Tag Archives: Cornwall

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.
  • 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. 🙂

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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 – Lemons

SecretSo, day two of work on The Forgotten Son, book one of Project Hush-Hush. Yesterday was all about setting up the scene and mystery in the small Cornish village of Bledoe. Which meant research. Hard to believe but there was a time when I hated, and by that I mean loathed, research. These days I rather enjoy it — with every book, every scene almost, I learn something new or reaffirm something I had previously suspected.

Before I got on to talking about yesterday’s research, and shed light on the rather odd subtitle for this blog entry, I want to share a little history about Bledoe. It has a history that goes back to 1997, and a story I once wrote that was originally called The Lake (latterly WATMIB? or Who Are The Men In Black?). They say never throw away a good idea, and I’m a great believer in that. Bledoe was a fictional Cornish village where some strange things happened. I can’t tell you what, alas, since many elements from that story are being recycled for this new book — including the final title, The Forgotten. I have recycled characters from this story before. Pastor Ronald Stone was finally used as the father of chief protagonist, Nathanial Stone, in my Space: 1889 & Beyond series from 2011. A character called James (surname changed from the original book) was later used in the 2006 novella Judgement Day (the character is now closer to his original incarnation once more). So it was inevitable that Bledoe itself would be returned to at some point. The village has changed somewhat since 1998, now based loosely on the real village of St Cleer. Which is where the first bit of research came into it. Sometimes the challenge with writing is to convince the reader that you are familiar with the area you set your story in; not always is it possible to visit said location. In this case I intend to visit St Cleer in a couple of months, do some on-site research to add more flavour, but for now it’s time for the usual research methods; internet sites and, in this case, a batch of photographs sent to me by fellow scribe, Sharon Bidwell, who recently visited Golitha Falls, another key location of The Forgotten Son.

skinhead-style-1The second important piece of research is the time period. In this case we’re talking late 1960s and, since I wasn’t actually alive at that time, I have no memory from which to draw. Luckily I know plenty who do, and there are a ton of websites out there that give information on the political and popular climate of the late ’60s. Again it’s all about convincing, adding enough flavour to give a sense that the narrative is set when it’s supposed to be set. This not only comes down to small background elements, like key events of the late ’60s mentioned in passing, but in developing the characters. They all need to be believably part of that time period. I have already decided that two of the characters will be twins, who will be based somewhat loosely on two friends of mine (with permission — the fictional twins even bear the middle names of the real twins), and so the next thing to consider is how to make them different and yet very much teenagers from 1969. I was expecting to go for flowerpower but instead discovered that the skinhead movement rose to popularity in 1968. Bonus! If asked, I would never have considered developing a skinhead character (or a lemon, as they were often called, too — hence the title of this post), but I’m willing to try new things when writing — indeed, doing so is a key element of keeping writing fresh. It’s a funny thing, growing up in the ’70s and ’80s I was always aware of skinheads, but what I knew of them doesn’t match with the origins of the movement. Which means developing my fifteen-year-old skinhead should prove very interesting. And reminds me of some of my favourite ska and reggae songs from the period — Desmond Dekker’s The Israelites anyone?

That was yesterday. Today? Today it’s all about introducing the lead character of the series — the single most important scene of the book — which involves a bit more research. Not for the character, so much as what he does and the organisation he’s a part of. Ah, useless clues. Gotta love ’em! 😉