No, I've never met my characters in real life, or have I?
I 've been asked a lot about my characters and where do they come? Contrary to popular belief, they are not based on anyone I know. They are not so and so from such and such department. Or, didn't he used to work at blah blah blah? No! A fellow writer once asked, "did I actually know Soots?" Soots being one of my main characters in Baby Be Mine. The writer had said that Soots was written in such a way that I surely must have known her. I take that as a great compliment. Getting characters right can be tough. I have to live and breathe them for a long while in my head. Like little movie reels. So that I can hear their voice and know what they are going to say or how they are going to act and react. Jotting down notes about them. Like most writers, I'm a great people watcher, always have been, and whiled away many an hour in cafe's eaves-dropping conversations, observing body language and how people behave when they don't know they're being watched (I know, sneaky)! If ever you see someone sitting and observing, notebook in hand that isn't an obvious 'corporate' file, then chances are they're a writer 'researching' (or maybe a Spook, who knows)?
I'd already had a pretty good idea of what Soots should be like. Fiesty, but worn down by a stressful career. Smartly dressed at work but would give anything to take her heels off, kicking them under her desk. Someone buffeted by the rough and tumble of work and never quite connects with friends. So imagine may surprise when I saw her come to life on the Tube. I'd never seen this woman before or since, and I have no idea who the real person might be.
So, Soots developed from a stranger on the Central Line Tube in London. In fact it was the person with her who sat next to me, that initially drew my attention. I notice footwear. My friends know that I love shoes! Surreptitiously watching the girl next to me in the carriage window opposite (amazingly for the Central line it wasn't busy at this particular time of a morning, and I could see their reflection). It was a pair of stiletto's on the girl's lap that caught my eye. I had a book in hand, pretending to read (always useful if you can't open a notebook), and started to listen in. I couldn't decide if the shoes she was holding were real or fake. I hadn't been this close to eyeball a high end brand, the one with the red sole, before. How on earth can anyone walk in those vertiginous heels (or maybe you're not actually meant to walk in them)? I looked down at the girls feet. She was wearing worn trainers. Then I became aware of the person sat next to her, who was dressed smartly and bare foot (on the Tube)! This person was giving a constant stream of information and instructions, papers and folders were exchanged and juggled by the girl sitting next to me. They both got off at Mile End station, 'smartly dressed' woman still bare foot, heading for the stairway; the girl holding onto the woman's stiletto's, the papers under her arm. All I was thinking, how could this woman walk barefoot in this filthy station with all those people milling around. Her poor toes! This stranger became cemented as Soots. As I said, I didn't know her at all, and of course I've taken characteristics and behaviours from my imagination and attributed them to her, as writers do. Any similarities to this woman are purely coincidental, but I thank her for the inspiration.
Tony, a key male character, was a composite of one or two men - fantasy figures - assigning features and behaviours that we might like to see in a man (she winks)! He had to be handsome in an ordinary sort of way, but attractive to my main character Jen, who narrates the story. He meets an untimely end (this is not a spoiler). Funny thing is, last year during an early re-write, I was at the Falstaff Hotel in Canterbury, with my friend Liz. Liz by the way has been wonderful in offering her opinion during re-writes, and so knew the character Tony quite well. We were in the bar and a man walked through. "Oh my god," she said. "There's your Tony!" Indeed it could have been. Tall, leaning towards handsome and dark hair curled over his collar, what can I say! I'm glad that he didn't overhear Liz and me or I might have had some explaining to do. Though it was quite surreal seeing this character come literally to life.
As for my friend Liz, she still hasn't forgiven me for bumping off Tony.