Saturday 7th November - Day 3
Woke at 2.22am. All the twos, is that an omen? Probably not; I’m not much of a one for the Ides of March – ugh, stabbed in the back. Used to have a schoolmaster who quoted the line on all too regular a basis, but can’t now recall his name; shame! I digress. Sorry. Went back to sleep after some thought for Shona, one of my three central characters. There’s much to like about the girl/woman – now that’s a tricky one. When does a girl become a woman? I only ask because I know a few women who are most definitely girls and vice versa. If you have a firm idea, please let me know. Shona is in her mid-thirties, so where does she lie on the age spectrum definition?
Yesterday, I touched on character development and the manner in which one reveals the dramatis personae. I realised sometime around 4.00am this morning that I had omitted another reason why we take such great care to build character so meticulously. The reason is this: for every story we encounter on the surface of a novel, there is a far deeper story lying beneath. This deep-story is the footing we dig into the grounds of our build. Like surveyors, we test the surface of our plot to ensure the ground will take the weight of our construction: then, we read the design, and measure and mark out where we need to dig. This is in part called groundwork – or research, although the academics don’t like us describing it so – and every type of every story, or any story for that matter, relies on groundwork. Tommy Cooper would practice his groundwork for hours. He could probably do the trick standing on his head: however, in order to make the trick attractive, he needed to build his delivery to match his trick. In writing Constant Tides, I had to lay the foundations for transporting the reader to the location; if you like, I had to build the road that would make the reader believe they had actually travelled to the location and were now a part of the local community. Building appropriate characters is fundamental to this process. You can’t place a cheeky Cockney in Messina, no more than you can place a harbour thug, like Piero Ullo, on the streets of London – an extreme example, I know. Sure, they’re made of the same flesh and bones, but a square peg will not look right jammed in a round hole– if you’ll excuse the cliché. They are fundamentally alternative characters and each represents just one more supportive section of the underlying story: these are groundworks one has to lay.
Some of the reviews for Constant Tides have mentioned how the narrative has transported them to the Strait of Messina; one going so far as to suggest that though our travel is restricted, she feels as though she has been away in Sicily all summer. If one needs affirmation that the groundworks of the story are solid, then an observation like this will do very nicely.
There are also other pitfalls with foundation. On reading the manuscript of The Wind Between Two Worlds, Peter Matthews, who interviews me at the book launches, pointed out that I had a bus travelling in the wrong direction down the Marylebone Road. Now, I pride myself on not making these kind of stupid miscalculations – so cue, much effing and blinding! Proof-readers are the buildings inspectors of our construction; they have an intrinsic part to play in ensuring we have done an honest day’s work and woe betide any writer who does not ask a third party to run their eyes over the novel. Mind you, Pete was the only one of many proof-readers who spotted that particular howler. Thank you, Pete.
Ciao. Until tomorrow.
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