Karen Tayleur, author of Chasing Boys and the newly-released Hostage, talks about an author’s relationship with her characters.
Spend enough time with characters from a book and they become real to you. They don’t belong to the author anymore, but are entities in their own right. As a young reader I counted Katy (What Katy Did), Jo and all her sisters (Little Women) among my group of friends. As an author, I find the same thing. Originally, the characters are my creation, my pawns to do with what I choose. Soon enough, though, they flesh out and become real people, which can interfere with my plans. ‘Oh, no, Tully would definitely not ask the parking inspector for help, she has a lifelong aversion to authority figures.’ Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye.
Tully, the main protagonist from my latest book, Hostage, was a slippery character to pin down. However, in an echo of real life, if you take the time to get to know a person, the more empathy you can have for them — even if you never really like them. I grew to like Tully, though. I thought I knew her — well as the author, I had the best chance of knowing her — but as the months progressed, I finally really knew her, understood her motives, and the story became easier to write.
Not that Hostage was easy to write. It took two corkboards of coloured cards to plot out what was happening, when and where. And it was satisfying to finish. There are several high points in the writing process that I enjoy. One is finally understanding my main character in depth. Another is waking up after grappling with a knotty point in the plot and having the solution. The greatest high point is pushing that send button and watching the first draft whiz off to my editor, with the full knowledge that there will be redrafting but that this is actually a miracle that the first draft is finished. It’s not until later, a month or so after the book has gone to press, that I find myself thinking about my main protagonist again. Wondering what he or she would be doing beyond that final page.
I’ve had requests from some readers for a sequel to Chasing Boys. It was never my intention for it to be a series, but I understand their need to continue the relationship with the characters. In a compromise, I gave one of the characters a cameo role in Hostage.
I sometimes catch myself thinking about Tully. Wondering about her life. What she will make of it. As with the friends we make in real life, some come and go, while others remain forever. I may never meet up with Tully again, but we will always have a connection.
I wish her all the best.