One of the funny things about writing a book is the way you lose control of it, once you put it out there. When you’re sitting writing, it’s all your own world, to move in any way you please (although it often doesn’t feel like that, as the characters seem to develop their own free will from the off ) but once the book is published, it belongs not to you, but to your readers.
I’ve mostly loved this part of being an author. I actually still get a thrill even from thinking of myself as an author, I keep thinking I might pinch myself and find that the last ten books are actually still stuck in my bottom drawer and I’m still at the dispiriting stage of badgering publishers. But whoopy-doo, I’m not. My books are real, my publishers are lovely, and my readers definitely have opinions!
I was aware of this with my single mum amateur sleuth heroine, Beth Haldane. She’s divided readers, with her fringe (which some people love, some people say is a character in its own right, and some people absolutely hate), her vacillating ways and her habit of sinking her teeth into a problem and shaking it until the solution becomes clear. Luckily most people find her quite endearing, and she’s galloping on to more mysteries… when I have a moment.
The character who has really divided readers is Louise, from The Perfect Widow. Of course I’m not going to drop any spoilers but everything about Louise is controversial – her appearance, her concentration on her appearance, her mothering skills, her past and, most of all, her future. She is a totally Marmite character.
To be honest, it’s been a surprise to me. Perhaps because I know her so well (and I do think of her as a real person!) I understand how she came to the point where we see her in the book. I do also love Becca, the dogged policewoman in the story, and I’ve loved the fact that some readers have asked if she will get her own series. I definitely think she could carry one off, and I feel she has more adventures in store at some point. But at the moment I think she has her hands full. I don’t think she’ll ever give up trying to trip Louise up, do you?
While we’re pondering that one, I thought I’d share a couple of lovely letters I’ve had about The Perfect Widow. The first is from a lovely reader I’ll call J: ‘I have Asperger’s syndrome, aka On the Autism Spectrum. I FEEL Louise’s struggle because I have had the same in life. I’ve had to research how to be in relationships, work, marriage, a mother. It’s been really rough. I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know this. Whether or not you meant to describe Louise’s character like this, like an Aspie. It’s so rare to read female Aspies in fiction that I got really excited when I noticed the spot on similarities. I realise that the reality is that you probably described Louise in this way due to her dysfunctional upbringing. But I’m pleased to finally be able to relate to a primary female character in a book!’
I was very grateful for J’s lovely kind words, and her letter also made me think. I wasn’t intending to make Louise someone with Asperger’s – yet it does fit her so well. It’s a case, I think, of the character developing her own life outside the bounds of fiction and of course that is very Louise.
I was also so grateful to Lynne, who runs Laurel Designs. Aren’t her hobby horses gorgeous? I would have loved to buy them for my daughters, who are now too old. Who am I kidding, I’d love one for myself. Lynne spotted a typo/glitch in the story which no one else, apart from my eagle-eyed mother, saw at all. The book was wonderfully edited and produced by Harper Collins and I love everything about the way they put it together. It just shows that even the most professional of us occasionally make a tiny mistake – especially me, as it was my error. Never mind, these things happen. Thanks for spotting it, Lynne and Mum, and it’s now been corrected for future editions.
It’s lovely to get feedback on my books and to think that my characters are living, now, in other people’s minds. What a fabulous job I have. I consider myself so lucky to be doing what I do and to have you, dear reader, making it all worthwhile.