Why we did it

We wrote a book about Birmingham, a book about the unkillable gods who live there (of the tentacled and untentacled variety).


Dreaming up ways to get our efforts in front of the maximum number of people is something that we like to do. There’s no escaping the fact that Amazon do this more effectively with one of their occasional promotions than anything we’re able to manage ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Oh no.
What could be finer than faking a monster sighting in the canals of Birmingham? As soon as the idea was spoken out loud it was halfway to becoming a reality.
A tentacle, photographed emerging from the canal, somewhere gritty and urban seemed like a great idea.

How we did it

So — how to make a tentacle?
We went to the internet for help, and as a jumping off point, this instructable  was invaluable. Pool noodles and pipe insulation, with lots of duct tape. It proved to be quite challenging to find pool noodles in early May, so that design was quickly modified to be pipe insulation.

pipe insulation
Some useful features of pipe insulation:

  • it comes in different sizes
  • there are sometimes bulk discounts (get 5 lengths for £4 or something like that)
  • it already has a hole in the centre

The hole in the centre is important for that bendable tip. If your tentacle is ramrod straight, it won’t look realistic, so inserting some strong wire in the top 40-50cm helps you to form it.
The other thing that is useful about having a hole in the centre is that you can (optionally) put a stick in the other end of your tentacle for a different set of posing options.
Armed with a big roll of duct tape, it’s possible to tame a bundle of insulation into something resembling a 2 metre tentacle. The lengths of pipe insulation are shorter than the pool noodle would have been, but that’s fine if you stagger them, padding the bottom with something like bubble wrap, to bulk it out a bit. Keep going with the duct tape, wrapping and wrapping. Remember when you get towards the tip that you want to insert your length of strong wire. If you plan to dangle the tentacle (as we did) for posing, then you’ll need to anchor this firmly, by hooking it into the foam. We left a wire loop at the very tip, although we wrapped the duct tape right up until the furthest point.

tools and materials
For the suckers, out comes the glue gun. A bread knife is all that’s needed to saw the remaining pipe insulation into circular pieces to stick along the length of your tentacle, big ones at the bottom, smaller ones towards the tip.

tentacle after construction
You know when you ask for help in the DIY superstore, and it’s like the assistants have never even made a fake tentacle themselves? We struggled to get good advice on what sort of paint might be best. Duct tape is resilient stuff, but it’s easy to imagine that some sorts of paint would react with the foam suckers and dissolve them into a sticky mess. Remarkably, we got an answer in the end, and this satin spray paint turned out well. Sludgy green combined with sludgy brown to create a nice effect.

spray paint in shades of "tentacle"
With the tentacle finished, we just needed to work out how to suspend it from above the canal. Off to the fishing shop with some pointed questions that steered just clear of “what sort of fishing line do I need to fake a monster sighting?”, and moments later we had the dangling sorted. What about weighting the bottom, so that it would sit below the water line? A plastic water bottle filled with gravel was a fast answer to that problem. More wire, pierced through the whole thing and fastened to the bottle, and our makeshift weight was ready to go.

When we did it

We wanted to take some photos in Digbeth, as the canal there is gritty, urban, but visually stunning (take a walk around there if you ever get the chance). We also wanted to do it when it was quiet so that we didn’t attract too much attention. We met at 6am on a Sunday morning [IAIN – ahem, I got dragged down to the canal at 6am on a Sunday morning]  to make the most of the glorious light of the early morning too. We found the spot we wanted and got to work, making a double length of fishing line to hang the tentacle off the bridge. We had the spray paint and various other essentials for running repairs, and it occurred to us that if anyone saw the contents of the bag, we’d be hard pressed to explain that we weren’t there to add to the graffiti.

getting the fishing line attached
One of the problems with having such a stunning backdrop, and gorgeous light, is that the tentacle didn’t stand out as much as it might have done.

tentacle underneath bridge
The weighting and dangling parts worked very well. We tried some shots using the stick to hold it up as well.

posing tentacle from below
We tried some video clips of the tentacle being hauled into the undergrowth, with the idea that we might reverse it to show something slithering out…
We took lots of pictures, and managed to avoid:

  • being seen by anybody other than 2 early morning joggers
  • having bits drop off our tentacle and add to the pollution problems in the canal
  • any interest or publicity in our photos whatsoever

Authors with tentacle

It turns out that getting a monster story to go viral isn’t as straightforward as it really ought to be, so our magnificent tentacle and the gorgeous, early morning shots of Digbeth’s canals remain undiscovered treasure.

spot the tentacle