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Wednesday 24 March 2010

Scarlett and Mia

Recently, I received an email from a reader asking me about the origin of one of my characters in Washington Shadow. Writers are often asked questions like this - and they are not always easy to answer. Where do the characters come from? Out of your head, of course. But how?

In both The Maze of Cadiz and Washington Shadow, none of the speaking characters were based directly on real people. Some of my characters grew from a stray phrase, or a tone of voice heard long ago. Place these voices in your chosen setting and, if you give them time, they begin to grow. This does not mean that the characters take over - that’s wistful hokum, you are always in control - but as well as the conscious decisions you make as you build the character, there is an important subconscious process at work. Your mind makes links between the different experiences you have in your mental store.

Something similar happens to us as readers when we are presented with a character in a novel. We use our own personal store of memories and experience, and set about filling in the gaps and completing the character for ourselves.

This reminds me of a television programme I saw a long time ago, in which André Previn was talking about the important role of music in films, and how much it contributed to our impression of the images we were seeing. He illustrated this by showing a very brief scene he had filmed. A young woman is sitting at a table head down, and then looks up with a completely neutral expression. The woman was Mia Farrow, who he was married to at the time. This scene was shown first with no sound track, then twice more with different accompanying music as she looks up. Nothing else. The intriguing thing was that she definitely looked happy in one showing, then alarmed in the next. All that had actually changed was the musical accompaniment.

We have our own personal sound track of experience in our heads, which springs into action when we read. In one sense, the writer’s job is to give us the note from where to begin.

The result varies tremendously from reader to reader. An interesting development for me is that some readers apparently use actors for the characters. One reader told me that Katherine, in Washington Shadow, is played in his mind by Scarlett Johansson.

That is stardust!

Friday 12 March 2010

Washington Shadow - Paperback Cover

The paperback of Washington Shadow, is due out in August - in time for holiday reading!

This is the new cover to look out for.