. . . members of a reading club had been asking me about my characters. Where, they wanted to know, did my characters come from?
Well, the truth is I see things: that is I see people doing things. The other truth is I didn’t know this wasn’t normal: I grew up knowing my great-grandmother was ‘fey’; odd things in our family are ‘known’ and just taken for granted. I assumed most families were like that.
Let me explain what this has to do with Sheila’s bossy characters. My new novel was something of an accident; I was working on the plot for the sequel to The Empress Emerald (first published as The Magpie), to cover the years 1940 – 1950, and went back to Britain to do some research. I arranged to have a private tour of Cotehele, the Tudor house in Cornwall that is the model for my fictional Crimphele. Rachel Hunt, House and Collections manager, took me first to the old Great Hall. As I walked in out of the watery English summer sun, I saw a tall, sinister figure step out of the shadows near the fireplace and disappear. His name was McNab. I knew that immediately.
After the Great Hall we wandered through the interconnecting bed chambers, examining tapestries and chatting about trade between Britain and the Low Countries; we went up half-staircases and then into the early Tudor tower, up the narrow spiral steps and out onto the flat roof of the 15th century fortress. I looked over the crenellated wall at a familiar scene: I used to live in the area; I know the river Tamar well. But this wasn’t now and it wasn’t 1940 – I looked down on the river and saw an inland barge bringing the charming rogue hero from The Magpie (set early C20th) upriver in the mid-17th century! This has to be Leo’s ancestor, I thought. Another charming rotter. Ludovico – Ludo – because life’s all a game for him! I scribbled a few notes in my book as Rachel, the curator, explained about the river barges. Then we crossed the roof to look down over the interior courtyard. And there was that nasty McNab again crossing to the stables, pretending he wasn’t watching me. But he was – I knew it, I could feel it; my skin was all creepy-crawly.
So there they were, two men dominating the life of . . . Alina. Alina arrived that day as well –and virtually wrote the first half of the novel herself! Well, as you can see, the sequel to The Empress Emerald had to be set aside. But before I could let Alina take us much further I had to do an awful lot of research because I had never planned to write about the tulip scandal in Holland in 1636 – or about a Hispano/Vatican conspiracy – or about that creep McNab in the shadows – nor to let a feisty but unwise girl from northern Spain tell her own story. But they made me do it!
(guest post for ‘Sheila’s (Sheila Deeth) Reviews’ June, 2012)
Please note: this post was adapted and extended for my publishers, Penmore Press, in their special series ‘Authors and their Characters’.