabling the user to understand and speak any language -- including feline, canine, and equine, obviously -- then I'd be first in line...

  2. This is excellent. I also dip into the internet mid-sentence/mid-paragraph. Maybe I should be looking at expanding my reference library!

    1. Thanks, James. The only problem with that is so many of my reference books are fascinating enough to completely sidetrack me. I have this problem whenever I look anything up in the dictionary -- mine is covered in Post It notes marking interesting words!

  3. My "vanity press" novel KAMILA published in 1995 was about the Algerian War of Independence from France. Hours and hours in the library roaming the stacks!

    1. Hi Kwei. I think I was writing my first novel around then, and remember many visits to the local reference library. There's no substitute for finding a good non-fiction book on the subject you're interested in, is there?

  4. And may I wish you happy birthday today? If so, happy birthday!

  5. Thank you, Stan. And you may, by all means. (Just don't ever wish a writer Many Happy Returns...) xx

  6. I missed your birthday? So much for automatic Internet calendar updating. HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I, too, search the Internet for answers mid-writing session, and it often sends me off in a different, distracting direction...but it's faster than a trip to the library.