Friday, 28 March 2014

The Blood List Blog Tour: Sarah Naughton on Stealing People to Create Characters.


The Blood List by Sarah Naughton || Release date: February 27th 2014.

The year is 1646, tales of witches, murder and changelings are rife and a dark era is about to begin… Barnaby Nightingale is the perfect son; Strong, handsome, daring, everything his father wants him to be, and yet for his mother, Frances, he will never be the son she desires. Frances believes that her real son was taken from her as a baby by the local village folk who believed him to be a changeling, and Barnaby left in his place. Constantly disappointing his mother, Barnaby is spoiled by his father and despised by his younger brother, Abel. But when the beautiful and mysterious Naomi catches Barnaby's attention his world is thrown into chaos as superstition and dark folklore take hold of the small village and Naomi is accused of being a witch. Fear and suspicion spread and soon Barnaby finds himself on trial too and facing the ultimate penalty… death.

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Guest Post: Sarah Naughton on 'Stealing People' to Create Characters 

There’s this bit in the front of all novels, including mine, that goes:  
 This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locals, is entirely coincidental.
Frankly it gives me the willies, because it’s a lie*.  Most of my characters are based on ‘actual’ people; living, dead and currently appearing in the latest series of TOWIE.  (And before you all rush for the number of a decent defamation lawyer, I reckon it’s true for most authors).
 
Sarah's granddad with his older brother in 1923
To start with a fairly safe example, Titus Adams, hero of The Hanged Man Rises, is based on my granddad, Frank Adams (sadly dead and thus unable to sue).  My granddad was brave, kind, reliable, loyal, uncomplaining and hard working.  He never discussed the war, though I know he’d been in some extremely traumatic situations and seen friends die, and when he himself was dying he gave not a murmur of self pity but merely wrote a note explaining how the central heating worked and where his share certificates were.  He was a deeply lovable man, and Titus is my imagined version of him, as he might be if he had grown up in a Victorian slum rather than 1930s Lewisham.

All well and good: Titus is a hero so I don’t think Granddad would mind.
But when it comes to bad characters it’s a bit trickier.  The antagonist of my second novel, The Blood List, is a poisonous worm called Abel.  Now, Abel is loosely fashioned on a friend of mine**.  Obviously this person does not quote the bible ad nauseam and to my knowledge has never tried to have anyone killed.  In fact she is very funny in a cutting sort of way, so I stole some of her more unsavoury characteristics, twisted and exaggerated them, and voila: a textbook baddie.
Abel’s brother, Barnaby, the hero, had to be a real golden boy for the bitter rivalry between them to be convincing, and as I was thinking about his character my friend’s son popped into my head.  Whereas before Barnaby had been a walking list of attributes, now I could put a face to him and he became much easier to animate.  I could listen to him delivering lines in my head and work out whether they rang true. 

I’ve always found this an invaluable tool when I’m writing characters.  Generally I’ll have a vague idea: sometimes no more than character traits such as arrogant, childish, aggressive etc, and then I’ll mentally trawl through all the people I’ve ever known or watched on TV, and suddenly one will stand out as fitting the bill.  Sometimes it’s a very specific bill.  In a current work-in-progress I had a well-known actor in mind, but only as he appeared in a specific short scene from a specific film.  From that I extrapolated how he might behave in other scenarios.  It’s a short hand version of what gets taught in writing classes up and down the country – What’s your character’s favourite hobby?  What makes them laugh?  What makes them angry?  What do they eat for breakfast?
When you steal your character you already know the answer to these questions.

But I don’t restrict myself to your personality.  I will also steal the important events in your life: your relationship with your parents, your first sexual experience, your insecurities, your traumatic dental trips***.  But I’m sly about it.  Whilst I might lift your personality insecurity by insecurity, I’ll cunningly disguise my tracks by giving you the alcoholic father of my friend, the dress sense of my aunt and the nasty personal habits of my sister.  So even if you do guess it’s you I’ve depicted cackling demonically over the mutilated body of your landlady, then you’ll never sue because you’d have to admit in court to picking your nose and eating it.


*allegedly.
**allegedly.
***you get the picture.

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Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahJNaughton


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