Project Hush-Hush – Creating Real People

SecretThis is my 100th post! Yay. And so I shall be talking, a little, about one of the most important reasons why I write fiction…

Today I want to talk about characters.

Now, what with the secrecy surrounding this project I cannot be as open about the process of writing as I’d like. There are key elements of the story, and the world I’m building, that I simply cannot talk about. Which is annoying and exciting equally. So today I want to talk about the characters in the book, at least a little bit, and quite possibly in some vague terms as to be more detailed would spoil just that bit too much.

Characters are the most important part of any piece of fiction, more so than plot in fact. Characters drive the story — indeed, they are the story. The emotional journey each character takes is the journey the reader takes, thus why I call them the story. But for me characters are not just ‘types’ of people, they’re real, as real as you and me (but not you over there). I don’t create characters that only act a certain way, who have specific traits from which they cannot deviate, because people aren’t like that. Any one person can act in a variety of ways depending on the situation they find themselves in. People like to say, ‘oh, I’d never do that’, but it is nonsense. No-one, and I mean no-one, knows how they will act with any given situation until they are there being tested by it. Just as anybody who says ‘I am who I am, and I’m not going to change’ are talking even more nonsense. We change every day, with every single situation. People are in a constant state of flux, reacting and changing to every new situation that comes along. We all have our core beliefs, our default settings, but we’re all adaptable and open to change. My characters are exactly the same. They are determined by their experiences, not by specific traits. And with each new experience they grow, they change, they become either a better person or a worse one.

What follows is a list of characters from Forgotten Son, and a little something about them. This list is not definitive since it won’t contain the licensed characters (too important to reveal just yet) and neither will it include characters who have not appeared yet.

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  • John James — A minor character, at least for now since I have plans for him. A ten-year-old boy from London who is named after an old school friend of mine from Hackney.
  • Ray (Raymond) Phillips — This is a character carried over from the original version of Forgotten Son written back in 1997, although he was called Phil Raymond back then. He’s not much changed since his original iteration, except that now he’s a moderately successful author haunted by his past. But still the childhood best friend of or lead character. Oh, and he’s forty-one years old.
  • Owain & Louis Vine — Seventeen-year-old twins. These two came out of discussion between my publisher and I, as he felt I needed some younger people in the book, two characters who were polar opposites in their core beliefs. One who wanted out of the village of Bledoe and into the bright lights of London, and the other who never wanted to leave Bledoe. They’re also my way of having a tongue-in-cheek look at the misconceptions surrounding twins, a task made very easy by the fact that they’re based on two twins I know, Owen and Damien.
  • Charles Watts — A late addition to the book. Another seventeen-year-old, he was created to be the pull for Louis, to ratchet up Louis’ desire to leave the village. Charles is from London, and a teen who’s fallen into the relatively new skinhead movement. Being from London he also serves as a direct link to the events going on in that city, and a way to anchor the early Bledoe scenes with the larger story.
  • Thomas Hamilton — Big player in the larger story, but there’s little I can reveal about him without spoiling the series. So, moving on…
  • Sally Wright — At the start of the book, and thus the series, she becomes the fiancée of the lead character. She’s also Hamilton’s assistant. Beyond that, there’s little more I can say for now.
  • Walter Douglas — Best friend of our lead character, and has been for just over nineteen years. Which, of course, means I can reveal no more about him. Yet.
  • ‘Albert’ — Not his real name, but that’ll make sense one day. What can I say about him? Well, he starts the story dead. And then goes missing. The catalyst for merging the London story with the Bledoe story.
  • Mary Rositta — The mother of our lead character, and a bit of tragic lonely figure who has experienced much loss in her life. Named after my dear friend Simon Williams’ mother.
  • Mabel — Mary’s neighbour in the small village of Coleshill. Barely a cameo character, but chances are she’ll return at a later date. Named after my paternal grandmother.
  • George Vine — Father of the twins, and a typical gruff ex-military man. Concerned by his son’s behaviour, but is more likely to be at the pub joking about it than actually doing something about it.
  • Mrs Vine — She doesn’t have a name yet. Mother of the twins, typical housewife of the 1960s, also concerned about the twins but understands they’re young men and so she tends to give them their space. While quietly fretting about it.
  • Ahsen Khan — A Hospital Attendant (or orderly, as they’re usually known in the US) at St Mark’s Hospital in Harrow. From Pakistan and named after an old school friend of mine. Only a cameo role, and a way to allude to the institutional racism of the 1960s.
  • Alf & Ralph — Two brothers in their mid-fifties. Delivery drivers who move goods and supplies for the NHS. Bicker a lot, with the elder (Ralph) often teasing the younger (Alfie, as Ralph calls him). Only a cameo role.
  • Henry Barnes — Landlord and owner of The Rose & Crown pub in Bledoe. Easy going chap who welcomes anyone into his pub, except ‘nancy-boys’, who he has no truck with that at all. A nod to the institutional homophobia of the 1960s, especially among older people. Believes men should be men, and won’t stand for all this ‘long hair nonsense that the young men seem to go for so much these days’. Like George, he’s every bit a man of his time.

