Tuesday 16 November 2010

Thank you Joanne Harris

Sometimes, my day job drives me mad.  I make appointments to speak with people about their business - they’re not there.  I email them to fix another date - they don’t reply.  I make notes, constantly make notes on who I’ve called, plan to call, have almost given up on calling,  always trying to get through the admin to the point of being able to speak with the client in person.   This part is something of which I never tire and, frankly, spending so many hours alone in my study, is something I need to stave off the lunacy like a writer needs tea and biscuits. 

I admit to having a less than perfect attitude to this work. I graft, I do the job properly but I also moan about the unreliability of the human condition.  A lot.

Last week I heard Chocolat’s Joanne Harris speak.  She told of how she’d stayed in teaching for ten years after publication of her first novel, recognising that all the research she ever needed for her writing was there, inside those walls of Leeds Grammar School with all its communities - teachers as well as pupils.    I went to hear Joanne Harris speak, rather than think about my own writing.  However I couldn’t help a broad grin spread across my face.  There it was – my positive attitude, right there in front of me, in the form of this little, slightly off-the-wall writer with a tremendous underlying wit and ability to tell an amusing story about something which when you really analyse it, could be quite banal.  When she spoke of the pupils at school, the writing fodder she had at her fingertips, she was also talking about me and the massive community I have on my excel spreadsheet, 91 personalities so far, when I can catch them. 

There’s the shy builder, the punctilious car valeter, the estate agent who talks about being interested in people.  And there’s the dog lover who cleans poodles in her front room and explains what makes them sit best for the shampoo, in a desperately calm, horse-whisperer kind of way.  Then there are the suspicious ones – just what am I trying to sell, they wonder, not entirely cognisant of the fact that they have already paid for their page and that what I’m trying to sell is actually them so it would be easier all round if they weren’t quite so reticent. 

So I left Joanne’s talk with a signed copy of Blue Eyed Boy (I’ve sped through the first half, it’s a page-turner alright, in a chillingly disturbing kind of way) and a positive attitude.  Tomorrow wasn’t a day of phone calls to people who wouldn’t turn up for my call but the start of a new character.  Who, what or where this character would be I wouldn’t know until later, maybe ten years later.  Or perhaps never.  But it was the potential for future scribbling that changed my mind about the work I do for my bread and butter.

And what of people who don’t keep their appointments? I’m sure, with a little tweaking, there’s a role out there for them.  Maybe that’s where Joanne Harris got her Blue Eyed Boy?


  1. Too true! I'll try to be positive then next time someone is rude! Mind you i'm not a writer just a reader!

  2. Careful Jax. All your aquaintances might think they will end up in one of your books. Still! As long as you disguise them (in)sufficiently they will probably be quite pleased, as long as you flatter them to some degree.

  3. Funny you should mention that, Ron. The first question anyone every asks me if we get on to writing is, 'Am I in it?' and I always give the same answer, 'No, you're far too boring.'

  4. More seriously, I've never written a character with anybody specific in mind. But I have noticed, often years after a character was first formed, that characters have acted in a similar way to somebody I know - without that ever being the plan. But then I guess there are only so many traits going around, it's the particular concoction which makes people/ characters interesting. I painstakingly steer clear of any names I know though, concerned I might subconsciously start re-creating someone I know of that name without realising it!
    Thanks for reading!

  5. ... but some people make it more difficult than others to remain positive, eh Tonia?!

  6. On first read I thought you meant you had already invented 91 characters all with backgrounds and ready to go in new books. I was quite impressed until I read it again!

    My other half always asks me who my characters are based on, most are just from dreams. But there are a few little quirks I spot in people that I like to reuse.

  7. Hey Sonic, I wouldn't put it past you to invent that amount of characters in a few weeks but no, not me I'm afraid :-)

    When you re-use me, make sure you use my better side, ok???

  8. Just goes to show there is always more than one way to look at things. You can be positive or not, its up to you. Thank you Jax and Joanne Harris! Lyn

  9. Lyn, too true although I'm not saying I always, always manage it ;-)


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