Am I in it? So which characters are based on people you know? The ups and downs of a self-published author Part 2.
It was my embarrassing secret, something which should be kept hidden, so questions on Comrades Come Rally came later. But when I had finally come out the closet and announced (or more accurately, mumbled with acute embarrassment) what I had done, it was interesting what people wanted to know. (Here I should pause and make an obvious point, obviously I refer to friends and colleagues because with sales on the modest scale, it is not yet on the GCSE curriculum, so the wider public have no idea of its existence.)
The reaction of some friends has been, shall we say, intriguing, with a determination to locate some of the characters in mutual acquaintances. There was one such who was/is utterly convinced that one of the major characters was someone we both know. This is despite the real person being of a different age, having a very different personality, different dress sense, radically different politics and…oh…er…a different ethnicity. Still, both shared a gender and a first name. So it must be them!
Then there’s Pete Kalder – he must be you, virtually everyone shouts. That’s because we both wear suits and used to be a librarian. The other marked differences don’t appear to be important (smart apparel seemingly more important than having a wife, daughter and being able to swim and drive a car. All the latter attached to Kalder but not, as yet, to me). Then there’s his personality: God, do people really think I am like that? But they won’t let it go. He has a cat – so have you! He supports Arsenal! So do you! Now, at the moment of writing this, I haven’t access to the internet so I can’t tell you how many cat owners support the Gunners (I’m sure that such data is available somewhere) but I bet it’s a fair few. Still, lots of people I know are convinced that Pete Kalder is me. That’s worrying. It is worth a minute or two of my time to weigh up whether a call to a psychiatrist or lawyer is in order.
But the reality is that the characters all just came out of an idle imagination; day dreaming hours away, after work, trying to relax after another stressful day. Writing about them was an antidote to the scores of maths and literacy books which I have to mark as a primary school teacher. (I love my job but believe me; you sometimes need a break after writing thirty odd times how to find a fraction of a number when the numerator is greater than one).
The idea of a smartly dressed detective, rather separate from the world, didn’t stem from basing it on me (I actually rather dislike being alone) but from the standard genre of private investigators. When I was in my early twenties, someone gave me a Ross Macdonald novel and the character of Lew Archer – a loner, sharply dressed and with a sharp wit but a touch of humanity – just blew me away. I promptly read every Macdonald book I could find. Hammett, Himes and Chandler followed before getting onto the Brit crime novels. I loved them – I wanted to write one.
But I wanted it to be based in Britain. But then what would a private eye investigate that the police wouldn’t? I tried several scenarios, revolving around police corruption, racism or incompetence. Let’s face it; there have been a number of real life instances which have involved all three. But then the obvious struck me. Since leaving school I have considered myself a socialist of various types; since the great British miners strike of 1984, a revolutionary socialist. I believe people have the power to change society and have done so throughout history. More importantly, I believe that they can do so to create a world based on need and not profit. In other words – socialism. So why not base the story in a revolutionary upheaval in Britain? Where would the police be in a pre-revolutionary Britain?
From that premise, I started writing. Some writers plan out their stories. I didn’t. I had a main character, a central idea of what happens and how it ends, but other than that, I just started writing. The story flowed from what seemed logical whilst writing it. The question of what might happen to a Britain facing a revolution would be a constant theme to it. Not that people would have to have read the collected works of Marx and Engels to enjoy it, or indeed believe it to be a possibility. My politics might have shaped the story but they weren’t a requirement for others to enjoy it. After all, you don’t have to believe in boy wizards, small creatures with hairy feet, possessing a ring or an invasion of Earth by alien creatures to enjoy the works of Rowling, Tolkien or H.G Wells. Of course, one slight drawback in that analogy is the skill of those three writers to create an alternative world. Well, whilst writing in secret, I could at least imagine being on par with them.
Being set in the near future of huge social upheaval did give me the freedom to imagine what I wished. Even those people who believe that a worker’s revolution is possible cannot say in what form it would take. A problem I did face, and have discussed previously, was technology. Although, with no set dates, I imagined it to be roughly thirty years from now, so obviously things would be different. However, I did not want rockets flying all over the place and such like, because firstly, I wanted the reader to concentrate on believing in the revolutionary situation and not pondering on whether this or that form of travel would be available. Secondly, in a sense I did not think it was important. The essence that however automated a society is, you still need human labour at some point, was the main issue, And lastly, I barely know what end of the remote to point at the TV, let alone, think of anything more technical.
The story and the characters evolved. Whilst it is true to say that none were actually based on any particular individuals, I did take bits from people I knew, had read about or saw on TV (at times when the remote had been correctly aimed) but they got so mashed that now I cannot remember who they are.
Some things were put in because they interested me. Art for example is there, not just because I thought it a great job for Kalder to have, but one that interests me. Sometimes though, I might wander off the point because Pete Kalder’s brain works like that. Sometimes, it was my brain doing it and I would find the experience of my day’s work ‘guiding’ me right off the beaten track, into the bushes and up a tree of a narrative. So chunks might be written featuring goggle-eyed, blood thirsty, rabid, evil, education inspectors. Entire chapters on killer OFSTED inspectors had to be edited out.
It was important to keep writing though, – every night – as otherwise having a full-time job would become a reason for it not get done.
Writing it did I think, make me look around a bit more, looking for ideas. Dare I say it? For inspiration. For example, whilst writing, the Arab Spring was filling the news and the amazing footage of people seizing control of their society could but not but have an effect on me.
I didn’t want it to be a worthy tome though. I wanted humour and a good sprinkling of naff jokes (which in my own little world I took to be high-concept Wildean wit) with over-extended metaphors and bad puns. Why? Simply, because they made me laugh…after a hard day’s work etc etc.
So people I know are not in it. But maybe they could be in the sequel. I have been told that some writers accept money to include people as characters in their next books. I presume, for charity. This could be an idea, so perhaps for ten quid in a brown envelope you could be in the next one. Hey, for another fiver, you could be the main character. Now there’s an idea.