Monday, 9 April 2012

So who did invent the Freddo Frog? Steps of writing a non-fiction article.

Non-fiction articles can be fun! They take a bit of work (as I found out, having sat down with my net-book expecting to run one up in a couple of minutes) and can be a little daunting. As with most things, having a framework can be very helpful. To demonstrate the process, I have chosen a website (Instructables - Share What You Make) and I will provide a bit of a commentary of the process.

'Step 1 - Get the material.'

First up, I need to choose a topic. As I am not writing to any specific instructions, guidelines or commissions, I take the very boring and easy road of choosing what I first see, Cherry Ripe chocolate, based on a carton of Easter chocolate that is sitting in my line of sight from the reclining couch in my mother's lounge room.

'Step 2- figure out the emotional core.'

What sort of emotions can be evoked by a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar? Envy and greed come to my mind, spurred on by the season in which I am writing, Easter, time of gluttony and over-indulence, mixed with the tension of anticipation and the discomfort of finding yourself cooped up with family members for lengthy periods of time.

'Step 3 - define the story arc.'

What is a story arc? I choose to focus on the history of the sweet and find some information about the inventor of Cadbury Freddo Frogs, Harry Melbourne (and yes, if that's his real name, it is a definite reader hook!) Apparently Harry gave the idea to his boss, Macpherson Robertson (the owner of McRobertson's chocolates) remaining loyal to his company but never making any money from his idea. Macpherson Robertson, on the other hand, more than likely made plenty of money, and with the continuing popularity of the product, someone must be getting plenty of regular refills into their coffers! Hmmm, quite a whiff of unfairness and inequality - that seems like a bit of a story sparker to me!

'Step 4 - Do nauseating amounts of research.'

Well haven't got time for this stage, about half an hour of reading on the Internet will do today... and maybe a bit of Shakespeare from an old book on my mum's bookshelf. If you're passionate about your subject, this part will come a lot easier, and no matter how much you think you know about a subject, there's always more to learn! So go for your life.

'Step 5 - you get to start your story - yeah!'

My fingers hit the keys, and off I go. Throughout this stage, I hit step 6 - 'describe a plot point in the story arc', step 7 - ' lather, rinse, repeat' and step 8 - 'close this motherf***er!' and finish up with step 9 - 'try to make it readable'.

Here's what I come up with...

So who did invent the Freddo Frog?

When Envy breeds unkind division:
There comes the ruin, there begins confusion.
1 Henry VI 4.1.195-6, Exeter - Shakespeare

When Harry Melbourne took his last breath in 2007 aged 94, there was little pomp and ceremony. For the inventor of one of Australia's most well known and loved icons, the Freddo Frog, this seems suprising. A brief mention in the Sydney Morning Herald marked his passing, and to all appearances he died having lived a satisfying life.

But I'm a writer and my imagination has a tendency to go exploring. I start to wonder, what if there was another story behind the headlines, one tinged with the green mold of envy and poisoned with the bull-headed bombasticity of ambition? Well let's try out the idea and see what it looks like on paper.

*Disclaimer:  The following is mere speculation, and by no means a true representation, used for the purposes of this writing exercise only. It is not recommended or accepted in many writing circles to steer too far from the truth in a non-fiction piece. However, playing around with ideas can help shape your article into something much more exciting, and that's what the following process aims to demonstrate. But if you are intending to publish your final piece, please take care!

Harry Melbourne was grateful to have a job, after all, Melbourne was in the midst of a depression and all of his friends were out of work. He knew he was lucky. But he couldn't help feeling frustrated that his boss, Mr Robertson, seemed very quick to take up his ideas but very slow to give him a decent pay.
'Obviously a pay rise is impossible in these current economic times, Harry', was his catch-cry phrase. That was easy enough to believe inside the factory walls, but as Harry set off on his thirty mile walk home, he couldn't help gazing at his boss, Robertson, as he haughtily drove off in his Rolls Royce, and it did tend to stir him up inside.

