Visions and Characters

I haven’t updated for a while. Things are actually going okay, it is one of those good lull periods. But because I haven’t posted a blog I thought I’d ask my friends for some topics to discuss.

My friend Jonny asked : Do you write a book with a vision of what it could be beyond that (TV/Movie/Misc) or do you have to keep the vision focussed on just the book in its own right?

This is quite a funny question because there are a number of ways to look at it. When I wrote Coal House the intention was to tell a good story and see how it worked out, I wanted to see if I could write something scary. There have been great things said from readers who said they could see it made into a film and that feels like vindication to some extent, though, it wasn’t deliberate in that being a goal. Obviously you want to paint a vivid enough picture in someone’s mind but for the sake of the story I think if you start thinking too much about other things you’re harming the work.

A lot of people have asked “who would I like to play such and such if this got made into a movie” and I didn’t ever have answers because I honestly hadn’t thought that far ahead. Then, I did write a screenplay for Coal House because it was requested, and a few of those thoughts did come into my head; not obviously so at first, because I described the characters as they were, not to fit the profile of potential actors.

For Peach I immediately thought about the idea of a screenplay alongside it and that was helped by my very encouraging aunt who was constantly telling me of different people who could play the characters. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that she has a vivid imagination? She imagined Kris Kristofferson or James Earl-Jones, more recently I’ve imagined Meat Loaf (because I’m a fan and because he does kind of fit the bill). I’ve allowed myself to do that with Peach but I haven’t become too strict. There is another character, Louise, the kind of strong, powerful maternal woman who I imagine Catherine Keener would be brilliant playing.

Peach is intentionally vivid in its descriptions of locations and landscapes so as to emphasise certain feelings. Hopefully, anyway. The encouraging thing is that I’ve had some really strong names tell me it would make a great movie.

Of course, I mention Peach a lot here because the “misc” part of the question falls nicely within it. The protagonist is a musician but it was only after the first draft was completed that I had the idea of putting a soundtrack to it. I was working with Charles Baker anyway and was keen to do other things with him but was a little too afraid to ask him. I plucked up the courage and he was enthusiastic and it’s been awesome. It didn’t influence any of the story, however, it may provoke a re-write to insert lyrics into the book.

That experience has shaped how I write Green, though. Without giving any spoilers for anyone who cares, Green is a sequel/prequel to Peach, and knowing what I now knew about my first story, it allowed me to explore the musical influence as I was going along in this latest story. There are nods in there, but I’ve been conscious of not allowing the music to dominate. Hopefully there will be a soundtrack for all of the books in the series and that will in turn hopefully provide a really immersive experience for the reader. When the books are released I plan to write posts with mixtapes to show what I was listening to that I think may help set the mood even more.

Long winded answer, short version, I didn’t, but now I’m learning to.

My friend Jenny asked: Do you envision your book from the ending and then work your way backwards? Or do you let the characters take their own way?

There is a little bit of both. For Coal House and Mablethorpe I had very definite ideas of how I wanted the story to start and end (although I did have two or three different scenarios for endings, I had a stronger idea of my favourite and engineered it in that direction).

For Mablethorpe, the characters led a lot of it; there were far more characters in that than Coal House, and as their own destinies unfolded, I had to move accordingly. I don’t know if it’s a positive or a negative in so far as the experience for the reader, but I was consciously aware that I didn’t need to provide definite conclusions for each character. That would have felt forced. Who knows, maybe it did either way. But that’s the funny thing, Coal House was very much defined by the story and yet had a complete story arc for the characters. Mablethorpe is more about the characters and yet stops and starts with the story.

For the new stories it’s a little different. Green has a definite start and end. It is character driven and to an extent they do go their own ways but the destination will always be the same.

For Peach, I had an idea of a complete story I wanted to tell. Well, two, really, for that group of characters. But the people reading it for me said they wanted more so I had to make it a complete story; different resolutions, then, come at different times. Beyond my group of advance reviewers and beta readers it’s difficult to say how this has translated though I hope it’s been okay.

The short answer, well, I do try and let my characters find their own way, because I want them to surprise me… that surprise presents a challenge as to how I navigate the story back on to the arc I wanted it to go on. Sometimes it’s fixed, others, you can be as creative as you like, and I like the challenge in both respects.

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