And so those are the players thus far, with a few notable omissions, of course. A bit of insight into my thought process behind creating characters and naming them, and a few non-spoiler hints about the story. :)

Project Hush-Hush – Getting Direction

SecretChapter three is done! Yay!

Was a really fun chapter to write, with more setting up and getting the lead characters closer to the main location of the book.  One of the challenges faced today was working out how to get ‘Albert’ and Mary to a point where they almost literally crossed paths, and when you have one travelling by train and the other by car it’s not as straight forward as you might expect. Luckily they start from different points of England so in terms of time travelled they reach the same point at roughly the same time. However…

I believe in making the fictional Earth as real as the one in which we live, and so I often use real-world locations. In this book I’ve created a couple of new places, to give me more creative leeway, although Bledoe is based loosely on the real-world location of St Cleer, whereas Gotha Falls is based, again loosely, on Golitha Falls in Cornwall (as you see, in the latter instance I’ve not changed the name much, but change it I did so that I don’t have to be too accurate). Such creative licence has been called into play today, so that I could make my end of chapter cliffhanger work (end of chapter cliffhangers are a given in my novels). In my research I discovered that when you head into Liskeard by either car or train there’s a moment where the A38 passes under the railway. Perfect for what I needed! Except for one important catch; that particular bypass of the A38 didn’t exist until 1976 — almost eight years after my book! This presented a slight problem, until I decided that, you know what, this is fiction and dramatic licence can be called upon when needed. Thus, in this fictional Earth, the Liskeard A38 bypass did exist by March 1969.

Another thing I had to look into today, was how long it would take someone to walk from Harrow to Paddington, and the longest direct route is less than a three hour walk. Alas, this did not really fit the time scale I needed. So, as they say ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, this lead me to come up with a plot point which, as it turned out, nicely fed into something else that was going on in the chapter. The upshot of all this I now know the a direct way to walk from Harrow to Paddington should I ever need to do so.

One other problem I spotted while writing today is that I accidentally revealed just a bit too much of the plot — with only one line. It’s a line I can’t reveal here, for obvious reasons, but just leaving it in joins together so many clues already littered in the first few chapters that it would ruin the first half of the book. I think, those paying attention may be able to work out this plot point, but there’s a big difference between the readers thinking they know the plot than the author telling them the plot.

And now something that’s not connected to Forgotten Son, and it’s a cover reveal for my forthcoming short story/novella collection. I don’t have a release date, but I do have a cover, and it’s rather shiny! Hope you all like it.

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Project Hush-Hush – Titles

SecretYeah, the name of this blog entry is a little misleading. I’m not going to reveal the titles for all four books of Project Hush-Hush, I’m afraid, but this is a little post to say that the authors and I have been discussing titles most of the day. It’s quite fun, since we’re looking to create a brand here, and that’s as much about stylistic choices as anything else, and one of the issues discussed is dropping ‘the’ from titles, eg. The Forgotten Son will be printed as Forgotten Son and so on. It gives the titles more of a punch I feel, plus using ‘the’ often stifles creativity in titles. Book two, though, is the only other title that doesn’t give away anything of the ‘hush’ in Project Hush-Hush, so it won’t do any harm is telling y’all that it’s called (The) Schizoid Earth.

