Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Creating the Characters with Rebecca Muddiman

As part of her blog tour today's guest blog is by author Rebecca Muddiman.  Her latest novel is Gone and is published by Mulholland Books.

For a few of the talks I did in libraries while promoting my first novel, Stolen, I roped in my long-suffering boyfriend, Stephen, into acting as the Frost to my Nixon (possibly not the best comparison but you get the picture). I always think these things work better when you're having a conversation rather than just sitting talking at the audience for an hour. He's rather good at being interviewer, and on a couple of occasions people have come up afterwards and asked if he was a professional (a professional what, I'm not sure), and he’s also cheap (works for chocolate fingers and marshmallows). Anyway, during several of these events, Stephen would take great pleasure in telling the audience about my method of creating characters and, what he saw as, a novel way to procrastinate.  Some of the audience would agree with Stephen that it was odd; others thought it was an interesting way to work. I'll let you come to your own conclusions.

When I started out I wanted to write for TV and film and in a lot of ways my writing is still influenced by screenwriting. Every time I write a scene there's always a little corner of my brain working out how it would play on the screen. As I’ve written more crime novels this has lessened somewhat, allowing me to use devices that wouldn't work on screen but make the book better. But there's still a part of me that's thinking TV, and most of that is casting.  I never got anywhere near having one of my scripts produced never mind worrying about who was going to play my hero. But when I'm writing my novels I still try to find the perfect actor to fill the roles. Not every role - some characters come into my head fully formed as 'original' people. But most are cast. In my mind I’m Marion Dougherty. 

And this is where Stephen thinks it gets weird. When I was planning Gone I had ideas of
characters and plot but was clearly a little stuck, or a little scared to move forward and actually start the writing. So I did what any writer would do and found something important to the process that wasn't actually writing. For me, this was sticking several pieces of A4 paper together; writing GONE in the middle with the characters names scattered about, and then took to the internet to find the perfect cast. I scoured IMDB looking for the right faces, taking into consideration their past roles, and once a role was filled, I printed out a picture and stuck it to the wall. You say odd, I say essential to the process.

Not all of the actors made it through to the final cut. Some characters changed and developed and became their own person. But for me having someone in mind helps me picture them, how they move, how they speak. It makes them more real.  I think many of us picture actors when we're reading but generally it's different for everyone. We all see the characters differently, as I learned when the audiences at libraries told me whom they saw as DI Gardner.

For the record, for me Gardner was always going to be Clive Owen and some reader’s nod in agreement, others just don't see it. (I will mention that at last year’s Crimefest, Mark Billingham told a story of how he always wanted David Morrissey for Tom Thorne and Morrissey read this in an interview and the rest is history. 

So, Clive, (if you're reading this...) DS Nicola Freeman originally started out as a blonde in her fifties but she just wasn't right. It was only when watching a stand-up performance by Janeane Garofalo that it clicked. She was the complete opposite of what I’d imagined the character to be but as soon as she was cast it started to work. I can't imagine anyone else in the role now.  As for the rest of the dream cast - Jim Broadbent, Mark Gatiss, Tom Hardy, John Simm - if this ever gets made, we're going to need one hell of a budget.

More information about Rebecca Muddiman and her work can be found on her blog.  You can also follow her on Twitter @RebeccaMuddiman and on Facebook.

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