I am thrilled to welcome Adrian Harvey back to my blog. I loved his first book, ‘Being Someone’ and am really looking forward to reading ‘The Cursing Stone’ which was published last year. Adrian has written a guest post for this event.
It was my own fault. I had decided to write my first novel in the first person, so I should not have been surprised when family and friends started to ask pointed questions. You see, the protagonist of Being Someone was not written sympathetically: he is not someone men should aspire to be. And yet, when my brother described the book as ‘brave’, I didn’t quite get his point.
Things started to dawn on me when a friend’s friend apparently told her that she wasn’t sure that she would like me as a person if she were to meet me. When my mother said that she was disappointed in me, I began a short but intense period of denial. James is not me, I would tell anyone who paused long enough to hear it.
Fiction is not autobiography, of course, and even when authors write about what they know, their novels are not transcriptions of their lives. And yet some readers wanted only to uncover the ‘me’ that they assumed was woven into the text.
There is plenty of ‘me’ in Being Someone, of course, but that ‘me’ is not contained in a single character, but spread across everyone that appears within the book, not just the narrator/protagonist. My second novel, The Cursing Stone, is written in the third person, but there is still plenty of ‘me’ in that too, again contained within a set of diverse characters who are nothing like me, except in the very important regard that they are human. How could it be otherwise? The only perspective I have is my own; the only loves, fears, and doubts I have ever felt are mine. Other people can only ever be seen through that lens.
Because making characters means drawing on yourself but also on what you observe in others: the raw material, especially for the fine grain, the patina, is everyone you’ve ever met. When you’re writing a novel about human relationships (aren’t they all?) and you’re perpetually hungry for ever more granularity, every conversation – those you participate in, those you overhear – is legitimate source material. Every haircut, every nose, every pair of shoes or nervous laugh is fair game. A writer observes, for sure; but more than that, a writer listens. If you can’t hear it authentically as you write it – the words and the cadence – then nor will the reader when they read it.
This I knew. Then I started to notice that I was actively mining conversations, exchanges, and interactions for material. Not just observing, noting, what was going on, but mentally writing it into my novel as the exchange was happening. And if the conversation didn’t fully meet the needs of the character or plot, I found myself steering it in ways that would. I stopped doing that, of course, for my own sake as much as my friends: it felt like stealing, but moreover I was disturbed by the idea of fictionalising my life, of turning my relationships into the components of a novel.
Sometimes even observing feels like stealing. But mostly I know it is simply the only way to draw a believable character who will carry the attention of a reader, and behave with sufficient authenticity to make solid the make-believe of my narrative. So while I was not brought up on a remote Scottish island, I was once 20 years old (although not for a very long time) and there is enough of me – and of you – in Fergus Buchanan to make his quest for the cursing stone worth following.
‘The Cursing Stone’ is available to buy from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/the-cursing-stone/
‘Being Someone’ is available to buy from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/being-someone/