Saturday, 24 March 2012

GUEST BLOG: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? - David J Kowalski

The average length of a marriage is approximately 7.8 years. Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst investigating the formation of friendships, concluded that you lose about half of your close network members every seven years. So how did I end up stuck with Joseph Kennedy, Jonathan Wells and John Lightholler for almost 10 years, and why won’t they leave me the hell alone?

As a first time novelist I will be honest with you. When I first started writing The Company of the Dead, Kennedy, Wells, Lightholler, Morgan, all my cast… were just variations on a theme. They had their assigned tasks, they had the characteristics I thought appropriate to their successes and failings. But that was that. Clearly I had work to do. With my eyes closed, so to speak, hearing their words, I often could not tell one from another. But something happened.

Initially it was difficult. I had to deliberately differentiate their manner of speech, their turn of phrase. How quick they were to anger, how they coped with obstacles and problems. I had to factor in their physical appearances, their social and cultural backgrounds, and force them to grow.

Eventually they started to surprise me. The deliberate pairings of odd couples started to produce odder results. Friendships I tried to force flowed naturally. Rivalry, required by the plot, stemmed readily for more reasons than I thought I could imagine. Some critical mass was achieved and I did not need to force anything, as what followed grew out of the character’s themselves.

I’d heard of authors finding themselves as mouth pieces for their characters, acting more like biographers than actual writers. I’d put it down to bad writing. I mean how could a writer be surprised about the words coming out of their character’s mouths. By the last third of my novel, however, that is exactly what was happening. Eventually I started trusting the process. Besides, it seemed actually easier than making things up, if that makes any sense.

So, are the characters in my book based on people I’ve read and known about? Sure they are. But, to an extent, so are my real friends. Here’s what I think. We identify certain features we like or don’t like, based on previous relationships. These characteristics, reproduced in the people we meet, surely influence our future choices of friends and enemies. And here was a chance to make some new friends… literally.

And Kennedy, Wells, Lightholler, even some of the nastier cast of my novel, came to dinner, and never bothered leaving. When I wasn’t at my laptop they were still at my shoulders, offering ideas, balking at the lines I wanted them to say and seemingly coming up with their own. Sometimes it feels like we all journeyed together through time, real and imagined, to get the book done, and frankly, I can’t complain about their company.

The Company of the Dead, David Kowalski, 23rd March, £8.99.
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