Gunfire For Beginners
I don’t believe you have to kill a shark in order to write about it, Hemingway-style, but a writer needs a certain amount of experience in order to write about anything. I suppose that’s not always true; HRF Keating’s Inspector Ghote novels were written without him visiting India. But some writers end up writing about writers – a state that’s a tad too solipsistic for my liking.
So when friends Paul and Amanda suggested I come to Wiltshire to try shooting this weekend, I accepted because I’ve written scenes in which people get shot but have never touched a gun. The first I picked up, a Beretta rifle, was heavier than I’d expected. On the range, the hardest part was nestling the stock beneath my clavicle and aligning the sight with my right eye while closing my left – this doesn’t come naturally to most people.
Of the four types of moving targets we tried, a high angled pull against the sun proved almost impossible to hit, whereas something low and fast, duplicating the movement of a rabbit, was easiest. This morning I have a bit of a sore shoulder but the kickback was less than I’d expected. However, the noise was worse – a short, hard, ugly and fairly unimpressive sound that was nothing like a film gunshot but which seemed to cut directly to the eardrum, making it sing.
The multiple hide shooting at the end of the session, in which you need to empty and reload your rifle quickly, proved the most challenging, although I could see how easily one could get into the rhythm of fitting and discharging shells with speed.
The most intriguing part for me was how much shooting is part of the broader countryside culture of community. Conservative and traditional, as you’d expected, but welcoming and involving. The sheer unwieldiness of a weapon is problematic, and coupled with the noise renders most balletic movie gunplays absurd. To conduct a John Woo gun battle would be like fighting with a deadeningly heavy, deafening length of gas barrel.
Chalk that one down to research: Next month, courses on how to murder someone with your bare hands. Joking.