Oh yes, and you might have noticed I’ve played around with the style of this blog. This is to more accurately reflect Project Hush-Hush and the retro-pop art style we’ll be aiming for with the cover design. It’s all getting very exciting!

siluet-orang-300x269I want to tell you a little about all the books, but I have to be very careful, so here’s what I can say. Book one, well, just keep reading this blog for info on Forgotten Son  (there’s plenty of information in previous posts). What can I say about Schizoid Earth…? Not a great deal as it’s pretty intricately planned and any information given would be too much. But it’s an interesting title, eh? Whatever can it mean? ;) Book three is equally mysterious, and will have to remain so for a while yet, but it does have strong links with Forgotten Son. Book four is going to be a MAD one, and I’m expecting something with a dark sense of humour, judging by the background notes the author sent me yesterday. Some of the details had me in stitches (laughing, that is, for the non-British among you), and yet it’s also going to be rather a serious tale with a lot of scope. Each of the books tap into something different from the late ’60s, each delve into the psyche of our main cast who will be introduced book by book, so that by the end of book four our lead characters will be in place to go forth and create havoc in the fictional world we’re creating. As I said, it’s all getting very exciting. You know, in case I wasn’t clear about that.

Isn’t it December yet?

Project Hush-Hush – Getting The Right Tone

SecretWell now, since the last blog entry (only a few days ago) I’ve completed chapter two of The Forgotten Son. And I’m really feeling like I’ve got the flow of the story down now. It’s always difficult with the first chapter, trying to capture the right tone, pace, mood, and find the right starting points for your characters. In this case, as I’m sure I keep on saying, I have the added difficulty of finding the right period. This is why it took so much longer to finalise chapter one, and only took two days to write chapter two. Not only have I found the flow in chapter two, but I can really feel the characters coming alive, especially the lead character (this book has more than one lead, but I’m talking about the lead character of the series — whom I cannot mention by name at this time) who is a character I have known for a couple of decades plus some change. Finding his voice should be simplicity itself — but there is an added challenge. Of course.

One of the main selling points of this series is that we’re exploring a part of the lead character’s life that has never really been touched upon before. There have been the odd hints here and there, but nothing substantial. Everything ever written about him (and there is plenty!) has always focused on an older version of him. But we’re dealing with him at the start of the adventure, looking at what turned him into the character we’ve all come to love over the years. And therein lies the challenge. One that, according to my publisher, I’m succeeding at. Shaun has read the prologue and first chapter and feels I have totally captured the younger version of this lead character, which is great to hear since I have found writing for him so very easy. The trick now is to keep it up.

The tone also meets the approval of my publisher. He used words like ‘brilliant’ and ‘love what you’ve done’. There is another phrase he said, but I can’t really quote it or it may give away a little too much of the project. Needless to say, my publisher believes I’m achieving exactly what he was hoping we’d achieve when we set out to do this. I’m confident that the other writers of the first ‘season’ will equally capture the feel we’re going for. I’m looking forward to hearing my publisher’s thoughts on chapter two (which I feel is superior to chapter one), and seeing what the other writers do. We’re currently bouncing titles around, and have probably settled on three of the four. Titles are so important — they tell the reader what kind of book it is, what kind of theme and tone of story they’re about to read, plus, in this case, it’s about recreating the period in which our series is set.  The kind of titles you see on books and television these days are not necessarily applicable to fiction circa 1969/1970. But, once again, I am confident we will have the perfect four titles by time we officially announce the series. Another thing we’re also thinking about at the moment, which fits in with the tone and period, is the cover art. We know the style we’re looking for, so all we need do now is find the right kind of artist to match that style, which also feeds into designing the series logo (which if done correctly will be kind of clever and should contain a nice in-joke for those who know).

Any excuse to show y Draig Goch, the Welsh dragon!

Any excuse to show y Draig Goch, the Welsh dragon!

