I sometimes get asked where I get the ideas for my characters from. There was even a post on that very topic this week on an online writers group I'm a member of .
The answer for me is very simple. I take them from real people I encounter on a daily basis and steal little elements from here and there. Speaking as quite possibly one of the world champion people watchers, I often spend time sitting in coffee shops and watching the world go by (usually when the cursor on my laptop is blinking furiously at me to actually do some writing).
Case in point. Yesterday evening I was running late to catch a train to Manchester to meet my dad and his girlfriend for a drink. I was stressed. It was my first meeting with his girlfriend and I was miles away from the train station and then faced an hour train journey, so I was definitely not going to make a good impression.
I usually walk everywhere but, on a whim, decided to hop on a bus. After all, that had to be quicker than walking the two miles to the station, right? Well, it was. Marginally. Instead of heading straight for the station, I got an eye-opening tour of Liverpool's suburbs. My headphones were blasting in my ears and I suddenly noticed I was the only passenger on the bus, and the driver was talking to me. Snatching out the headphones, I heard the driver teasing that the traffic was all my fault and, as soon as I opened my mouth to protest, I got the usual Scouse response:
Driver: "You're not local are you?"
Me: (Gulp) "No, I'm from....(do I? Don't I?)...Manchester."
Me: "Mmm hmm."
Driver: "Whereabouts in Manc?"
Me: "Edge of Salford, near Bolton."
Moment of awkward silence ensues.
Driver: "Hey, Bolton?"
Driver: "See that prostitute there?"
Me: (Suddenly strangely giddy about the prospect of seeing a real life hooker in broad daylight. I stand up a peer out of the window like a meerkat) "Oh my god..."
Driver: "She's a right troll, isn't she?"
Me: (At a loss for words) "She's wearing a bikini top and a leather jacket..."
Driver: "Yeah, that's her patch. You see that corner there? That belongs to an eighteen year old Cuban boy. He earns more money than the women."
Me: (Now stood next to the driver) "Fascinating. I didn't know this was...that they...that its the...(lower my voice to a whisper)...red light district."
Driver: "Yeah, be careful walking around here. If you set foot in their patch, they'll chase you."
Driver: "I won a prostitute once."
Me: "I'm sorry?"
Driver: (nods) "Yeah. It was 1976 and we were playing pool. This pimp with a handlebar moustache wanted to take me on and said if I won I could have one of his girls for the night."
Me: "And you won?"
Driver: "Yep. He said I could have the next whore to walk into the bar. I was praying she'd be a looker but she was an absolute hag."
Me: "So, what did you do?"
Driver: "Asked for a triple whiskey instead."
I was still laughing as I boarded the train. Honestly, I find people fascinating and I hold conversations in my head for years. I must have been having a day for it because when I got the night train home, there was a little boy sat across from me, dressed in a Liverpool kit:
Boy: (Counts on fingers) Liverpool...Manchester...erm, that's probably it."
Me: "Wow...(looks around me, wondering where his parents are)...are you on your own?"
Boy: "No. My dads sat over there but he's really drunk and is sleeping again."
I turned and looked to see a man wrapped in a Liverpool FC flag, snoring, several seats behind me.
Me: "Wow...you know, you're going to have to be really nice to your dad in the morning. He likely to have a sore head."
Boy: "No, he's usually okay. When my mum drinks, she doesn't wake up until the middle of the afternoon."
Me: (Trying not to laugh) "Oh dear...well, you look very smart in your football kit."
Boy: "Thanks. I'm eight."
Me: "I'm twenty-seven."
Boy: "I'm going to Benidorm next year."
Me: "Lovely, are you excited?"
Boy: "No, it's a bit early to get excited."
Me: (Smiling) "I suppose you're right."
Boy: (Sighing again) "Anyway, this is my stop. Nice to meet you. (Walks away) Come on, Dad. This is us."
He was still waving furiously at me from the platform as the train pulled away.
I spend a lot of my time with my headphones jammed into my ears, planning my storylines but I've decided I'm going to make a conscious effort to listen instead of just watch from now on. You never know who you'll meet and what may end up working its way into a book in the future.
I remember when I was writing Driving Exile, a complete departure to my preferred young adult genre, that I'd be disappointed with the actions of some of the characters. Instead of deciding myself what they would do, I just let the story unfold by itself, even if I didn't like the direction it was going in. Trust the gut, that's what I say!
In creating the second and third part of the Blackbrooke trilogy, I've had to face some difficult 'truths' that I'm not a huge fan of. With one character in particular - I want them to remain a certain way but that's not what my mind is showing me so I have to suck it up, write it, run it by my unofficial story editors and see what the verdict is.
Speaking of which, I really must get on with some writing now and quit stalling....
Thanks for reading,