A REAL CHARACTER
Russel D McLean
With thanks to Royston Blake and Charlie Williams – but in particular, and because he’s bigger, Royston –for allowing me to guest blog here today.
My name is Russel D McLean, and I’m sure you’ll have heard me say some nice things about Williams and Blakey before. Neither of them paid me any money, I assure you. Neither of them has any money to pay me. I am, if you can’t tell by the accent, Scottish, and right now I’m pimping the US release of my second novel THE LOST SISTER by running rampant on the blogs of some of my favourite authors.
But don’t worry. While I hope you do buy either the US or the UK editions of either one of me books, I’m not going to shove it down your throat by saying how good they are. Instead I’m going to talk about something that interests me.
See, Blakey and Williams have an interesting author/character dynamic. In that Blakey seems able to exist almost independently of the man who chronicles his life (hence why Blakey once invaded my blogging day over at the multi-author blog, DO SOME DAMAGE).
This kind of character independence doesn’t happen that often, and so far I’m glad it hasn’t happened to me. After all, J McNee – who features in both THE GOOD SON and THE LOST SISTER – seems to have a habit of bringing doom to those around him. Not his fault, at least not all the time, but in some sense he’s a lightning rod for bad news. Which is maybe good news for readers. At least those, like me, who like to see their fictional characters tormented and tested.
But while I don’t usually allow McNee to roam free of his own accord or have his own facebook page, it doesn’t mean that he feels purely fictional to me. Its an odd part of a writer’s psyche, I guess, that we can feel our characters as real people, that we can know the way they speak and react in much the same way (and maybe more so) that we know the way in which our friends and relatives will behave in certain situations. And its even stranger that I can know so much about a man who doesn’t want to talk about his past.
When McNee first came into my head, when I first started hearing that voice, his rhythms and patterns, I started to ask who this man was and who he had been. I knew he’d been a cop. From the outset it was clear that his fiancée was recently deceased and that he’d quit the police force after an “incident” with a superior officer. But he made me work for all that and seemed to be making a concerted effort to hide certain aspects of his past. I’m still not sure about his family, other than odd references to parents (are they still alive? He talks about them in the past tense) and maybe his gran (but then, he could just be having me on). He was a reticient fellow and yet every so often he’d let something slip. A hint. A clue. An idea. A half truth.
It was enough to keep me fascinated. After all, I’ve a history, as a reader, of loving characters who don’t reveal all about themselves. Richard Stark’s thief Parker only ever existed on the job. The Nameless detective was… nameless. And the copper in Derek Raymond’s factory novels gave away as little of himself as possible. And yet there was enough in all of these characters to give you a sense of who they were.
And that was what attracted me to McNee. He revealed himself in momentary glimpses. Letting him talk was like letting a stranger tell you a story and hoping by the end of that story you might know this man better. In short, I found his voice fascinating. Getting to know a character becomes like getting to know a friend. I suppose it’s the grown up version of the invisible friend you had as a child.
Except if you said he was an invisible friend and you were over the age of sixteen, you’d likely be locked up. Or maybe drugged by a friendly GP. So what you do is you say that he’s a character and you become a writer so that you have a legitimate reason for getting to know this non existent person.
The truth of the matter is, McNee fascinates me as a person. He’s an angry, bitter bastard and yet beneath that there lurks the heart of someone who just wants to do the right thing, who wants a kind of justice in the world and yet has been trained not to expect it. He’s a man of contradictions and bad habits. He infuriates you and fascinates you at the same time. One of my favourite reviews ever said, “You don't know whether to hug him or punch him” And I’d absolutely agree with that.
As authors, we can let our invisible friends out so that other people can get to know them as well as we do.
And the best part?
We can’t be called insane for doing so.
Russel's The Lost Sister is out from Minotaur Books in the USA this month. It is published in the UK by Five Leaves Press. Check out his website and his Friday bloggings over at Do Some Damage. He once took the night bus from Dundee to Bristol and lived to tell the tale.