I first conceived of my fifth novel back when I was studying ancient history. It’s an idea I’ve been mulling over for a very long time, and like a good wine, it’s been improving as it ages.
I write about places and people I like – typically places I can never visit, populated by people I could never hope to meet. The thing is they’re real to me and so when I finish writing I feel a sense of fulfilment that includes having visited and met the impossible.
My characters are real people to me, not simply thumbnail sketches of personalities on a page. I treat each of them as if I’ve met them fully formed, and as a writer use my words to describe them. Some of my characters are based on people I’ve met in real life or studied in my various researches. Some are even ones I’ve dreamed about.
I listen to music all the time, typically classical. Australia’s ABC Classic FM continually presents a diverse range from early to recent, and much of it is wonderfully inspirational. Through music I can can also experience personality – Liszt is still alive through his music, as is Beethoven, Shostakovich and Brahms, and each speak to me when their music is played. Each present their own personalities as they were at the time they composed their particular pieces. This is how I meet people. I also watch the news, and while it is highly pre-digested and skewed, it also occasionally lets slip insights that can prove useful. I read a lot. Non-fiction but fiction as well. I find reality infintely more fascinating than fantasy. To me good fiction is a metaphoric mirror of reality well told.
My latest novel has a protagonist I have not based on anyone I have met. I have intellectually designed a personality that has likely existed at some point, but for the life of me I couldn’t say they were based on anyone I’ve encountered in any context. I prefer to create likeable protagonists because I prefer likeable people, and I reckon readers prefer to like the sort of people they read about (except some antagonists, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish). A story is about – amongst other things – growth, whether physically, psychologically, spiritually or intellectually. Change is the engine room of a good yarn. My protagonist in this story does a great deal of growing on pretty much every count, but I have set myself a challenge in creating someone I don’t actually like. I wouldn’t want to count this individual as a friend or colleague. They will grow eventually into some semblance of a likeable person – that’s part of the journey – but I must confess to be struggling to care about them in these early stages.
The novel is mapped out, plot points devised, character arcs designed, twists and turns abound, and the setting is exotic and dramatic to say the least. For a reader it should prove a thrilling adventure set in an astonishing world (that really existed), where they get to witness a protagonist evolve from unlikeable to likeable, but for me the challenge is to push my envelope to bring to life an individual outside my own world of comfort.
That’s the adventure I find in writing.