Someone robbed the Post Office around the corner from my house in Galway. Later, I heard that two criminals had broken in the night before. They came down through the roof, and waited until the manager arrived in the morning. They tied him up and gagged him and got away with abut €12,000. It was noted at the time as a meticulous robbery. They knew that there’d be a lot of money there that day due to a Social Welfare Payout. They were also familiar with the Postmaster’s habits and knew exactly when the Time Locks would open on the safe – meaning they could be gone with the money before the public were due to arrive.
At this point, the characters in El Niño were evolving criminals. Having gone from pickpockets, to shop robbers, they were know progressing to holding up financial institutions. I knew the key things about the book by now were dialogue and authenticity. It was important to root the book in a firm, solid world. One where the characters understood, and were proficient at what they were doing – in this case: Robberies.
If you, as the writer, don’t fully understand what your characters are doing then your readers won’t either. So the advice here is to either do your diligent research or avoid things you can’t accurately describe.
Knowing a girl that worked in a Post Office was a big help. It was a fairly quiet one too so there was time to talk and explore without too many customers coming in. She was also a writer so understood the nature of what I was trying to do. I got in there early in the morning and she brought me out the back for a look around. The door through was reinforced by steel and she had to use a code to open it. Once inside, we walked in to an office where the safes and money were kept. It was a bright room with a brown carpet. There was a smell of stamps, ink and stationery and some bags of copper coins left around. A table in the corner with a myriad of till receipts and paperwork that looked like bank statements and invoices. A clock ticking on the wall above a filing cabinet with a stand alone calendar telling today’s date. Underneath the table was the lead coloured safe. A big hunker of a thing. It had an obstinate, grumpy look. My friend explained the timelocks and how, usually, two trusted people had the keys. At the appropriate time, the safe would sound an alarm, meaning you had 15 seconds to put in the keys and open it.
Both people had to be present as one key alone wasn’t enough. If the 15 seconds elapsed, then it would reset for another 30 minutes when you could try again. If that didn’t work, it locked completely for the next 24 hours. This morning the safe was open. The manager had come in, opened it, and then had to leave again. I pulled back the heavy door and looked inside. There was bags of cash, coins, stamps and paperwork. It smelled like a mix between a library and a bank. We talked for another while about who opens up, who closes and what kind of customers usually come in. Eventually, I had enough for the next chapter of the novel and went home to write. Again, similar to Chartbusters, the fictional robbery went on to form another vital part of the plot.