I met my second guest author, Raymond Nickford, a year ago on the online writers’ site, Authonomy. It’s run by HarperCollins Publishing. Since then, we’ve become Facebook friends and I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him for my blog. I also read and reviewed one of his books shortly before it was published. One of the most interesting things about his writing is the complexity of his characters.
I’m happy to introduce him. Meet Raymond Nickford, learn how he finds his characters, and read an excerpt from one of his many books.
RAYMOND NICKFORD TALKS–
May I begin by saying how grateful I am to Susan Finlay for inviting me to provide a brief guest article for her Susan Finlay Writes blog, including an extract from one of my books; the more so because she has helped so many other writers to contribute, when Susan herself has commitments to her own mystery novels, of which one in particular, “The Outsiders”, will be published in September, 2013, by Grey Cells Press, an imprint of Holland House Books. I hope others, like myself, will be tempted to buy a copy in September after reading her own interesting interview on Susan Wingate’s blog at http://susanwingate.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/4677/
SOURCES FOR MY CHARACTERS
Before the excerpt from my suspense novel, A Child from the Wishing Well, perhaps I should mention something about the sources for my characters, not in any way as a prescription but simply as yet another example of how one author, amongst the multitude, finds his own way of balancing traits of the real with those of the imagined persons who may drive or be driven by the story. Some authors – and I marvel at their success – can produce a central or minor character rather like one might mix and shake a cocktail; a pure construction whose plight, strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies are all fashioned by the need to advance a plot. Though I find this approach slightly artificial and cannot myself proceed this way, we all know that it can still work exceedingly well in the right hands and particularly for advancing action thrillers and action based or plot driven novels which turn out to be hugely entertaining as such.
Other writers clearly don’t produce characters who are almost pure constructions but rather quarry a rich vein of material from people they have known and yet who become judiciously metamorphosed into fictional characters by obtaining a fictional identity in fictional scenarios.
Still others produce veiled autobiography or, if the genre of ‘True Life’, unveiled autobiography, warts and all.
Shy of revealing any warts, I have in most cases found my own inspiration from people who have moved through my life, perhaps decades ago, perhaps almost as passing ships as much as any who docked in port, so to speak. In silent and solitary moments they all come back to me, so vividly, so much more rounded even than they were when they were first encountered. Yes, for the sake of fiction, if not avoiding libel, they go through the mincing machine to become suitably ‘fictionalised’ but it is always in these quieter moments, decades on, that some much greater significance about these people echoes and speaks to me, excites and compels me to give them a plot in which the ‘what might have been’ or the ‘what could have happened’ draws from them a wholly new significance that I hope to be infectious.
In A child from the Wishing Well, this is particularly so of Gerard, ex-stockbroker, reluctant slave to the dictates of his family tradition and paranoid, who wants to escape from the darkness of mental illness to enjoy again the glimpses he has once had of the special love that can exist between parent and child, father and daughter – his daughter being the lonely seven-year-old, Rosie. Ruth is the zany, talented and yet eerie old violin tutor to whom Gerard takes Rosie for regular lessons, hoping that he may emulate what it is that Ruth does to become so popular with his daughter … even though his paranoia tells him of sinister forebodings about the tutor which may or may not be a figment of his addled mind.
None of these characters are pure constructions, all haunt me and always will and I can only hope that any who read of them will – whether they find them likeable personalities or not – be able to share with me that awareness of them which says, ‘yes, they are true, true to character’ and written with love and integrity. That’s all.
THE STORY – A Child from the Wishing Well
Gerard’s wish is to break out of paranoia, discover daughter Rosie’s love. Is the eerie music tutor Ruth’s foul-smelling well a place where wishes happen?
Ashamed he cannot relate to his daughter, Rosie, Gerard accompanies and stays with her for violin lessons at the home of tutor, Ruth Stein.
Ruth, fascinating him for her musical sensitivity, becomes a confidante. Against his better judgment and his wife’s reservations – the paranoid, Gerard, can only cling to believing the tutor might bring him closer to Rosie.
Soon, he must wrestle with his suspicions again, for Ruth mothers Rosie, almost smothers…
Reaching out to a broken doll, propped in the darkness at the bottom of Ruth’s garden well, Gerard wants to believe what he touches and smells is just the decay of sacks enfolding a doll; the closest to a child that the lonely old spinster could cling. Investigating, Gerard’s fears for Rosie’s safety begin to mount.
Rosie draws closer to her father, notices his new concern but, if she is in real danger, can he save her?
If he needs to save her, can Gerard still triumph over the emotional void of paranoia; feel, accept, he and Rosie could share the love of which others speak?
(Set in the Malvern hills, UK, and German occupied Prague.)
EXCERPT from the first chapter, A CHILD FROM THE WISHING WELL
[Perhaps I should first put the extract in context:
At this stage, Gerard and his daughter Rosie are now left to fend for themselves as a one-parent family after the body of Gerard’s wife, Heather, was found entangled with the body of Rosie’s music tutor Ruth, following a quarrel they had over Rosie at the remote converted barn which Ruth had been renting from a farmer in the Welsh hills where she had been running rehearsals for her special ‘summer school’ junior orchestra. During a tussle, between Rosie’s mother and the tutor, the bared flex of a neglected wall-mounted heater had fallen into the bath water and the current had run through both, perhaps ironically binding the two women death.
The story focuses here on the way that Gerard, suffering from paranoia and inept as a father, tries to be a normal dad for his little girl, but there are still unanswered questions about what other secrets the music tutor’s garden wishing well, with the poor drainage, may have held about her other pupils which she had once called her “little disciples”. The italics echo the words Gerard believes he hears calling to him from Rosie’s one time music tutor, even after the old eccentric is now cold in her grave.]
