"Danny and the Quiet Police" by Ian Creasey — story background

Danny had waited all day to spring his surprise.  When he met his friends in the Shout, he knew better than to blurt it out straight away, even though the excitement built up inside him like a scream.

No, he waited while they filed into the back room of Tops, where Fat Dave would let them order alcohol as long as they were discreet, and didn't call him Fat Dave.  Everyone knew they drank, but the Shout was a safety valve in more ways than one.  They'd never get served in town — but then, there were no bars in town, only the cafés on Park Road, right by the meters.  Any self-respecting kid only entered Blue Mountain or Martha's Corner when the gang went silent crowding.

This is one of my most heartfelt stories, because it deals with something I care very much about: peace and quiet.  Despite living in cities for most of my life, I have never become accustomed to — let alone fond of — the constant cacophony of urban existence.

As I write these words, in my study which would overlook the street if I didn't keep my curtains drawn, the neighbourhood is blessedly quiet.  But at any moment someone might start mowing their lawn, or fire up an electric hedge-trimmer with a motor that sounds like it came off a hovercraft.  Someone might begin botching their latest DIY project — drilling and sawing, hammering and clattering.  My next-door neighbour might let their dog out, in the fond delusion that everyone on the street loves listening to its ferocious yapping, which of course sets off all the other dogs along the street.  The local motorbike owners might have an impromptu race around the block — again.  Children might start yelling and screeching outside, to accompany the dulcet tones of a football clanging against a Portakabin.  I'm not yet such a curmudgeon that I'll storm out of my house and shout, "Will you stop playing?  I'm trying to get some work done!"  But give it a few years....

I mostly write late at night, when it's quieter.  But even then, you never know when someone will take it into their heads to turn up their stereo and let everyone in the neighbourhood have the benefit of their terrible taste in music.  And then there are the wild-card interruptions: at midnight, just when you're settling down and you think everyone must at last have shut the fuck up, suddenly a helicopter swoops low over the houses, circling and hovering and... doing what exactly?  What kind of sick mind flies a helicopter over a residential neighbourhood in the middle of the night?  (Or, indeed, at any other time.)

I could go on and on about this.  The list of annoyances is endless: the car alarms, the fireworks, the police sirens, the morons who conduct their social lives by standing in their garden and shouting inanities into their mobile phones.  I live in the city because I work here, but even the countryside is no panacea, as anyone knows who's been woken at dawn by a farmer's tractor.

But surely I'm not the only person irritated by modern life's pandemonium.  I sometimes fantasise about getting together with a few like-minded souls and forming a community where it's against the law to make a racket, where wardens patrol with decibel meters to make sure everyone keeps a lid on it.  Why, if I lived there, I'd not only be happier and less stressed, I'd get so much more done.  I'd have written three trilogies already!

There are various mottos for writing — "write what you know", "write what you're passionate about", and so on.  One day, after a particularly long and annoying bout of nerve-shredding noise, I decided to write about my imaginary band of silence-lovers.  I envisaged a community where the streets were lined with monitors to measure ambient noise, and the Quiet Police tracked down offenders to deal out swift and firm punishment.  Of course, sometimes you really do have to mow your lawn or drill your whatsits, so every week there'd be a couple of noise-windows for such activities to be performed.  At all other times, blessed silence reigns.

But wonderful as such a utopia would be, a story needs tension and conflict.  Consequently I had to figure out who would resent the restrictions on noise.  Since everyone in the community had moved there voluntarily, the original residents would all be happy with the peaceful philosophy.  But what if some of them had kids?  Children are the antithesis of peace and quiet.  They'd have their own play areas outside the perimeter, but even so, they would still resent being forbidden the traditional teenage pastimes of shouting obscenities in the street and playing loud music in their bedrooms.

I therefore wrote the story using two viewpoint characters: the eponymous Danny and the Quiet Police.  In the sections from Danny's viewpoint, I gave full vent to his rage against the stifling silence of the community.  Nevertheless, my sympathies as the author were firmly on the other side.  If I were in the story, I'd be the guy enforcing the noise limits.  And if such a community were ever set up, I'd move there in an instant!

Page last updated: 2 September 2015