Chapter two also contains my favourite little scenes of all I’ve ever written. It’s a small thing, a scene within a scene if you like, and only lasts for about half a page, but it had me laughing so hard when I was writing it — which means it may be one of the first things to go! KILL YOUR BABIES! No, no it won’t. It’s important, although high on cliché, but that can’t be helped since it’s another character that came with the exclusive rights we now own a license for, and that character is every bit the walking cliché. Which is fun. I don’t generally use clichés in my work — indeed, all writers know to avoid them like the plague. But when you’re using a character that was created as a cliché (although I wonder if it was such a cliché in 1969, or simply a misconception thing?) you can go one of two ways. Either ignore the cliché aspects, or play up to them initially and slightly move away from them over time — if you have the luxury of such time. Fortunately I do, since a character arc has already been put in place for this character and it will enable us to gradually move him from the Welsh cliché (oh yes, I forgot to mention that, it’s a typically clichéd Welsh character and so even more important for me to move him away from those roots) and turn him into a more well-rounded and believable person. Which in itself will be fun and rewarding, but for now, for that one small cameo scene in The Forgotten Son I go to play with the cliché and totally embrace it. Which was kind of liberating.

And so, chapter three is waiting. More strange happenings in the west country, as the child’s voice gets louder…

Project Hush-Hush – Placing The Props

SecretCracking certain aspects of The Forgotten Son is proving to be quite a challenge. Mostly it’s the time period — 1969 may as well be a hundred years for all the changes we’ve seen over the decades since. Indeed, in some ways it’s almost like visiting an alien world. It does make me wonder what would happen should one of us travel back to March 1969, just how well would we manage to blend in? I suspect not very well at all.

Today I’ll be, largely, working (or rather re-working) on the second scene of chapter one. Much like the prologue it is so very important to get the first chapter right. It sets the tone for the book (and in some ways for the entire series of novels), as well as introduces readers to the characters they’ll spend many hours with (if not years in the case of at least two characters — although in some regards it’ll almost be a re-introduction for some readers). Characters, however, are not the issue. I pride myself on being able to create a cast of characters who become as real to the readers as the people they know in their personal lives. Even using a previously created (and well-established) character will not be an issue for me, since the lead of this series is a character I have known for many many years. No, the biggest issue is, as mentioned above, establishing the period in which the book is set. 1969!

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An 8-track tape player… Vintage!

The trick now is to ‘add flavour’, little props and background details that tell the reader what year they’re in. I’m fortunate in that for the most part The Forgotten Son is set in a small Cornish town and is, thusly, not overly influenced by the popular culture of 1969. However this doesn’t mean I can ignore the ephemera of the time.  Indeed, it’s such ephemera that will help set the period. Old cars, grubby children playing on the streets and not stuck in doors playing computer games, the pocket transistor radio, old red phone boxes, large house phones that can only go as far as the cord stretches… Many little things that make the period. Things that are, for us now, so obsolete that teenagers would barely recognise them. Like 8-tracks — who remembers them? A popular way of listening to pre-recorded music while travelling in cars, before the rise of cassette tapes and, much later, compact discs. Popular music was on the rise in the ’60s, especially for teenagers, and so they were very open to new ways of listening to music with greater availability. Which brings me to the scene I’ll be heavily re-working today.

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A football picture… on MY blog?! Who’d have thunk it.

I’ve already created a new teenage character called Charles Watts, who will serve as a direct link to the happenings in London and, by extension, helps to encourage my wannabe skinhead character, Louis, who covets the London life he reads and hears so much about in the papers and television news reports. These two will be the direct link, and main reference point, for the popular teen culture of the time. To add flavour and remind the readers that they’re in 1969. To this end I’ve even gone against type (well, for me) and researched the football of the time. Which is something I never thought I’d do. Football is not now, and nor will it ever be, a passion of mine. Indeed, I can barely tolerate it, but it does seem to be a popular thing for most men, teenagers in particular. This all ties in to my earlier remark about the transistor radio, and having my teen characters listening to a real football match on the ‘tranny’, as it was often called (a word that also illustrates how much times have changed since 1969). Everybody, even me, knows of the World Cup of 1966, alas that’s three years too early for my purposes. Pity, as I wouldn’t actually need to research that — such is the historical importance of that event (I may not like football, but I can’t deny it). The match I’ve chosen does specifically date the book, literally to the day, and I’m expecting lots of boos and hisses from a large section of fandom, but alas an executive choice on dating was needed and it has been made.

How is this all going to work out? Splendidly is how. ;)

Project Hush-Hush – Event, Rewriting and … Acting?

So, what have I been doing the last few days? Well, first a few words on Project Hush-Hush.

