It was ten years ago and I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room with one other person ahead of me. I can remember how dark it was and the time, early evening on a rainy summer’s day but not the reason why I’d gone there. Maybe it was because of what happened afterwards. I was flicking idly through a magazine with true life features when I turned a page and read something that hooked me.
“She took over my life like she’d stepped into my clothes”.
I always know when a story’s got legs, because the main character keeps stalking me like some cerebral troll and that one line kept repeating in my head like a refrain. When she appeared in my short story, “Dolls”, she became Carol Jones, a wife who’d been deserted by her husband and seen the new woman in his life do exactly what the woman in the magazine feature described. However, this is where fiction departed from fact as the market I was aiming for preferred endings that offered some hope.
When “Dolls” was published in UK magazine, Essentials, the editor changed the title to “Paul’s Playthings”, which suits the story better for it’s written from the perspective of Paul’s two wives. In my story Carol makes a Plasticine voodoo doll of the new woman in her ex’s life. Whatever caught my attention in that feature and made me write that character also caught the attention of readers and “Paul’s Playthings” was syndicated all over the world. As one editor said, “It’s got something that people connect with.”
That something that reaches out and grabs you can happen anywhere and it doesn’t even have to be a character you like. You can be caught off guard and assaulted by some fictitious creature you’d cross the road to avoid. Six months ago, I was tucking into the best cheese cake in Liverpool at the Walker Art Gallery cafe when a generously proportioned and quite aggressive female character invaded my imagination and refused to leave. She stalked me on a tour of my favourite paintings and all the way home on the bus. Why she’d chosen to suddenly appear then might have something to do with the cake I was eating for it figures large in her story.
Eventually I gave up trying to ignore her and left her to rummage and ruminate in my imagination. By the time I put my key in the front door, her narrative was taking shape. It’ll be a while before Maddie’s ready to step out into the world in “The Pudding Club” but I’m having a lot of fun making her acquaintance.
There was another reason though why I remember that rainy summer evening in the doctor’s surgery. Having found Carol Jones, I had no pen or paper to jot down the idea, so I waited until the buzzer went and I was alone and tore the page out of the magazine. I wouldn’t have done it to a book but I still felt guilty enough to remember it years later. I’ve kept that yellowed magazine page. When you find a character you connect with, don’t let them go.
To find out what happens to Carol and the voodoo doll in “Paul’s Playthings” get my e-book anthology – “Love, Life and Holidays”. It’s free on Amazon for 5 days from 20th May 2013 to 24th May 2013 or if you miss the offer, only $2.00 or £1.28.
One response to “Character, character, character”
I loved all of the short stories in Life, love and Holidays. Ann is clearly a master of creating characters. It is through the lives of these varied and wonderful characters that her stories really come to life and become so gripping.