“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”
– Saul Bellow
Behind The Dark Places
On the 20th April 1889 a boy was born. A member of the local choir by aged eight, he wasn’t particularly good in school and eventually left early to pursue an art career in an industry that would ultimately reject him. His brother died and he lost his mother to breast cancer. His father was not particularly understanding. As an adult he would for a number of months be homeless before living through the horrific ordeal that was the first world war.
And yet this little tortured soul would eventually become the most hated man in world. A symbol of fear, an icon of terror. What of the man behind the monster? What kind of internal hell did Hitler inhabit that could make him so grotesquely inhuman?
As a writer, I find these people fascinating. Monsters arising from ordinary men, suffering ordinary pains. What pushes them over the edge, and how close to our own are we? History would prefer that we remember these people simply as the bastards that they died as. A good writer would forever be captivated by the story behind those harsh, piercing eyes.
When first creating the background to The Dark Places Trilogy, I knew that I wanted all my characters to be very diverse, with many layers. One dimensional characters are boring to read about, and also very fake. There is not a single person alive who is simply nice. Those people do not exist. Behind their pleasant facade are the cogs of cynicism, regret, hope, doubt, fear, a subtle craving for malice or fueled with jealousy. People have many facets, and you would be a fool to believe you can see every single one.
That is why I find historic icons like Hitler and Stalin so gripping to read about – because at the root of it they were no different to you or me. We all arrive into this world screaming, distraught and hungry and we all have the potential for greatness – it is our upbringing and interactions with each other that allow us evolve our own personalities, each capable of taking the path towards terribleness at every fork in the road. Some will follow until the very end, whereas many will weave another, quietly unique pattern to hell.
Everyone loves reading about a tortured character and to follow their downward spiral to madness and doom. As a writer, I love creating them. However, it is easy to allow your characters to fall into the caricature trap and you need to be consciously aware of who you are designing. This is the most challenging part of writing for me, and its particularly difficult when you are having to visualise your character’s thought processes when they are significantly different from your own.
Having never suffered grief in its truest form, I have to look elsewhere for inspiration. Sometimes it is the simplest of things; rain erupting from a stormy cloud, frustration over a late train; and sometimes I find it alone at night, a solitary candle lit as I imagine the worst of myself and all that I could have chosen to do throughout my life.
Some days I find it hard to walk along those untaken paths, but on others it can be such a wondrous journey. Finding inspiration is the key to really syncing up with your characters and how they behave in your plot. For me, music is a powerful tool for being able to visualise and imagine my character’s reactions and intentions. Sometimes an album can really speak to your heart, or even one song on a particular day. Frequently I write alongside to the same song, repeated over and over again. The words might speak to me or the music sets a perfect tone for the stage of the book I am writing. Using the same song or the same album every single time I write doesn’t work either – it needs to be completely in tune with the mood that I am currently in. The more in tune, the easier it is to allow my mind to fly… and land inside the minds of these strange, wonderful and terrifying characters.