Yes! If you take two characters and breathe life into them, they begin to take a hold of the novel. You may have an outline of how this book is going to develop, but take any two cahracters, and something is bound to happen, something that you have not anticiapted yourself, until it does. Takem fr example, Gemma in Casa di Corse. It is her interaction with her son that, isn a sense, give her the determinaiton to make a go of her new life in Corsica. Without that conflict, she would not necessarily have done more than exist after Jonathon’s illness.
I received this apparently contradictory piece of advice early on. It proved helpful. If you write only about what you know, the writing becomes dull and predicatable. So I abandoned drawing on the experiences that i saw happening to myself or to others, and that was the key to how the characters in the book take their own lead and drive the story from within the framework that I set. Then it became exciting to write!
No, I can’t really say that any of the novels is autobiographical, in the sense that they do not portray either myself, or events in my life. Except, perhaps, in the most tangential way. It is a question that I am asked a lot, and either I make the point, or the person with whom I am talking makes the pont, that it is all, of course, a product of my head and my imagination.
But my novels, all psychological dramas in some way, are always about subjests that I care about, and I supposeI think that others will care aboutthem too. If I wrote from experience, I might have got one book! I write from something around empathy, hopefully preception.
Thomas as a personality is still in the creation, the lead character in ‘House Party’. And it is such a different experience to be writing about a man, albeit in the context of a lesbian set of friends.
It’s a story of conflict and betrayal, about psycholgical drama and it is also a social commentary about the politics of bigotry that can still pervade issues of homosexuality. Putting the perspective of a married man as the centre of the novel has been less of a challenge than I thought it would be. whether I am succededing, time and the reader will tell!
The metaphor was easy, living as I then was in the wilds of the Orkney islands, where the sea is a constant presence in all its forms.
And who has not been faced with the tidal wave of unexplored passion that a new person in their life can present? This is the heart of the psychological drama about lesbian relationships; Jan is the vehicle to explore all the maelstrom of emotion that goes with temptation, when the peson is in an already comitted relationship.
In this case, the family drama unfolds because Jan lives in the same village as her family and they watch as she faces the biggest crisis of her life. I wrote about Jan very much with my instincts. She is a feisty and principled character, and there is an inner quiet and reserve about her that I had to somehow penetrate and at the same time preserve, if she was to stay credible. Do you think that I succeeded?
Getting into the skin of Joanna was much more difficult.
Driven by guilt, grief, responsibilty, doubt and self doubt, this outwardly organised and achieving young widow has all the responsibility of her three children and a challenging job on her shoulders.
Turning this character through a process of self examination and recognition into the woman she is destined to become was a challenging task. To do this and to hold to the story line , which is a romantic story of lesbian fiction, was a challenge. I grew to enjoy Joanna’s journey, with its ups and downs as she found her way to reconciling her lesbain sensuality with her family context.
Yes, even Susan grows on you. She is hard-nosed, power seeking and driven by sexual adventure. Yet as she unravelled on the page, I found the vulnerability in her.
Like I was saying yesterday, in this psychological drama it was a bit like navigating in the dark with this character. I had the map and I knew the destination, but the headlights were the limit of how Susan was exposing herself to the reader whilst she was under the pressure of press scrutiny and exposure. I warmed to her and found it hard sometimes to hold on to the toughness in her whilst letting the reader find out more about how she ticked. The tough part of this character was working out with her how her nemesis would transform her. Or whether it would!
Do you think that all writers actually like the characters they create in their novels? I certainly do. All of them are ‘real’ to me and all of them are real because they are flawed. And, as I already said, they are my creation, but they take their own head in the writing!
Casa di Corse is a drama, a famliy adventure, full of family conflict. It is contemporary and set in the context of political instability, in so far as Corsica has its separatist politics. I dropped Gemma onto this island, already a woman who has experienced crisis and failure and who sets out to fight failure and to win a new life in another country. She is strong, intelligent and a feisty person. I created a tall, quiet person, someone who adores her children but who suffers the rejection of her son, Short of succumbing, she confronts him, and takes the risk of losing him further. That’s how assertive she is. Writing about Gemma was a bit like driving at night. I could only see so far ahead, but I did complete the journey. Often, that was because she was at the wheel!
It’s a drama. It’s a thriller suspense. But there the similarity to the conventional ends.
What interested me in writing this thriller suspense, in addition to creating the dramatic tension that is the main vehicle for the story line, was the psychological reaction of any woman who finds herself in this situation, for no fault of her own. Strong, feisty, informed, Sally is an intelligent professional woman for whom the world is very much at her command – till she is a jury member and finds herself arguing the case for the accused man’s innocnece. it all starts here – but is there any connection and how will Sally react as the pressure of the unkown begins to grip her and to change her secure, somewhwat erratic life?
You might be interested in the inner conflict that I explored in ‘An Authentic Life’. This is a tale of lesbian romance where Joanna is on a journey to become who she is destined to be. It is also a family adventure as her three children make their parallel adjustments when she meets a young woman to whom she is attracted, some time after her husband’s suicide.
It is a story which demonstrates my theory that the character takes their own life in their hands in the book. I created the character and the story line; Joanna lived and breathed life into both. Sometimes she surprised me; sometimes she behaved as I imagined she would. She never disappointed.