SecretHow The Forgotten Son opens is hugely important, more so than usual for a book. The opening lines are so vital to the success or failure of any novel, but when it’s the first of a new series of a licensed project, those first few lines, indeed the whole prologue, is even more important. And so the publisher and I have been discussing this opening, and it occurred to us that I am in a unique position to rewrite a piece of history — or rather add something new to a piece of history that means a lot to a lot of people.  Yup, this is one of those entries where I can’t reveal too much about the content of the writing — the scene is too big and too integral to the concept of the series that to reveal its contents would spoil so much. So, you’ll have to just bear with me and believe me when I say that reworking the prologue is a unique thrill that may not ever be one I experience again.

I was showing the first line to two friends yesterday, both of whom are big fans (of what? Well, that would be telling), and only one of them understood the in-joke of that very first line and just what it meant. Just goes to show there are different levels of fans. I’m confident though that the majority of fans will get it, and that one line will set the tone for the rest of the series.

10551036_10152313417955197_986522740607362979_nIn other news I was at another Candy Jar Book Festival event yesterday, this time discussing ‘monsters and mirrors’ with fellow author Benjamin Burford-Jones. It was an interesting little talk. Not many turned up, but we did get an interesting few including a couple of kids who had all kinds of random questions to ask about monsters in fiction. My favourite part was the girl’s answer to my question, ‘what monsters do you like best in Doctor Who?‘. The answer? Why, the cake monster. Of course! (Must be an episode I’ve never seen!) During this event I also did a little bit of acting! Sort of. Ben was going to read an extract from his book, Beware of the Mirror Man, but it soon became obvious that he doesn’t have the most involving reading voice so I happened upon an idea. The section he chose features two characters — Sophie and Ell. Now, Ell is a mimic who happens to have a cockney voice, and as the title of the blog suggests I am something of a Londoner (albeit one who was born in Wales). So we acted out the scene, with me providing the cockney-voice of Ell. Which was great as Ell by far got the best lines in that scene, and we got a couple of giggles from the kids. Job done! ;)

Next up,as well as the ongoing research for The Forgotten Son I have the proofed version of Sharon Bidwell’s The Draco Eye to go through, and looking through the proofs of my forthcoming short story collection. All the stories in the latter have been published individually by Untreed Reads Publishing over the last four years, but they’re putting them into one all-new volume for release in a couple of months. So look out for that one!

Now, it’s time to head back to find out how John James is dealing with the creature that he’s discovered in the back garden…

Project Hush-Hush – Additions and Tour

SecretFirst up, been doing a little bit of work on Project Hush-Hush today. Adding a new character to the mix, since I felt something was missing from the twins’ plot, something to ground it to the bigger picture and the ’60s. And so Charles Watts has joined the twins, now named Louis and Owain. I was planning on getting on with the next chapter, since I’m looking forward to upping the creep factor by introducing Mary and her bizarre journey, but first I need to re-jig chapter one a little. Which includes renaming a couple of characters so that their names more clearly reflect the year in which they were born — no point given them a name that probably wasn’t used in, say, 1930.

dracoMEDIUMIn other news, my fellow author, Sharon Bidwell, has taken up the gauntlet and added her own Writing Process entry to the ongoing blog tour. Please do pop by to see what she has to say about her own processes. She even has this to say about me; ‘Andy is mostly a plotter. When we co-authored a book together I found it a little exhausting and it wasn’t just because we were stepping in at short notice and had limited time. Andy is fast and he tends to know exactly where he wants to go.’ Which is nice. And may even be true. :)

For the sake of context, let me explain. Sharon is an author I always wanted to have write for Space: 1889 & Beyond and, with a little encouragement, she agreed and wrote A Fistful of Dust. In fact, her first draft of that book came in before any other manuscript for the second season, even though it was to be fifth in the run. Along the way disaster struck and I lost the author of the second book in the season, and with time running out I needed to turn around a second book and quick. Re-enter Sharon. Since she had a good handle on the universe I sweet-talked her into helping me write the second book, Mundus Cerialis, which we did in ten days. I think for Sharon it was a whole new pace of writing, but she secretly enjoyed it and was amazed at how quick it turned around. I was so impressed, and in her debt, that I made her write another book. I’m nice like that. But to give her a little incentive, I allowed her the joy of bringing dragons into the Space: 1889 & Beyond universe — she LOVES dragons! How could she refuse? The result of this will be seen next month when her novel, The Draco Eye, is released.