I remember standing outside school when I was about four or five, trying to understand why I was only me. Why my thoughts and feelings were limited to just mine. I looked at my friends and my mother, and stared into their eyes, and realised I could not climb into their heads and become them, I could not occupy the space behind their eyes and see the world as they did. I vividly remember thinking how amazing, strange and sad this was.
But I soon found out that this does not really apply to writers. If you are a writer, you are not limited to being just one person or living just one life. As a writer, I discovered that I was never just me, and I was also never, ever alone. When I started to write stories, they were about animals, lost and neglected, looking for love and embarking on adventures. I became them. I was them, just as much as I was Chantelle. I had to quieten them and hide them when people asked something from me. I had to climb back out of their minds and fully inhabit mine. But I would try to get away with not doing this in full. I’d be eating my dinner, sniffing the air, sure I had picked up the scent of trouble, my eyes darting from side to side, planning an escape. I wasn’t just me. And then when dinner was over, the stories would continue and I would slip back into character.
Throughout my life, I have been all the people I have written about. I have not simply created them, written their stories and then cast them aside. It doesn’t work like that at all. These people come to me, somehow, for some reason. They start off small and grow bigger and bigger, louder, more complex, more real. They are all from me. It blows my mind. It’s like they find me and ask me to tell their story, but that’s not really it. Somehow, they come out of me, because they are me.
And then I am them. I become them in order to write their story, in order to feel what they feel, and do what they do. I don’t really know how I do this. I just think about them so much, picture them, hear them, study them. I lie awake at night, and they are there. Characters from books already written, and characters still developing in my head for future books.
Danny (The Boy With The Thorn In His Side)is still the most constant visitor because he has been in my head since I was 12. We grew up together. Me, lying in bed, watching him in my head. Hearing the words I put in his mouth, though it never felt like that, it always felt like he was the one saying them. His story is an action-packed tragedy of violence, music and friendship that plays out endlessly inside my head, even now. I lie awake and watch scenes that exist. Then I see new ones, ones that happened in his life, but never in the actual book. He’ll never go away. He is me. As are the other characters in that book. It still slightly concerns me how easy it was to climb inside the twisted mind of Lee Howard. How I was able to understand and even empathise with his warped motivations and desires.
Others come and go. Lou (The Mess Of Me) is another fairly constant visitor. This is because she is the one most based on myself, on my life and my thoughts and feelings. Her story, like mine, is not over yet, and until I get around to writing her sequel, she whispers in my ear on a regular basis. We share the same dark thoughts and our worst enemies are ourselves.
If characters are still waiting to be fully told, they will talk a lot in the day. Walking down the lane, I listen to Reuben and Chess, the characters from a YA series I am planning. They have conversations constantly. When I least expect it, they pop up and start talking or arguing. They are helping me to write the book.
The same goes for current ones, characters from my works-in-progress. I learn new things about them every day. I will be washing up or making dinner, and suddenly there they are, having a conversation that just needs to be written down. Because of these people, I am never, ever lonely. I don’t know what it feels like to be bored or alone. Because of them, I don’t know how to have just one train of thought in my head. I don’t know how to have a quiet mind.
Yet, to those that know me, I am often described as quiet.
Sometimes I think the people in my head are the best thing about being a writer. Creating worlds and weaving plots, sharing your work with readers, getting reviews, these are all fantastic, magical things, but being more than one person who is never, ever alone, has to be the best and maybe the most unexpected.