Writing a book provides as much escapism for the writer as it does for the reader who will eventually download it on their Kindle or purchase in Waterstones or some other high street book store. It’s a world where you create the characters and events and are in total control. You call the shots, you make things happen; it’s your vision, your dream.
Writing is also a very individual thing and a book can come together in many different ways. Some people plot extensively before beginning; others see the blank screen as the first step on an open road. A journey they don’t have a map for. For me writing is organic, there is a structure but within that everything else is very fluid. When you start to write some things work, some don’t and you have to be prepared for that, go with a flexible and open mind and be willing to make changes if necessary.
Two aspects which are essential before you set out are backdrop and characters. You need to be able to ‘see’ where you are and identify the people you are writing about. I’m not sure I could simply make things up – I’m sure some people do – but for me there has to be a tie in with reality. The village of Meridan Cross which is central to all five of my novels is based loosely on the village where I live. Using a real village as a template made it much easier to visualise the geography of the whole place – similar to using Google Street View. Of course Meridan Cross village is much smaller but what I created provided just the right framework for my fictional backdrop to make the whole thing feel very authentic as I wrote.
Right, that’s the setting out of the way, now what about the characters? Well for the main characters I tend to bring together different aspects of real people to incorporate into their indiviudal personalities. I think to a certain extent you can dream up peripheral players straight off the top of your head because you don’t require depth for ‘walk on’ parts. However I find that scenario simply does not work if you try it with your main protagonists. Central characters need substance.
With The Other Side of Morning, the fifth and final book in the series (which can incidentally be read as a stand-alone novel), most of the familiar faces were making a comeback so this meant setting up the characters for the story was going to be easy – right? Well no actually, there was more to it than that. For this new novel I had decided to move the family on six years and focus on the now twenty -something cousins Charlotte and Lucy. At the end of book four they had been 17 and 18 and there was a need to look at what had happened over that six years and write it into their character profiles to create the people they now were. However, one of the really important changes needed within the existing cast was to Christian Rosetti who had also featured in the previous novel. No longer Matt Benedict’s young protégé poised for stardom he was now a huge international rock star with an ego to match. He still had his dark good looks now backed by an amazing on stage presence which has spawned a huge world-wide female following. Sadly the warm, self-effacing 20 year old had now morphed into an arrogant and selfish womanising celebrity. As the story opens we find Christian in a gradually deteriorating relationship with Charlotte. Caught between his need for freedom and the inability to let her go, his drug habit is making him angry, possessive and controlling. With the arrival of new central character, handsome Italian Marco D’Alesandro things are about to get much worse.
Now I’ve always been resistant to creating male beauty in any of my novels; for me it simply doesn’t sit right in my virtual world. Attractive men are not necessarily handsome, but on this occasion that is exactly what I wanted in my new central male character. However if I was going to throw the rule book out of the window for this novel and give Marco incredible looks I knew he had to have more than a just pretty face to appeal to readers.
After a lot of deliberation his character profile looked like this:
- 26 years of age
- Born in Milan
- Mother died when he was 18 months old
- Pre-university education in England
- Speaks English, Italian and German
- Has a business degree and a Masters in Food Management.
- Is based in London, running the European restaurant chain for his father’s international hotel and leisure group.
- Is successful, taking the D’Alesandro’s flagship restaurant San Raffaello’s from basic Italian bistro to three star Michelin eatery; one of the best dining experiences in the UK’s capital.
- Is a team player, often turning up at San Raffaello’s and working alongside his staff.
- Is hard working and committed, aware of his future role as head of D’Alesandro Hotels and Leisure..
- Has great respect for his father and stepmother Thérèse, even though she does nothing to hide her dislike for him.
- Is quietly confident and has great charm
- Oh and of course he’s great in bed!
Well that’s all the positives sorted, but there had to be a sting in the tail, something that would humanise this perfect man. The Achilles’ Heel was that despite having the looks and charm to guarantee him any woman he wants his love life has not been a great success. Since arriving in London nine months ago he has made some bad choices and ended up with shallow, pretty women only interested in the places he can take them and how much money he is willing to spend on them. So he’s currently taking a step back from relationships – until the evening he meets Charlotte and the scene is set for the tangle that is to become their lives.
Right! Back to the character creation; now he’s fully fleshed, whose shell will he inhabit while I write? Because you see I always have a muse for my central male characters, someone I can pin onto the notice board in the office as general guide to their looks. For Christian I had already chosen Aidan Turner, who with those wonderfully arched eyebrows fitted the rock god image perfectly. For Marco I didn’t have to do too much thinking either. I’ve been a fan of Chilean born actor Santiago Cabrera since his Isaac Mendez days in Heroes. Not only did he look right with those amazing brown eyes, his BBC Merlin character Launcelot mirrored many of the characteristics in Marco’s profile. Decision made, a picture of Santiago soon joined Aidan on the office wall. Perfect.
Ah but I know someone is going to challenge me about this because leading up to the Promo Blitz I was asked to do a few interviews. On two occasions one of the questions was ‘if the film rights were acquired for the book who would you choose to play your characters?’ Now when books become films those who make the decisions on casting rarely see the characters with the same eyes as the writer. Many a good book translated into film has been ruined by (in my opinion) the wrong casting. The 1983 version of Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds and Richard Chamberlain as Ralph De Bricassart is one that comes to mind. Despite that I decided if this was going to be a film then I’d dispense with the writer’s hat and make my choice through the eyes of a casting director and as Marco is Italian, then maybe it would be more appropriate if an Italian took the role. Not able to get involved in screen tests I simply Googled ‘Handsome Young Italian Actors’ and chose Antonio Cupo who more than all the rest seemed to have the qualities I was looking for in a screen version of Marco. That is the reason behind the two versions!
So, was I wrong to choose another actor for the film? Should I have stayed with Santiago? Or is Antonio a good choice? Both very beautiful men. Thoughts please!
And with that at 8.00 pm on a Friday evening I must leave you to get ready for the big day tomorrow. Remember – dress code is glam! Right, now off to sort out that dress!