Non-Boring Travel Writing: Unusual or Controversial Research
by Hazel EdwardsPlaces which may be considered taboo or controversial to write about might include a funeral parlour, the labour ward of a maternity hospital, a prison, the chapel of a religious sect, a casino, an abattoir, a tattooist's parlour, a protest march, a cemetery or even an animal laboratory.
Some writers and readers may consider such subjects to be "in bad taste" or "controversial" while others may be matter-of-fact and concentrate on the quality of the writing.
If you choose to write about a taboo subject, consider;
- Why are you doing research. Curiosity? Discovering facts? A "good" story? Genuine interest? Vicarious experience? Titillation? Other reasons?
- Why might others consider it controversial or in "bad taste"? How will you address this within the article?
- Who is the prospective reader? Why might they be interested in this topic?
- Is the material written in an appropriate tone for that type of reader? What might be controversial may be a matter of opinion. For a writer the issue is WHAT is written about (subject) and HOW it is written (tone) Technically, is the chosen tone appropriate for the subject matter for this type of audience and this subject?
"Have you ever visited a brothel before?" asked the well groomed receptionist.
"No. It is your Open Day, isn't it?" I asked anxiously. "I'm researching a mystery novel."
Then I felt embarrassed that I'd offered a reason other than pure curiosity. I do write mysteries. And I do research in unusual places. But today, I was just plain curious.
Somehow I'd expected queues of female "stickybeaks" like me, not the lone male, possibly a genuine customer, vanishing into a room down the beige-carpeted passageway. And the discreetly fenced carpark in the industrial zone held only two "ordinary" cars.
"My name's Cassie. Would you like to sit in the Men's Den for a moment?" Cassie's manner was pleasant, businesslike and she spoke very quickly. A well-dressed forty-something, she had an authoritative air.
After asking my name, Cassie ushered me into a reception room with a paneled bar, a pinball machine, comfortable seats and framed voluptuous female photographic prints with DETERMINATION lettered underneath. I wondered if DETERMINATION was a brand of prints, the photographer's motto or the qualities needed locally.
"Sometimes guests like to relax here first with a cigarette or a game of pinball."
I could understand why they felt the need to relax. Various friends, and even my daughter had refused to accompany me. "I know it's not the kind of invitation a mother should issue to a daughter, but would you like to visit the brothel with me on Saturday afternoon...in the interests of research." "Sorry. I'm studying," was the reply. I hadn't prepared any questions. Frankly I thought that I would just join a group and "listen" on a conducted tour. I'd seen the news item a week earlier, and noted "Open Day" 12-5 pm and the date.
Hesitantly I rang the Adult Entertainment Industry contact number. A pleasant male voice gave me a further contact number. This girl's voice was also pleasant. Apparently she was the receptionist for Top of the Town, in Flinders Street. She gave me a list of five brothel addresses near my suburb: South Yarra. Richmond. Ringwood and the City. She intimated that brothels were perfectly natural places to visit.
By 2 o clock I nearly gave up. My street director and I have a love-hate relationship. I checked the addresses, and put crosses on the pages. Unfortunately I read it upside down and ended up on the wrong side of the major road in outer suburbia. Eventually I found the industrial complex with a predominance of automotive factories. Of course, brothels weren't permitted in residential areas.
Location. Price. Staff. I should research properly.
Back in the Men's Den, a slim black folder rested on the table. I opened it to the pages listing costs ½ hour for $90.00 ¾ hour for $130.00 and one hour for $160.00 Sex twice within the hour is an additional $20.00. A complimentary spa with the lady of your choice was available for those who bought the ¾ hour or 1 hour visit. Time extensions cost $60.00 for fifteen minutes. Fantasies were listed on the left hand side of the page and I had just started reading about nurses when Cassie returned.
She invited me to look at the first bedroom which was apparently similar to all the others. The room was furnished in beige and pink tonings with a triangular spa with carpeted steps. Mirrors behind the bedhead but none on the ceiling. Clean towels on the muted tones of the bedspread.
Cassie explained so quickly the services offered that I didn't like to interrupt. There was a clinical feel to the expressions. Some I didn't recognise but wasn't fast enough to ask details. She emphasized the "businesslike" aspect and how an "Open Day" might encourage locals not to view the brothel as a threat. It might also attract some potential customers. That didn't seem to be happening. Apparently there had been only a few "sight seers" since noon.
I asked about the "workers". Apparently they ranged from early twenties to mid forties and some had "regs" or regulars.
Cassie explained, "The girls talk amongst themselves. Just like any office. Some are very successful business women with their own accountants. And they're buying property."
I asked about the types of clients, but Cassie was very discreet. I also asked what percentage of the charges each girl retained, but that information was not available.
Not all is as it appears. Apparently the "bar" bottles are just decorations and coca cola is served because there is no liquor licence. High fences, discreet signage and obvious security are common. At the Richmond brothel, the black gate remained firmly shut while the South Yarra brothel had an apologetic sign about 'unable to provide Open Day due to undergoing renovations, but regular guests were invited to ring or knock on the door.
International charge card signs in the windows and grilled security doors with bells seemed to be standard.
Ironically as I drove away, I noticed the factory sign opposite: BODY REPAIRS!
Excerpt from Non Boring Travel Writing (Common Ground Publishers).
**Best known for There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof
Eating Cake (which won the Leipzig Picture Book Bronze Award)
and subsequent books, video, stage play Hip Hip Hippo
and audio tapes based on the cake-eating hippo, Edwards also
writes adult non-fiction, teacher educational material, junior
and adolescent fiction and scripts. Her work has
been translated into Finnish, Braille, Japanese and Chinese.
She has been nominated twice for the AWGIE award for her
children's original scripts and adaptations.
Stalker, a Young Adult thriller, is her most recent novel for young people. Just in Case...You Visit the Children's Court created with Michael Salmon is a new venture into factual cartoon style books. In 2000, Hazel was a writer-in-residence in Antarctica at Australia's Casey Station. You can visit her website at hazeledwards.com.