Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I've got a new book coming out next month (shameless plug - it's called No Escape, buy it) and part of the fun of editing it is getting to know the characters again - I haven't read the book for a couple of years. I may have invented Michael Boyd, the straightforward New York cop with misplaced trust in his wife and a difficult relationship with his brother, and Catrin Pritchard, the prickly and protective single mum, but in the course of creating them I got to know them, and now I feel as though I'm reuniting with old friends. Until the death of my hard disk a couple of weeks ago I had on my computer the floorplan of Catrin's seaside cottage, her university exam timetable, and a timeline for Michael from his birth to the end of his secondment in Wales.

Although writers mostly work alone in a darkened room hunched over a computer, I have never really felt that I was in this endeavour on my own. Working with characters feels like working with people. And I get quite attached to these people in much the same way I did to those other people I created - my children. (Send for the men in the white coats now.)

Something I really enjoyed about reading the reviews of my last book, Honeymoon Heist, was that all the reviewers really got my characters. They understood that they were both flawed, and weren't well suited to each other, but that their relationship was going to work anyway because ultimately they were both determined and honourable. They got that their past experiences had shaped them, and they noted how they grew in the course of the story. Rodney and Claire are important to me - I spent a lot of time with them - and I really liked the fact that readers related to them too.

I'm currently hawking a 120,000 word epic fantasy around agents and publishers, and I'm very much attached to the characters in that too. Emon is an ordinary lad who gets picked on by his siblings, is none too bright and much too naive and trusting, and just wants to be normal despite the overwhelming evidence that he isn't. Emara is (literally) from another world and has struggled for survival her whole life, but clings to moral absolutes and professional duty so strongly that it seems impossible that her relationship with Emon could survive. This manuscript, Emon and the Emperor, has now been rejected ten times, but one reason I'm not giving up is because I love these characters and almost feel that I owe it to them to let them get out there, see the light of day, and be known and loved by others too. I want them to live, and they can only really do that by being in print and being read and shared.

Michael Boyd and Catrin Pritchard, Rodney and Claire Hewlett, Emon Shipwright and Emara Lann may all be fictional and created by my own mind, but they have nevertheless bought me pleasure and I have enjoyed getting to know them and spending time in their company. And if that sounds a bit deep and bizarre, think for a moment about fictional characters who mean a lot to you. Harry, Ron and Hermione? Edward, Bella and Jacob? Bilbo and Frodo? Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?

A good writer can bring characters to life, such that it can be a wrench to remember that they don't exist in the real world. Which characters from books have most enriched your life?

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