By Anne Coates
A few years ago I went to the funeral of a good friend’s mother and knew it was probable that my older self would confront the boyfriend of my teenage years as he is my friend’s cousin. In the chapel, I looked around but couldn’t see anyone vaguely resembling the eighteen year old I went out with. Then a man a few rows in front of me touched his hair in such a way that immediately I knew it was him.
This is something that I observe in people – the physical actions that give them away. Even if they were heavily disguised as they might be, especially in crime fiction. Many people are recognised by their walk alone and this is something I’m very aware of when creating characters. And, of course, my friends offer me (perhaps unknowingly) valuable quirks and traits that I can appropriate.
For Dancers in the Wind the first three characters emerged from an interview I conducted for the News of the World colour supplement. Those three real people were transformed, rewritten and (hopefully) fictionalised out of all recognition. I have covered my relationship to Hannah, the journalist, in Hannah and Me (insert link). The other two – the prostitute and the police officer – ceased to be interviewees and became my creations. From that trio I formed the world they inhabited with colleagues, family, friends – and enemies.
For me the joy of creating a cast list hits a peak when the characters take over and reveal different facets of their personalities that I hadn’t thought of before. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night with an insight, a nudge from a character and quickly make a note so all is not lost in the morning light.
Creating characters is a bit like trying out a new cookery recipe – adding a pinch of spice here, a teaspoon of malice there, so many grams of violence, whipping up a soufflé of emotions… and it’s fun. But sometimes it’s downright scary. My nasty characters terrify me.
Names play an important part. I love how Dickens uses names as a comment on a character’s personality or calling. Mr Gradgrind immediately comes to mind as do Scrooge and Uriah Heap. At times when I’m writing, a character emerges with a name, however usually I check the most popular names for the year the character was born especially as my first two books are set in the 90s. Nothing is more irritating than someone being named after a celebrity who didn’t exist then!
One mistake I made – though not a heinous sin – was calling a baby after a friend’s now grown up son. When I mentioned this to his brother, he was insistent that he should also appear as a character. And he does, in Death’s Silent Judgement but I won’t give any spoilers.
I also study photographs. both those I have taken and from searches on the internet, as a good way of creating a character’s physical appearance. Similarly I watch people when I am travelling on buses or trains. I may have a book open in front of me but the chances are I’m sizing up another passenger, and listening to conversations going on around me. How a character speaks is fundamental and part of their personality. Dialogue is a great way of revealing more about a character.
As I am now pondering the third book in the trilogy, some characters who have been “sleepers” in books one and two are coming to the fore. For them it’s time to take centre stage when the curtain rises and the spotlight shines on them.
About Anne Coates
After reading for a degree in English and French, Anne came to London to begin her career and never left. Having worked for various publishers, she moved to magazine journalism before becoming a freelance writer, editor and translator. Her first non-fiction books were written after the birth of her daughter Olivia and some have been inspired by her or various stages in her life.
Anne also writes short stories which have appeared in magazines including Bella and Candis as well as prize-winning flash fiction, and is the author of seven non-fiction books. She is the founder and editor of Parenting Without Tears, a website for families with children from birth to teens.
Dancers in the Wind
Published by Urbane (13 October 2016)
SHE IS HUNTING FOR THE TRUTH, BUT WHO IS HUNTING HER? Freelance journalist and single mother Hannah Weybridge is commissioned by a national newspaper to write an investigative article on the notorious red light district in Kings Cross. There she meets prostitute Princess, and police inspector in the vice squad, Tom Jordan. When Princess later arrives on her doorstep beaten up so badly she is barely recognisable, Hannah has to make some tough decisions and is drawn ever deeper into the world of deceit and violence. Three sex workers are murdered, their deaths covered up in a media blackout, and Hannah herself is under threat. As she comes to realise that the taste for vice reaches into the higher echelons of the great and the good, Hannah realises she must do everything in her power to expose the truth .... and stay alive.