Lo and Behold

Words by Gil Segev
Photo by Jonas Nilsson Lee

 

November was chosen as National Novel Writing Month by California-based The Berkeley’s  Office of Letters and Light. That’s why I, along with thousands of others, sat down on the day after Halloween and began hammering out stories.

In 2012 I thought I was very clever when I came up with the title for a young adult novel about a young boy interested in perfume and love: The Essence of Chase. “What a play on words! What imagery!” I thought. The story’s link to perfume was obvious in its title and doubling up “Essence” as protagonist’s name too… Genius! In hindsight however, it was so clearly, very much evident, not genius (except maybe for my 15 year old self).

I flipped through the pages and for the first time it hit me: this story smelled.

The novel turned out to be such absolute rubbish, so much so that in 2014 I rewrote it. I changed the title to start with a clean slate. Field of Daisies would be about a perfumer’s assistant from rural Ontario, Canada. Chase Dowling, the protagonist, would rediscover himself, and relationships, through scent. I could already see it on the shelf next to the works of Luca Turin, perfume-critic extraordinaire – their spines sitting side-by-side like best friends.

Lo and behold, December came and I had completed my first draft. It was the perfect holiday gift to myself. Regardless of its plot-holes and several mistakes, it was finished. I flipped through the pages and for the first time it hit me: this story smelled.

I’m no stranger to writing about fragrance. I blog twice a week about perfume which has taught me not only about the unexpected emotional experiences a bottle of perfume can induce but also effective communication. Transferring an olfactory experience, perhaps the most private of them all, through combinations of adjectives and analogies is tough. When you get it right, you gain both friendship and readership.

You might think that writing about perfume would be routine to me in the same way a cup of organic-vegan-no-milk-half-caf-with-foam coffee is to a barista. And yet, midway through the month when I started dabbing on a particular scent every morning before I wrote, it was like a daily revelation.

I received a bottle of WINTER, a perfume by Dasein Fragrance in LA for review purposes, smack dab in the midst of a spell of writer’s block. Soon, however, I was thinking about my novel, and realized that the scent represented my story perfectly.

It produces an image of a fresh man dressed in plaid flannel, hiking in the crisp woods in the early morning.

WINTER contains a pine note so dynamic that it dominates the composition; there’s a hint of civet and then it’s sweet like cotton candy. The pine comes from the Austrian Alps, and together with a prominent note of clean lavender, it produces an image of a fresh man dressed in plaid flannel, hiking in the crisp woods in the early morning. Masculine, strong, cold and smooth at the same time, like wisps of low-hanging cloud over a valley, enveloping you in a comfortable haze.

It came as no surprise that WINTER suited my Northern, rural protagonist and his surroundings perfectly. As long as I could smell him on my wrist, the rest of my story’s cast could smell him as well, like leaving fragrant trails behind him. It added another sensory angle to my writing – bringing my characters to life in a way I never imagined before.

It is perhaps a touch untraditional to spray perfume before beginning a work of fiction but it worked wonders in bringing my piece to life. Searching for a perfume to fit a character, location, or era is exciting – it turns out, my muse was only two sniffs away all along.


Gil lives in Canada and writes about perfume and scent. He is currently in post-word-count-zombie mode, and working on Fields of Daisies – a great-smelling book if there ever was one. You can find him at nosegasm.com


This article appeared in ODOU issue 4
If you liked it, you might like to read the rest of it