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Monday, 26 March 2018

How do authors make their characters real? Keith Anthony tells us how. @rararesources @KeithAnthonyWS #tearjerkers #fiction #action and #adventure #win

How to make your characters believable
Keith Anthony
Fergus from "Times and Places"
I knew the basics of Fergus before I put pen to paper: a late middle aged man who has spent a decade soul searching, since the death of his 24 year old daughter.  He has grown anxious, feeling detached from the rest of the world, but empathising strongly with those who are vulnerable or a little different.  He has a deep relationship with Sylvie, his wife, borne of a long marriage and shared tragedy, even if there are few signs of surviving passion.  He is a man feeling a spiritual draw, but one marked by quiet searching rather than preachy certainties.  He is encouraged by a seemingly miraculous moment, but his anxieties are not supernaturally resolved and, during a three week cruise, they come to a terrible head.  
A bit like a river flowing from source to sea, tributaries of further personality joined that basic character as I wrote, and I hope Fergus grew into a fully drawn protagonist.  I made him easily irritated, for example by loud phone conversations, disingenuous cruise line communications and a trio of boorish men hogging the spa bath.  But I gave him a touching relationship with his twelve year old daughter, moved by her excitement when he takes her away, but anxiously asking himself “Would she still be pleased to spend time with her father when she became a teenager?”  He feels most comfortable with Sylvie and, dancing with her on the ship, he looks back on painful discos from his youth: “there how you danced mattered, here it didn’t.  He pictured his struggling youthful self without envy, he was happy to be when and where he was, in this time and place, dancing with his wife”. 
When adding new sides to his personality, they had to complement what had already been written... and yet a complexity in creating lifelike characters is that we are rarely consistent, but adapt with different people and dependent on mood: so Fergus is confident in a flashback when meeting his daughter’s boyfriend, but shy when avoiding an opportunity to meet the cruise ship Captain; he can appear somewhat child-like with his wife, but is strongly protective of the vulnerable.  He may be intolerant, but often shows deep compassion.
We are only given glimpses of what Fergus once did for a living – rushed sandwiches for lunch over a computer keyboard, occasional home-working, colleagues who were stuck in ruts – this could be any office job, but, whatever it was, one suspects he worked to live rather than the other way round.
What makes Fergus tick are the quiet things.  That soul-mate relationship with his wife, to whose calmness “he sometimes clung as if it were indeed a lifebelt and he lost at sea”.  The peace and beauty of their home: “outward journeys were never natural to them, as if travelling against an invisible current or an atavistic instinct.  Homewards invariably felt the right direction”.  The numinous natural world and a bumbling faith which leaves him feeling out of his spiritual depths on retreat, praying hard that “he wouldn’t be found out, that nobody would ask him what he did, that he wouldn’t be chased out of the retreat centre as the fraud that he felt himself to be”. 
These quiet tools – along with a mindfulness App - are what Fergus uses to manage his anxieties and, towards the end of the book, it is clear he finally achieves a breakthrough, though still not a full cure as, when an expected visitor is late, “an old foe revisited Fergus, suggesting various misfortunes that might have befallen her”.    
After his earlier apparent miracle he reflected how:
“He would continue to grieve for his daughter and he accepted that there would be moments when this would feel almost unbearable.  He was under no illusion that he was now a saint, rather (judging himself a little harshly) that he would still have his grumpy, anxious, lazy, antisocial personality...”   
But he was unfair on himself, because “Times and Places” shows Fergus, despite his occasional ineptness, to have great depths.  I sought, though, to make him a believable mixture of good and bad, but the former being his true nature, the latter the weaknesses he struggles against.  Like many of us, perhaps he could go a bit easier on himself and just maybe - while it doesn’t magic away all his problems - that breakthrough towards the end of the story means he finally does.

Times and Places
Ten years after his daughter Justine's death, an anxious Fergus embarks on a cruise with his wife.  On board, he meets a myriad of characters and is entranced by some, irritated by others and disgusted by one.  These turbulent feelings, combined with a sequence of bizarre events, only lead to his increased anxiety.
Amazon | Book Guild  | WH Smith | Waterstones 
In a series of flashbacks, Justine enjoys an ultimately short romance, a woman concludes she killed her and an investigating police officer is drawn into her idyllic world.  Fergus, haunted by poignant memories, withdraws in search of answers.
Back on the cruise, Fergus reaches breaking point, fearing he has done something terrible.  By the time the ship returns, his world has changed forever.
"Times and Places" spans Atlantic islands, the Chiltern countryside, Cornish coasts and rural Slovenia, all of which provide spectacular backdrops to a humorous and moving tale of quiet spirituality. 
Keith Anthony was born and brought up in the Chilterns, to where he returned after studying French at university in Aberystwyth and a subsequent spell living in west London.  He has a love of nature, both in his native Buckinghamshire countryside, but also in Cornwall and wherever there is a wild sea. 

Keith has been lucky enough to spend time living in France, Spain, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, as well as being a regular visitor to Germany, and languages were the only thing he was ever half good at in school.  Since graduating he has worked in government departments, but between 2005 and 2008 he was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels and, thanks to a friend from Ljubljana he met there, has travelled regularly to Slovenia, getting to know that country well. 

Keith's other great love is music and he plays classical and finger picking blues guitar, though with persistently limited success.  He has always enjoyed writing, including attempts at children's fiction, and in 2016 he began work on his first full book with “Times and Places" the end result: an accessible, observational story, mixing quiet spirituality with humour, pathos and gothic horror, and setting it against a rich backdrop of the natural world.

Giveaway – Win 3 x Signed copies of Times and Places (Open Internationally)

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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