February 2010

Leaving your characters behind

Writers of fiction are certainly very peculiar people, their heads filled with emerging worlds and characters, some nearly formed and some not yet possessing a voice or shape. Harold Pinter, in his speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature wrote brilliantly about this.

‘The author’s position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can’t dictate to them. To a certain extent, you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man’s buff, hide and seek’.

I strongly recommend reading the whole speech.

I’ve just come back from Chile where I was researching for a potential novel. My ideas are in too murky a shape to survive the light of day at the moment, but even if I wanted to blazon them forth, I’d feel very peculiar, actually disloyal, when my new novel, The Missing Boy, is not published until May 27th. I’ll be proof reading in a couple of weeks, the very last moment when I can twitch or even jerk my characters into a different perspective. After that, I’ve given up my control, the puppet strings are cut and they’re on their own. Not all writers accept this easily. Henry James, famously, produced different versions of his novels.

I go for the moment of sign off both with trepidation and a sense of relief. My responsibility has been lifted. Then, almost at once, the urge to create a new world begins. Now and again, readers of my books comment rather sniffily, ‘You’re very prolific, aren’t you?’, as if good writers should be parsimonious with words. Tell that to Dickens or Trollope or, if it comes to that, Henry James.

So, quite soon, I’ll be casting off The Missing Boy Dan, and his parents, Max and Eve, his aunt, Martha and his friend, Freya. We’ll still be in a special relationship, of course, but any extension to their lives will be in the imagination of my readers.