I planned to write the story from a first person perspective and almost by accident that gave me my second character, one who, much to my surprise, actually became my favourite in the story - Claire MacDonald.
Writing Claire, the 23-year-old who steals Barclay’s rucksack at Waterloo station, is no small challenge for me: I’ve never attempted a strong female character before, let alone as a lead, but on my Creative Writing course I found that her ‘voice’ came naturally and she proved pretty straightforward to write, a distinctive, feisty but flawed character, more identifiable than Barclay. It’s true what they say - work at it and the characters really do write themselves. Here’s a conversation from one of the course exercises that didn’t make it into the novel. Claire and Barclay getting to know each other over dinner:
“I find it difficult to make new friends, like I’m being disloyal to absent friends,” I said.
“I don’t have that problem.”
“You make friends easily?”
“No, I meant I have no loyalty issues. I’m not very loyal to anyone,” he said.
“You’d make a rubbish dog.”
“Don’t mention dogs.” He didn’t laugh.
“No. Sorry. Delicate subject,” I said. “I do get lonely though sometimes, especially the evenings.” Confession time. It just slipped out.
“Who doesn’t?” Was he being sympathetic or sarcastic? I couldn’t tell.
“You don’t strike me as the lonely type.”
“Everyone is lonely. It’s just that some of us find it difficult to admit to it. I’d like to think I’m a loner but sometimes...”
And he left it there, hanging. Looking back on it, that was the nearest I ever got to a confession out of him about him being unhappy. With Barclay it was all front, all bravado. But deep down, further down where he didn’t let you dig, there was a lonely, unhappy little boy still. Spoiled rotten, unprincipled, sad even. The bugger just wouldn’t admit to it.A bit revealed about Barclay, a bit about Claire. It seemed to work.
As the course progressed I found myself having to work harder on establishing Claire than Barclay; I didn’t want her to be passive in the story I was starting to concoct and was keen to make her as realistic as I could. I knew I’d got close when I wrote something and someone else on the course exclaimed ‘But the Claire I know wouldn’t do that!’ Success!