To get in the mood to write today’s Claire installment, I listened to some 80s covers by a band called Ashes to Ashes (which, incidentally, were playing at a pub in Plymouth on 17th August, the day Claire and Conor visited. Isn’t that handy and isn’t the internet amazing?) You can listen to their cover songs here.
I don’t normally listen to music while I’m writing. I often read blogs and articles about authors and the soundtracks to their books: the songs they listened to while writing or to get them in the right frame of mind or mood. I find music distracting and only use it to drown out even more distracting noises (the neighbour’s barking dogs or the kids screaming downstairs.) I have a playlist that I know so well it’s like white noise. Or I play Ludovico Einaudi, which makes soothing background music.
Today, though, bopping to Walk Like An Egyptian really helped me imagine that I was standing with Claire in the cobbled square listening to a live band, rather than sitting on a sofa next to a snoring dog, feeling bunged up and poorly, and irritated after a morning of Christmas chaos (forgetting to take broken toy back to the shop when I collected the new one, so having to buy a second one instead. Sigh.)
What I found interesting, though, was realising I have no idea what kind of music Claire would choose to listen to. I don’t tend to create fully formed, three-dimensional characters in a first draft. I like to get to know my characters as I write, just as a reader does. I know it breaks all the writing rules – the standard view is you should know everything and anything about your characters, from their date of birth, background and schooling to favourite colour and first boyfriend. I’m lucky if I know their age and surname by the end of a book.
Maybe it’s lazy writing. Characters are often based on an element of me to begin with, so when they make decisions I kind of know what they’re going to do. As the novel grows they separate from me and become themselves, but I know no more about their history than I do about the mummies I see every day at school pick up. We chat, we get on, we share anecdotes and agonies, but I don’t know if they like Megadeth or Mozart.
When I’ve finished a first draft I compile a character template, listing all the things I have learnt about my protagonists through our journey together, and I add in a few more to make the stories more three-dimensional.
Of course, with Two-Hundred Steps Home, I’ve had to fill the template out as I go along, to try and maintain consistency and authenticity. I’ve made a few mistakes – Robert’s children are a bit old, Kim’s character has wobbled a bit (to me anyway) and I haven’t yet decided how many siblings Conor has (which I need to know soon). I know that Claire went to a private school and did an Arts degree, but I don’t know when she had her first kiss or whether she reads chick lit or sci fi.
I would be interested to know if any readers, who didn’t know about the challenge when they started reading THSH, have noticed the lack of depth, or have discovered any inconsistencies. As for whether Conor or Claire would like 80s music (or if Robert would have listened to it in his teens) that’s another question entirely. As my taste in music stopped in the mid-90s, if she likes twenty-first century music I’m afraid she’s on her own!
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire held Conor’s hand tightly as he led her down the street towards the noise. To their right, three huge stained glass windows loomed in the gathering darkness, reflecting the street light. They passed a café, where people sat at tables outside, trying to talk over the racket from further down the road. Ahead Claire saw the crest of the magistrates’ court, and wondered exactly where Conor was taking them.
They’d met in Plymouth for lunch and Conor had asked if he could choose their evening entertainment, saying with a twinkle, “I’ve let you try and drown me in the surf and walk my feet off on the cliffs. It’s my turn to introduce you to my thing.”
Worried by the glint in his eyes, Claire had reluctantly agreed. Now, as her ears protested against the battering of loud music and shouting voices, she wished she’d pressed him for details.
“What do you think?” he yelled, over the wail of an electric guitar. “A great craic, yes?”
Claire stumbled slightly, as the tarmac turned into cobbles, and grabbed Conor for support. He wrapped his arm around her and looked down, as if gauging her reaction. Sensing something was required, she tried to process the scene before her. A bar was just visible in the corner of the street, its black arched windows obscured by milling bodies. Next to the bar were the steps to the magistrates’ court, and on top – using the entrance as a kind of stage – was a band. Every other square inch of available space was packed in with bodies.
Feeling as if she was standing beneath a waterfall, Claire leant in to Conor and concentrated on breathing. Six months ago this would have been a normal night out. But months on the road, often with only the stars for company, had erased the memories from her mind. The music travelled up through the cobbles and into her feet, vibrating through her body like she was a gong.
“Sorry,” Conor said into her ear, “I shouldn’t have brought you. We can go if you like.”
Claire looked up eagerly, ready to assent, and caught the disappointment in his expression. She reached up and kissed him on the cheek, then said, “Don’t be silly. It looks great.” She was about to ask for a gin and tonic when she noticed the mobile bar near the impromptu stage. “Mine’s a pint of Guinness.”
Her words were rewarded with a wide grin. He turned towards the bar, pulling her along behind him through the press of people. Claire tried to work out what music it was, as she responded to the pressure on her arm to stop and move as the crowd dictated. Conor dropped her hand to get to the bar, and she backed up against a railing to avoid getting crushed.
Slowly, as her ears tuned into the music, she realised she knew the tune: a cover of an ’80s rock song. Around her, people jumped in time to the beat and she felt her own feet responding. It wasn’t really her era, but Robert had gone through a phase in his teens, and she recognised the songs.
Sensing movement out the corner of her eye, she saw Conor returning with two pints of black liquid. Accepting hers, and wondering when she’d last drunk from a pint glass, Claire stood by Conor’s side and watched the band.
The music wormed in deep. The riffs were basic, the vocals a reasonable mimic of the original, and the crowd extremely enthusiastic.
When did I last go to a gig? Apart from in that bar in Swanage, when I bumped into Conor?
She and Kim had gone a few times when they were younger, but her adult life had been more about wine bars and restaurants, with the occasional venture to the theatre. So much more passive than watching a live band, dancing and singing along. She looked over at Conor and saw that he was watching her rather than the stage. She felt self-conscious, as if she were eighteen again. He leaned forwards to kiss her. Her tummy squirmed and the years fell away.
As they walked back to their hotel, fingers entwined, Conor looked down at Claire and laughed. “The look on your face when we turned the corner was priceless.”
Claire dropped her head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a grouch. I’m out of practice.”
“You looked like you found your groove, bopping with the best. Very sexy.” He stopped near a shop window and pulled her close. “I know we like different things, you and I,” he said in a low, husky voice. “But don’t let that convince you we have nothing in common.”
A shiver ran across Claire’s skin, despite the warm evening. It felt like he’d crept into her mind and read the deepest secrets. The gig had worried her, made her wonder how they would spend their time together, wonder what kind of a future they could have. She realised she didn’t even know how a relationship functioned, away from the routine of working week and playtime weekends.
Some of her thoughts must have shown on her face because Conor brushed his hand across her cheek. “Don’t overthink it. You’ve spent a lot of time on your own, finding your place in the world. You and I; we work. Don’t try and figure out why, or you’ll go nuts. Just trust that it’s true.”
He leant forwards and kissed her gently. Her mind resisted and she told it to shut up. Lacing her arms behind his head, she surrendered to the kiss.