It comes as quite a shock to you, as a writer, when you have to get to know new characters. Having written a series of three books, with most of the characters unchanged, it’s taking a long time for me to define and balance a complete new set of people for my next book. The new story is family-based and the dynamics between the characters are different, especially between younger and older people. It takes time, I find, to work it out, and all of them go through a series of changes as they slowly come into focus. When I look back at sketches written during the early stages of ideas for the book, the characters seem undefined. But now, well, I’m getting to know them, and as time goes on they become both clearer and easier to write about. I’m still making changes, of course – but I think I know who they all are now. I’ve reached that stage, both comfortable and slightly creepy, where I feel my main characters and following me around, commenting on things, and leaning over my shoulder when I write.
It was quite a shock, then, the other day, when one of them actually tapped me on the shoulder. I was settled in at the café on the Chesil Beach, engrossed in my story and looking up occasionally to stare out of the window. There was a particularly high tide, and I half thought the water might be coming indoors if it got any higher. I was in that peculiar state between worlds – the real one with the water creeping up towards the building, and the imaginary one I was putting on paper, when my character Rosamund touched my shoulder.
It gave me quite a turn, I can tell you. It wasn’t Rosamund, of course, but a lady who had been sitting at another table in the busy café watching me write.
“You look like J K Rowling,” she said, “writing a novel in a café!”
I told her I was indeed working on a novel. Had I been a little more firmly attached to the real world at that moment I would have given her one of my cards and told her I had books available to read now, should she be interested. In future I’ll keep a couple of them pinned to the front of my notebook. Still, that comparison with the divine J K was clearly a sign that my plan to follow in her highly-successful footsteps is off to a good start. I like to think so, anyway.