Thursday, 30 March 2023

It’s not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer who needs to appreciate our septuagenarians more…

Following the publication of my first novel, Twelve Secrets, I was regularly asked about my inspiration for the novel’s lead character, Ben Harper. 

Ben is a thirty-year-old investigative journalist who works at the nation’s biggest online news site. He’s even won awards. I’m a fifty something year-old author, who dreamed of becoming a successful journalist but it was something I failed miserably to achieve.

Ben is an all-round good bloke. He’s smart, quick witted, funny, challenges authority, hates paper pushers and is always one step ahead of the police. Am I using Ben to create some of the person I wanted to be? 

Of course, it is impossible for authors to avoid putting something of themselves into their characters. Ben already drinks far too much coffee, loves a cheese and marmite toastie, can be hugely impulsive and has an aversion to commitment. But I’ve also given him some of my better characteristic. He’s incredibly loyal, great with kids, cares for older people and takes care of his friends and family. I’m sure in future books, Ben will make some mistakes, learn from them and then almost certainly make a few more. 

But if a character twenty years younger than myself says something about the person I was or wanted to be, what does one twenty years older than me have to say?

In my new book, Eleven Liars, two of the main characters are already well into their seventies. Both Sam Hardy and Pamela Cuthbert are wise, observant, and on very different levels have lived fascinating lives. Sam is active, still working, and has a couple of lady friends in the apartment block where he lives. He has a sharp but ultimately loving relationship with his daughter. 

Pamela now lives much of her life through her living room window. She has lived a lonely life. She understands people, has learned how to get the best from them but ultimately has built a wall around herself. Her age allows her to be self-deprecating, but woe betide anyone who underestimates her.

I can’t help but wondering, if I’m lucky enough to reach my seventies, have I inserted pieces of my future self into both of these characters. Older, wiser, no longer stressed about daily life and most importantly of all, one step ahead of the people around. Life experience has given them great influence.

I’ve spent my childhood surrounded by older and wiser relatives, although, of course, at the time I never realised they were older and wiser. My paternal grandmother was born in 1907 and by the age of 21 had her own business. In the late 1920’s, touring the hair salons of Paris in search of new and innovative styling, she was a woman from another age, and nobody stood in her way. In Eleven Liars, another older character, Betty Baxter, owes her Christian name to my grandmother. Betty Baxter is a very different kind of businesswoman, but in the same way as my grandmother she never suffers fools. In a marriage of over sixty years, my grandfather learned to become a calming influence, living life at a slower pace, the perfect complement to my grandmother.

My maternal grandmother, lived to the amazing age of 101. At the age of 80, without a second thought, she upped sticks and left the town and home she had lived in for 40 years. In a new home, in a new town, she found new friends and a new life. There is something of her in Pamela Cuthbert. When my grandmother moved to her new home, her number one requirement was for her flat to look out towards the town’s main road. It was to be her window on the world, and as she got older she was determined never be alone. 

I’m sure each of my grandparents brought influences to bear on these characters and I found them a delight to write. The brilliant Richard Osman has shown all authors how incredibly enduring and entertaining older characters can be. Older characters can bring humour, sharp minds, and a carefree attitude. Who wouldn’t want to be that kind of septuagenarian? Authors have the luxury of creating the active and intuitive pensioners they hope of becoming. 

And in the lives older characters have lived, they have kept secrets; secrets that can be revealed in ever twisting plots and turns.

Eleven Liars by Robert Gold (Sphere, £14.99.)

Journalist Ben Harper is on his way home when he sees the flames in the churchyard. The derelict community centre is on fire. And somebody is trapped inside. With Ben's help the person escapes, only to flee the scene before they can be identified. Now the small town of Haddley is abuzz with rumours. Was this an accident, or arson? Then a skeleton is found in the burnt-out foundations. And when the identity of the victim is revealed, Ben is confronted with a crime that is terrifyingly close to home. As he uncovers a web of deceit and destruction that goes back decades, Ben quickly learns that in this small town, everybody has something to hide.

For more information about Robert Gold you can find him on his Facebook author page. You can also find him on Twitter @books_gold. 

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