Harry had been working for Robertson for five years now, having taken a job after finishing  high school. He was grateful for his wage, couldn't complain really, especially as he walked past the lines of men in the dole queues on his way to work. My god, what a down and out bunch! He'd heard about those dreadful happenings they tried to keep quiet in the papers, it seemed that everyone knew someone who'd done it,
hung themselves down the back shed or aimed a shot-gun bullet at their head down the back of the farm.

When Harry first came in, he'd been more than happy to share his ideas and his boss seemed to take quite an interest, listening to his suggestions and changing his products to suit on many occasions. The Cherry Ripe, in particular, had gone off with a bang, Harry had given his boss the hint and now it was one of their best sellers. It was Harry's favourite chocolate too, even  all these years he still liked the taste of the juicy chocolate covered cherries.

He also advised his boss on many other matters. When Macpherson had wanted to make the chocolate mice, for instance, Harry knew they wouldn't sell, after all mice were considered vermin  right now, and they were pretty unpopular, spreading disease all over the city doesn't usually bide for great appeal. But frogs, they were different. Kids loved frogs. Most kids would have raised tadpoles for pets at some stage and he'd raised plenty of them over his own child-hood. He'd mentioned the idea to Roberston during one of their smokos, and the Freddo Frog went on to become even bigger than the Cherry Ripe.

But unfortunately, Harry wasn't seeing any of the benefits of his great ideas. His wage stayed put while everything else around him got more and more expensive, especially as the boys grew older and needed more and more. Home life was becoming strained, his wife Edna just couldn't make the dollars stretch and they often went without a decent meal. Plus Harry's hours just got longer and longer, until it felt like he may as well live at the bloody chocolate factory.

The crunch came in the winter of '34. Harry arrived home late, to find his wife in tears, the house stripped of furniture, the house cold and a sense of gloom thicker than the gooey vat of caramel that he'd been stirring all afternoon. The last payments at the store had not gone through and the bastards had come over to re-posess every last chair and every last bed. Harry knew it was only days until he would be handing over the keys of the house. It would come at a loss, with all the drama of having strangers come in and take what you've been working hard for for years, without the slightest twitch of remorse. With more tears and that look of disappointment from Edna, added to the confusion in his son's faces, Harry had to take action. That night he didn't sleep for a second and it wasn't because of the hard floor he was sleeping on. It was a drastic plan that he concocted in great detail, and he knew it wasn't going to be pretty.  As the image of his haughty boss in the shiny Rolls Royce mixed in with the tears and despair of his family, Harry felt had no other choice.

Heavy-hearted and eyes parched from the sleepless night, Harry stood at the door of Roberton's office, hands shaking and heart all twisted in his chest. He knocked three times then pushed open the door and stormed into the office, ready to fire the final blow. But as he did, he was met by Robertson, who was walking towards him, his large frame soon overshadowing Harry's, forcing Harry to look towards the ceiling and he felt himself shrinking before his boss like a Fruit and Nut bar melting on the carpeted floor. 

'Harry, look at me', said Robertson, in a voice full of unexpected warmth, large hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry looked up, his neck straining.
'It's time you were rewarded for your years of hard work.'
Harry couldn't believe his ears. Was this a joke? Robertson was picking up something from his desk - his cheque book! The fountain pen scratched out a long row of numbers.  'For you', he said. 'To repay the money you owe on your house.  I've also paid for the furniture, and I don't want to hear a word about paying me back.'
'But, why?', Harry asked, mouth open in amazement.
'The frog.', said Robertson, smiling, pointing towards the giant framed image of Freddo Frog on his wall. 'He was your idea all along, and for goodness sake, young man, how can I watch you go under when it was you who came up with the idea in the first place?'

Well, it's only an idea about what could have happened, of course!
Next time I bite into a Cherry Ripe or a Freddo Frog, I'll be thinking about where they came from. Or maybe I'll be enjoying the taste of that sweet, thick chocolate too much to care. I finally reach the last step, step 10 -' avoid screaming subjects and death threats on blogs and try to get paid for it.' This bit sounds interesting, but because this is merely an experiment, I'm just popping it on my own blog! Let me know how you go with your own articles, I'd love to read some!

Happy writing!

Sue Oaks, Copyright 2012.