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An interesting topic to be discussed or pondered over
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When Characters Invade Your Life
by Helen Hollick
When Characters Invade Your Life
by Helen Hollick
There are, I have discovered, several authors out there (and I am one of them) who firmly believe that the characters we write about are real. I’m not talking about real people as in those who lived in the past – King Harold II, Queen Elizabeth I and such, I’m talking about imagined, invented characters. Figures who pop into an author’s mind along with the plot and story as a whole.
It is the fault of these characters I’m afraid. They take over our lives, our souls, our very being – and when we’ve finished writing about them, haunt us through day and night, whispering in our subconscious to ‘write something else about me’.
When I wrote my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy (over twenty years ago now!) I fell in love with Arthur; after all, for over ten years I had worked on what was eventually to become The Kingmaking, the first book in the series. I knew that man better than I knew myself! He was a friend, a confidante, an inspiration – almost a virtual lover at times. He was also irritating, annoying and a darn nuisance, especially when I had run out of steam and hadn’t a clue what to write next, or the confidence to do so.
But he would be there nagging away in my right ear. ‘Write. Write more. Keep writing,’ and the image of a scene would come into my mind – almost like watching a movie, then I’d write furiously until I had the scene right.
That’s how I see the stories I write and the characters that go with them - as movies playing in my head. Sometimes I hear the words as well. Some scenes are vague, a misty blur, others are very vivid in detail – and these stay with me for months, years even. A dream I had turned into the second chapter of my Saxon novel about the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings (Harold the King [UK title] / I am the Chosen King [US title]). I clearly saw men riding beside a river; Earl Godwine and his sons. The detail of their clothing, their horses; the scenery was all there. I heard their voices: the brothers were arguing, and I saw a girl hiding from the intruders by crouching beneath the shadow of some trees. The men rode off and I saw her running up a grassy hill, her kingfisher-blue cloak flying behind her.
The late Rosemary Sutcliff who wrote Eagle of the Ninth and other fabulous historical fiction for young adults (and older adults!) had the same problem with Arthur. I wrote to her shortly before she passed away, telling her of my attempt to write an Arthurian novel. She wrote back, in her spidery handwriting, giving me encouragement and confided that she too had found it difficult to part from Arthur after finishing her novel Sword at Sunset. ‘It took me six months to get that man out of my system,’ she wrote.
It is quite unnerving to sit at the keyboard tapping frantically away, trying to get the words inside your head out through your fingers and into the memory space of the hard drive. More unnerving when you look up several hours later, wonder where the time has gone and not recall a single word you’ve written. There are parts of all my books, but mostly The Kingmaking and Pendragon’s Banner and now the Sea Witch Voyages, that I do not recollect writing at all. Several other authors have said the same thing. It is as if we are possessed by an unseen spirit dictating the words. Perhaps we are? Contact from the ‘other side’ maybe?
My lead character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne in my pirate-based nautical adventure series came alive as I was walking one drizzly day on a beach in Dorset, England. I was pondering the plot and characters, looked up, and there he was standing at the sea’s edge, fully-rigged in pirate hat, coat, breeches and boots and complete with cutlass, blue ribbon in his black hair and a gold acorn dangling from his earlobe. He touched his hat, nodded a greeting: ‘Hello Jesamiah Acorne,’ I said.
Sea Witch wrote itself; the words poured from my head and I didn’t stop writing for three months (except for Christmas Day when I felt my family would probably not appreciate a non-appearance of a Christmas dinner). Following that first book I have completed four more Voyages, a novella (hopefully published late 2017) and another waiting to set sail in 2018 (Gallows Wake). Probably two or three more as well, if I can think up the plots (suggestions welcome!)
I think it is easy to ‘fall’ for TV and movie characters, partly
because it is the actor playing the part that has the attraction (insert what
name you would prefer here to drool over. Mine at present would be Aidan Turner
– Poldark.) and partly because you can see and be there with the action and the
story, but does the same happen for you, as a reader, with characters
you meet in novels? I fell in love with Sharon Kay Penman’s Llewelyn in Here Be Dragons, and with several of
Daphne du Maurier’s male characters.
I adore my Jesamiah, he is great fun and I thoroughly enjoy his company. Only don’t say that too loud as he’s cocky enough as it is. I also want to go back to writing post Roman Britain again. I have a few chapters noted down, my lead characters sorted, where the novel will be set, some basic research etc., but goodness, Jesamiah nag and mither if I’m not paying attention to him! A background barrage complaining that I need to get on with his next story…
And to be honest, well, you just don’t argue with a pirate do you?
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So who are the fictional characters you have lost your heart to?
Do leave a comment below and share your thoughts!
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