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.
7 thoughts on “I Am Never Just Me and I Am Never Alone”
This is me too! I am so lucky to have a sister to share my characters with from a young age! I’ve rarely met other people who ‘are’ their characters so much and we did feel a bit freakish growing up, having our people as we called them. So we know just what you mean about having been all your characters, even the dark ones. I think it gives authenticity having been them and lived through their eyes. It interests me what you wrote about Danny’s life beyond the book because this is exactly me. I have had to shrink and adapt certain stories to fit a book whereas sometimes the characters lives are infinitely more complex without such an end point. Other characters have come and gone, some very intensely, before burning out. But characters would just appear and my sister and I developed our characters together in interaction. She’s never written about hers, happy just to create and to be them, although often I have felt I’ve not created them but am merely the vehicle for them to come through and I imagine maybe you’ve felt like this! I do feel this has changed as I’ve got older and they used to come in thick and fast whereas not so much now, more a revisiting of older ones or them revisiting me. Again this can happen out of the blue, especially happened with Tez back in 2001 and that’s when I started writing Suckers n Scallies and learned more about Tez and his family and his life even twenty years after I’d first invented him! And more recently, Michael from Down The Tubes, a big event in his life just came to me three and a half years ago as a real event which kick started a whole new chain of events but which I need to adapt from ‘the real’ events for the follow up book, so to speak!
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I knew you would get this Kate! And, oh gosh, so excited to think about a follow up to Down The Tubes. Michael is such a real character. One that really stays with the reader!
Thanks lots, Chantelle! Great inspiring blog as always 🙂
How right you are. I’m often described as quiet but really I’m just listening to the characters in my head! A joy to read.
Thank you so much, Mary!
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It Is all So True.