Please welcome, Gordon Brown.
I’m currently on tour with three other fellow authors (Mark Leggatt, Douglas Skelton and Neil Broadfoot) around the towns and cities of Scotland. The tour is called Crime Factor and our format is simple – from the outset we ask the audience for questions – and then take it from there.
A few nights ago, one of the audience asked a deceptively simple question – ‘Do you map out your characters before you start a new book or do they develop over time?’
I’ll put my hand up to say that I’m not a planner. I start all of my books with a line that I like and 80,000 words or so later I stop. Then I go back and fix it.
Over time my characters develop. Take Falling, released by Down & Out Books in the U.S. this year. The central character is Charlie Wiggs, a middle aged accountant. He wasn’t meant to be the main protagonist. He just appeared on page 1 and grew more interesting, and central to the plot, as I wrote. For the launch of Falling I wrote a short story about Charlie. It’s a prequel and gave me a chance to learn a little more about him and his personality.
Not long ago I submitted a short story to Bouchercon for their 2016 anthology. The story had to be inspired by the theme ‘Blood on the Bayou’. I constructed a narrative around a serial killer who uses the first six chords of ‘Duelling Banjos’, made famous by the film Deliverance, to target his victims - each victim’s name starts with the initial from one of the chords. The plot required a police officer to track the killer down. And so was born Detective Sarah Tracy of the LAPD (only for her first story she was flown into New Orleans).
Roll forward a few weeks and I promised a new short story for a UK crime blog. I liked writing about Sarah. So when I hit the keyboard, I brought her back in a new story called ‘The Why’.
I enjoyed writing about Sarah so much that I decided to write more about her. At around four thousand words per story I’ve now written nine Sarah Tracy short stories in only a few weeks. I’m thinking of bundling them into a collection. To do this Sarah needed a partner - Detective Tim Clark, a backstory about her family, details on where she comes from, what she believes in – the whole shebang. Or to put it another way I’ve been learning about Sarah at speed.
‘Speed learning’ is akin to meeting someone on vacation, someone you then spend the next few weeks with. Day by day you discover the person. You don’t have a plan. You don’t wake up each morning and think ‘Now what will I ask my new friend today?’. You take it as it comes. You may not like everything you find out. You may discover some amazing things. You might find a friend for life or someone you’ll never talk to again. And you do all of this in quite an intensive period of time.
This is ‘speed learning’ and it’s how it’s worked for me with Sarah. In ‘egbdea’ (the first short story) I felt I had just met her. By story nine I’m on the way to being a good friend of hers. And maybe, who knows, the relationship will get a little deeper. A novel? A series? I’m not sure. What I do know is that creating a character in this manner is fresh and exciting because I have little or no idea what Sarah will do when confronted with something new. I’ll just learn a little bit more about her when it happens and so will you.
Gordon Brown lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.
He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.
Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.