Last week I met up with an old friend. It had been at least fifteen years since we had last seen each other but soon we were talking endlessly about characters and writers that we loved such as Barbara Pym, Dorothy Whipple, Margery Sharp, Laurie Graham, Alexander Baron and David Mitchell. It was a real pleasure to talk about stories that I love and to give and to be given recommendations of what to read next. We talked about our own lives in between but fiction was the touchstone that set us alight. I left the café feeling elated by the conversation.
I have always created imaginary characters. Night after night as a child I would take a battered tennis racket and ball out into the back alley under the pretext of playing out but really as I bounced the ball I was making up stories. Nowadays I stomp along the South Bank. Ideas come to me when I am moving about. My imagination likes to play games with me, letting me slog away fruitlessly for hours at a desk and then hurling an idea at me as I'm stepping on a train.
For my latest story, ‘Magic Moments and the Dull Bits in Between’, I found one of my characters reliving one of my childhood memories. I am a child of seven sitting in the empty room above my Aunty Lily’s baker’s shop. I am kneeling on the cold hard lino watching a group of sparrows eating breadcrumbs in the back yard. At the time I knew that I would never forget that moment. Virginia Woolf in ‘Moments of Being’ described it as follows:
‘We are the words; we are the music, we are the thing itself.’
The reality of being a writer trying to sell ideas and earn a living requires hard slog, a rhino hide and the crazy optimism that I always feel when I begin writing; the cockamamie belief that I can become an overnight sensation after years in the business.
Maybe the overnight success bit is a tad overoptimistic but my intention is always to create a bunch of characters and a story that will linger in a reader’s imagination long after they have finished the novel. I hope that my carefully chosen words and images will transfer to the reader’s imagination where they will settle into a satisfying memory. That by sharing my words I am sharing a bit of myself.
I want my characters to be talked about between friends in a café. I want them to matter to people.
What do you want?