I don’t know what it’s like for other writers but I think quite often, in fact usually, my stories come from the characters I already have… but where do the characters come from? Usually, but not always they come from the face of a real person – I hasten to add that they are not based on an actual real person, just something in a face, an expression, a look, triggers thoughts.
So, for example, many years ago, when I was teaching, a new member of staff started at school. He was very pleasant, very friendly and an excellent teacher, but there were moments when his face would become still and he would be almost watchful, as if he was somehow holding himself back. Years later he became a character in one of my novels; I learned fairly recently that he had been through a devastating experience before he arrived at the school. My character wasn’t that man, I knew nothing about him – but I knew everything about my imagined person!
One famous face, a disgraced sportsman became two completely different characters in two different books… and looked completely differently; one was a young ex rugby-playing policeman from Cornwall, the other was an older professor in oceanography.
While driving with my cousin in Essex, I saw a road sign to the village of Radwinter; as I saw that name, it coalesced some thoughts in my mind about a family I wanted to write about, they became the Radwinters. I had the faces and characters already; I had noticed or maybe imagined a certain facial likeness between three completely different people. The oldest in my family was a rather severe vicar, and he started off with the face of a well-known chef. As I wrote about him, his face became leaner, his eyebrows wilder, his beard and hair became longer and more unruly and he became Marcus Radwinter. The face of a TV personality became Paul Radwinter, a wine merchant, someone who works in my local bookshop became John Radwinter, and Thomas, the narrator of these stories was inspired a Danish actor.
My next book to be published in September, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’ is about another family, a family of cousins; my husband has been in music for all his teenage and adult life, and the stories he told me about the comradeship, falling, out, the fun, the loyalty, silly disputes among band members which became major rows, – I transposed those experiences onto my fictitious Portbraddon family.
These inspirations have a snatched basis in real life. but many of my characters are just from my subconscious! Sometimes I have a character who has no face and sometimes a name which I know will change… but names and naming… that’s for me to write about another time!
Lucky Portbraddon is now published and available here: