Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Gang's All Here - by Catriona

Life: Do you ever base characters on real people? (Famous, or people you know in your real life.) And, if so, how do you deal with that?

Do I? (Hint: I do) And in at least six ways I can think of, off the top of my head.

First there's Mo Heedles in SCOT AND SODA and Cindy Slagle in SCOT FREE. They made generous winning bids at auction to have their character names appear in the books. 

In both cases, I asked "Do you want to be a bland, blameless, bit-part or would you rather be a fully-rounded, possibly flawed character who's essential to the book?" (I've got no sort of future at all designing poll questions, have I?)

SHOCKER - Cindy and Mo both plumped for the latter. So I've got Prof. C. Slagle, entomologist, with a strong stomach and her foot in her mouth most of the time in SCOT FREE. And I've got Maureen Heedles (Original Mo) and Maureen Tafoya (Also Mo) because Real Mo happened to choose a character who had the same name as another one, for hilarious plot purposes. 

It's lovely when someone gives you a great name like that. More often, you need to name a slew of characters all by your own self. And it's hard. To help, I've got a little book my granny used in naming my dad back in nineteen-oatcake. She got "James" from it and he should be grateful because she could have picked "Norbert".

Fun as it is to flick through Naming Baby - with its nuggets of warning like "kept alive by the film industry", "exotic" and "now associated with barmaids" - there was one time I needed thirteen names in a oney to give to members of staff in a posh house in THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS, and I didn't want to interrupt the flow.

So I plopped in Sheila, Audrey and Wendy (my sisters), Claire, Amy and Megan (my nieces), and Callum, Lewis, Fraser, Ross, Harris, Mathew and Iain (my nephews). In the published book they had become Celia, Ethel (short for Etheldreda, as is Audrey), Gwen (short for Gwendoline, as is Wendy), Clara, Amelia, Meggie, Colm, Mr Louis, Miss Frazier, Miss Rossiter, Harry and Ian the bootboy. So they were a wee bit disguised. But still, I think the fact that none of my nearest and dearest noticed reveals that they don't actually read my books. None taken.

That's the only time I've used living relatives. But twice I've memorialised women I love and mourn. In THE BURRY MAN'S DAY, which is set in August 1923 in my home village of Queensferry, I had my aunt and Godmother - Doreen - at the village fair, winning the bonny baby competition, which Dandy was judging. 

Doreen was only six weeks old (she really was) and so she was one of the smallest entrants in a category that pretty much goes on poundage, much like the competitions in the agricultural arena. But she reached out a little hand like a starfish and stroked Dandy's fur stole, chuckling with delight. And she would have too. Aunty Doreen loved the finer things in life - and loved sharing them with her nieces. Yay! Here she is at my parents' wedding. I don't need to tell you which one is her.

At the other end of life, I gave my beloved late step-grandmother-in-law, Laura, a strong supporting role in THE CHILD GARDEN, as Miss Drumm. Laura and Miss Drumm were both blind and used wheelchairs. But, while Miss Drumm lived in a residential home, Laura lived alone in her own house and wouldn't even let Neil and me make the tea when we went round. "Leave it, leave it. I've got a system," she'd say before starting another argument about where various Edinburgh bus routes ran or what the name of a particular shop was . . . in a city we lived in that she hadn't seen for thirty years! Miss Drumm has got that trait in spades. It's a lot less annoying when you write it, mind you.

A much more frequent way I put a real person in a novel - and I'm guessing every writer does this - is when I see a stranger and am unaccountably struck by them. Alec Osborne, in the Dandy Gilver series, is a Belgian waiter I saw for perhaps ten minutes all told; Lowell in QUIET NEIGHBORS is a bookseller I met once, who haunted me . . .

And Gus in THE DAY SHE DIED was a real person too. I don't suppose he'll read this. I was in Tesco in Dumfries and saw a man looking at the birthday cakes. Every time I got to the end of the aisle he was still there, holding a different Disney princess cake and staring down at it. So far so what? But then one time, as I rounded the end of an aisle, he wasn't holding a cake. He was counting the money in his pockets.

Did I go over? Have we met? I sidled up and pretended to be inspecting the iced buns until I caught his eye. "Sorry," I said. I don't care what anyone says about Brits and Canadians; it is the perfect opener for any occasion. "But I just noticed . . ." I went on. "Listen, I haven't got a wee girl of my own and I'm not likely ever to have one. This might be my only chance to buy a princess cake. If you'll let me."

He let me. I think of him often and hope things are going better. I also kind of hope neither he, his daughter, or her mum are in a book club. Because my God did I run with it.

To end on a happier note. In the Last Ditch series, Lexy has a Fabulous Gay Best Friend, Todd. I mean really. He wears Hello Kitty babydoll pyjamas and says things like "Oh my God-etia corsage!" After I wrote him I was a bit scared that he would come over as disrespectful to LGBTQ+ people, who'd feel ridiculed and stereotyped, and be hurt by the unending thoughtlessness of straight people. After Kris Zgorski read an ARC and found Todd to be lovely, I relaxed a bit and decided I was worrying for nothing. Because . . . have you guessed yet . . . Todd is based on my real FGBF, Alex, whom I've known since I was fourteen. Todd is just Alex dialled up to California. (Which doesn't take much dialling.)

Happy Reading.

Tinkety-tonk and down with the Nazis,



Lori Rader-Day said...

Nineteen-oatcake. I miss you.

Finta said...

I know you know how much The Day She Died influences out lives in this house. Just this morning I looked at the feather fetchingly facing me at the front of the shelf by our side door. And I thought of you. And where I might place that feather next, to frighten Julie. Some days I feel like an evil twin. Xox. Ann

Edith Maxwell said...

I love this - and Mo Heedles is a near local! So I also love the name of a fan I know pops up in a work of fiction.

Lyda McPherson said...

I'm so glad that Todd exists in the real world!

Susan C Shea said...

Every time I read one of your posts, I realize Scots have the best slang!