The profile which the au pair agency posted to Jacaranda was the third he hadn’t answered since Heather’s and Ruth’s funerals. Gerard slid it into a lockable drawer where Rosie couldn’t find it amongst the papers accumulated since the coroner’s final report on the circumstances of their deaths.
‘This one then maybe. Dad? Is this one going to come?’
‘The one you’ve put a red ring round in the paper. Is she going to cook for us, like Mum used, while Sandra’s away preg – preg -’
‘No! No, she’s not!’ He couldn’t hide his irritation, being reminded so easily of Heather’s death. ‘And we say “pregnant” when a lady’s carrying a baby, Rosie,’ Gerard added, remembering to soften his tone for she who grieved with him.
‘I can help you cook. Like I did Mum! Remember how – ’
‘Yes! Of course I do!’ He reacted, remembering how much more he could have done to be a better father while Heather was alive.
‘Mum showed me how -’
‘I said no Rosie! Rosie,’ Gerard added, trying to smile away his shortness with her. ‘I’ll – I’ll take you out.’
She was staring at him, unsure.
‘How’d you like a whopper strudel and your favourite espresso? With chocolate sprinkle? From Alpina’s? Remember how we never got to eat properly at Alpina’s? Just us?’ he probed, hoping his dart reached the bull’s eye.
He felt her eyeing him, still bewildered, but not afraid.
‘We’ll go to town,’ he said.
‘Not the park?’
‘No, not the park. It’s – it’s too quiet.’
‘You always said you liked it quiet, Dad, specially.’
‘Yes, but not any more, Rosie.’
‘Up the hills then? Up Worcester Beacon! You said, Dad! You said there’s a pony up from Saint Anne’s Well, some days!’
‘Rosie, I’d – I’d rather not.’
He wanted to tell her he remembered days when he and Heather walked along the peaks, the wind in their faces as they stopped to gaze down at sunshine and shade combing the ferns and grassy slopes.
But he’d given her two “no’s” in succession.
‘Okay. Hills and pony!’
She smiled broadly and, in her smile, that sun was returning… across the hills. He, Gerard Botolph, brought his kid pleasure without needing Heather nor even the old music tutor to tell him how.
‘Tonight – tonight I’m locking the orangery. It was built for oranges, not me and not my scratching violin.’
He felt Rosie tug at his sleeve.
‘Will you take me to your bank? I want to see you, being manager.’
She would have nobody to take care of her while he batted away the irritating hourly problems. It wasn’t professional… it wasn’t Botolph…
She let go of his sleeve and was standing back. It was a look which doubted him again.
‘Okay, the bank. But hills and pony first,’ Gerard said, pulling each plait like a barman pulling a pint; she his friend, made special as his daughter.
He wanted to feel all he’d been afraid to feel for so long, as he’d waited for Botolph senior to become Botolph father… Botolph Dad…
‘They flick!’ Rosie gurgled, delighted. ‘See how they flick and flap when I tickle? Dad, keep holding!’ She shouted, as she managed to touch the pony’s ears. Gerard kept holding her forward.
‘It’s grunting! It’s angry with me.’ She turned to him, pulling at his arm. ‘Take me off. Off Dad !’ Rosie shouted, as much in delight as fear.
‘Dan’s just sounding his ship’s fog horn. Sit tight,’ he said.
He felt her gripping as he looked out beyond her for miles, over the slopes to a patchwork of farmland and faint ribbons of lane stretching to a nowhere which didn’t matter…
Remember what I told you, Gerry? Don’t try – just be! You’re her Dad and can be happy, even after I’m gone.
‘Seven years, Heather, seven summers you gave as a good mother, knew her – at least as I never did.’ It was all right, for their child hadn’t heard him up here on the pony’s back and above the wind on the beacon.
‘Seven whole summers, but Ruth’s summer with Rosie… it was over before it ever really began. She tried to help me back to our girl, Heather. She wasn’t “Miss Dotty”. Ruth tried… ’
The wind gusted in his face, taking his breath away, then subsided again to an even breeze. It reminded of those blowing through Ruth’s garden on evenings when, weary after giving lessons to children loaned to her for an hour, she would walk alongside him, trying to guide him back to an understanding of Rosie.
‘Silly pony. You’re always staring down at the path and having your little blinks!’
Rosie detached herself from his arm and was trying to kick her heels around the girth of the pony. The animal shifted, gave a few grudging metres, then stopped again.
‘Will he take me, Dad? All the winding way down to Saint Anne’s Well?’
He untied from his waist the small sweater he kept aside for her.
‘In goes the head. Right arm first.’ Gerard pulled her thick woollen over her. ‘We don’t want madam sneezing at school tomorrow while I’m at the bank and Sandra’s away – ’
He slapped the pony’s rear to begin the long ride down alongside Rosie to Saint Anne’s Well.
There’s another well, Gerard, one where even the dead can wish… will you come, find me, share my wish? Gerard felt giddy at thoughts of Ruth, a wave of nausea ran through him but he tried to disguise his unease as he smiled up at Rosie.
In the moment of fever, he knew he must revisit the house so long a part of the tutor’s life at Laburnum Lodge. When today was finished, he would make sure the nanny agency brought in the full-time temporary who could take and collect Rosie to and from school and sleep over with her for the week.
He needed to make one more visit to the rambling Victorian house whose windows were shuttered and, on the outside, thickly overgrown with tangled dog roses drooping over the flaking paint of the frames, clawing the glass as fingernails scraping… scraping towards him from Ruth’s grave…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR—CHECK OUT THE INTERVIEW with RAYMOND NICKFORD