Readers Voice: When Characters Invade Your Life by Helen Hollick

Have Your Say! What Do You, The Reader Think?
      
An interesting topic to be discussed or pondered over 

* * * 
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.
I know just what she meant. Twenty years plus more and he is still not out of mine.



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!)


www.helenhollick.net
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?

* * *
So who are the fictional characters you have lost your heart to? 
Do leave a comment below and share your thoughts!
      

Did you miss...?

13 comments:

  1. My character, Byrhtnoth, was a boy when I started writing and I felt like his mother. He's grown up a bit since then and - well let's not go there! Leaving him to one side, I recently read Dorothy Dunnett's book about Macbeth, King Hereafter. I don't know why I hadn't read it before. I loved Thorfinn/Macbeth - I didn't want it to end. My keyboard was damp after writing a review on my blog, see http://wp.me/p6zyq6-d9
    Agree with you about Aidan Turner, though - saw him first in Being Human and followed him ever since.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is comforting to know I'm not the only one who soaks my keyboard! LOL here's the direct link to the review you mention: REVIEW

      Delete
  2. Oooh, that's exciting. I loved your Arthurian trilogy - who are you planning on bringing to life in post Roman Britain this time. Or, should I say, who is nagging you to show us their tale?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Loretta - it's Madoc the Horseman, he has a very small mention in Banner... The first in the series will be called Foals of Epona. It'll be a while before it gets written though :-(

      Delete
  3. First love - best love, they say. If that's true then my name should be John Carter, a gentleman of Viginia, for I fell in love with Dejah Thoris at a very early age. I don't think I fell in love again for many years after that. That was when I met Kristin Lavransdatter and I think I may have shed a tear when, after such an eventful life, she passed away. But, shush, don't let on that I'm a wuss! Female characters of 'fanciable' disposition have been rather poorly represented, I think: I never 'fell' for Maid Marion, nor even Guinevere, both of whom featured heavily in my pre-teen reading. I did fall in love again, however - this time with Annie Whitehead's Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians. What a woman!! I knew a little bit about her, but on reading To Be A Queen, she was exactly how I imagined her, brought into vivid life and waiting for me. Alas, 'twas not to be! I had a stormy relationship with Natalie Rose's Sybil Bearnshaw in The Legend Whyte Doe. Quite mad, of course,but strangely alluring in a wicked, decadant way. More seriously, Helen, your own Emma of Normandy showed me a true woman in a new light, for I knew little of her other than that she married two kings. I think, if they were all to be mne, I would really have my hands full!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Richard (for the comment and for Emma) I know you're not a Poldark fan yourself, but I hear there's quite a few chaps who like the current TV Demelza... actually I really liked her as a character in Winston Graham's books (he based her on his wife). Quick confession: I named a teddy bear of mine Demelza: my husband found her thrown away in a dustbin (he was a dustman at the time) she was all bedraggled and had such a sad, wistful face and reminded me of when we meet Demelza in the first book, a ragged little waif and stray in desperate need of a wash...

      Delete
    2. I regret to say that I have never read the Poldark books, let alone seen either series. Judging by the number of females who announce on Facebook that it is 'Poldark Time' accompanied by appropriate and bare chested Mr Turner about to go a-threshing then it comes as no surprise to learn that he is 'hero'! But, I will admit that I didn't base any of my heroines on portrayals on the silver screen - had I done so then the count might have been a lot more, starting with the gorgeous blonde who played William Tell's wife in the 50s TV series!!! (Jennifer Jatne, before anyone writes in!!)

      Delete
  4. I see here that Llywelyn has been unfaithful!

    I've written an as-yet-unpublished series about Edward III. He's got under my skin which is why I wrote a third book after I'd killed him off. And a few short stories. I found him at Crécy, quite upset that I didn't know which came first, Crécy or Agincourt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think in Sharon's novel Here Be Dragons it was Llywelyn's unfaithfulness which first attracted me, and was the seal that made me love the book, not just the character. Remember that scene... where Joanna was so cross that he'd been with his mistress that she burnt his bed? I was disappointed when I later learnt that Sharon had made it up - but what wonderful characters!

      Delete
  5. Nope, you are not alone. I know all my Roma Novans intimately. Well, not that intimately or Carina and Aurelia would be severely miffed if I got too near Conrad orMiklós. And who wants to go into a fight with a Praetorian?
    *Must book some psych help*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *laugh* no indeed - your Praetorians are as formidable as my pirate!

      Delete
  6. Oh yes, I relate. my first serious crush was Tolkien's Faramir. I didn't think much of distant, cardboard-cutout Aragorn until Viggo Mortensen brought him to life in the film. (swoon).
    Having worked on the same ensemble set of characters for 15 years, they now whisper into my ear things like "I wouldn't do that," or "Tell them about the time I did this." So yes, I have emotional attachments. They are like my children. And when I write romantic elements, well--- I tell my husband, "All the best parts of my romantic protagonists are you." But truth, many of the grumpy parts are, too.
    I always base my characters on a conglomeration of people I really know. But they spring forth from that and take on their own personalities. The ones that remain the same are my animal protagonists: my first work featured the occasional POV of my 14-year trail-boss and herdsire, Tamarack. That llama exactly fit the Inca term for them, 'speechless brothers'. And I have a WIP wherein the side observations are from my 14-year-old standard poodle, Niffler, in 16th-century French disguise. Her word-recognition vocabulary was amazing (not that she thinks verbally, animals don't. Though maybe one day I will write in a crow, whose brains are more verbally sensitive.) and she knew some parts of me better than I know myself.
    Eva, one of my protagonists, is about as opposite from me as can be imagined. She's so shut down by the trauma in her life that there's hardly brainspace to figure out the obvious. Sometimes I want to smack her up 'longside the head and tell her to 'get over it, already!' Other times I want to hug her and make it all better, because things like that shouldn't happen to any child--but they do. I'm more like my gutter-girl antagonist Aldonza, who takes nothing off nobody without getting even. Except like Aldonza eventually will, I have learned that there are more effective ways to deal with the world.
    My favorite character, though, is Blanca. I made her up expressly to have a storyteller on the side, and so I had an excuse to write in the Alhambra, that gorgeous, fairy-tale palace. Governor Mendoza had bunches of kids, there must be a daughter around Eva's age--and I'd write her spunky, because a noblewoman could be. And then I found out about his kids--every single one of them famous in their day (and still now) and the one I picked led a peasant's revolt that held the city of Toledo for 6 months against all the forces of Charles V! And when critiquers say 'She's too forward for her time' I send them to a wiki on the woman.
    Truth is stranger than fiction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh those voices that whisper constantly.... *laugh* are we all raving mad I wonder? Demented scribblers... :-)

      Delete

Thank you for leaving a comment. It should appear shortly - if it doesn't please contact Helen as we value your support.