Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Getting to know one's characters.




I once read that Philip Roth used to interview his main characters. Then more recently I happened to come across an ‘interview’ between Michael Connelly and his main character, Harry Bosch. So I thought it might be an interesting exercise, in my authorial persona of Paula K Randall, to interview my main character, Detective Inspector Fiona Brightman. So here is the result.

PKR
Thanks for seeing me. Are you sure you’re quite comfortable where we are?

FB
Yes, well I wouldn’t want to do this in my office.

PKR
No, quite. I think I can understand that.

FB
So what is it you want to know? Do you make a habit of interviewing police officers?

PKR
No, actually. I’ve never done it before. But you’ve been in the news quite a bit lately, haven’t you? Those murders in Hangman’s Wood…

FB
Yes, before we continue, I do want to dispel a lot of what was in the press. These guys were NOT serial killers. They attacked four people, it’s true, but only actually killed one. The little boy died, yes, but that was manslaughter. Plus, I hope you’re not going to sensationalise this interview, because if that’s so we can stop it right here.

PKR
Absolutely not. I only mentioned them because they’re so recent. And as I understand it, you took a great personal risk in apprehending the culprits.

FB
Police officers take great risks every day.

PKR
So is that what attracted you to the job?

FB
Taking risks? Of course not.

PKR
So can you tell me what it was about the job that made you decide to go for it?

FB
 I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.  Well, in a way there was, I suppose. It was at the annual university milk round – you know, where employers set up stall to recruit new graduates to their industry. The opportunities for graduates to fast track seemed appealing. And I didn’t have anything else in mind, to tell the truth.

PKR
I read somewhere that you did a Literature degree. Do you think that helped in any way? It doesn’t seem like the logical next step, does it?

FB
It’s true I’d considered further study and looking for a university post eventually. I suppose that’s what my parents had expected. That’s what one of my older brothers did, and so I guess they just assumed, you know…

PKR
So they’d have been surprised.

FB
Yes, you could say that (laughs). But they were supportive. They’d have supported me whatever I decided, but there were some fairly lengthy conversations, let’s put it like that.

PKR
I read somewhere you’re from Manchester. Suffolk must seem a bit sleepy after that.

FB
At times, maybe. But you’ve just referred to a pretty involving case, so it’s not always as tranquil as people may think.

PKR
What brought you to Suffolk in the first place?

FB
My husband’s job. He was offered a promoted post here and we liked the area.

PKR
So you were lucky to get a transfer.

FB
In a way, yes, but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that. I did six months maternity cover in Essex before the position here came up.

PKR
Do you miss Manchester?

FB
No.

PKR
Can we talk about your personal life for a moment? You don’t have children. Have you considered that, or do you think it’s a bit difficult in your job.

FB
No, plenty of police officers have children. It’s just not right for me at the moment. You see we did have a daughter, but she died.

PKR
That’s awful, I’m sorry. Was it an unexplained death?

FB
No, not at all. She died from undiagnosed meningitis.

PKR
That’s really shocking. Did you consider suing the doctor, the hospital, the NHS, whatever.

FB
Not really. It wouldn’t have brought Amber back. And I’ll never forget that young doctor’s face. He’ll never forgive himself, but I don’t suppose he’ll make that sort of mistake again.

PKR
OK. You mentioned a practical reason you joined the police – good promotion prospects and so on. But I’d like, if I may, to dig a little deeper. Could you talk a bit about what you find most satisfying about it?

FB
Yes, I suppose I’ve thought quite a bit about that. My parents would probably say I was born saying ‘that’s not fair’. And I do have a deep=seated sense of fair play. And it always seems to me so unfair that some people get away with harming other people. And I guess I wanted to try and prevent that as much as I could. Right some wrongs, you know?  And also, I always feel deeply for victims. I often feel as if they’re speaking to me, even accusing me of not protecting them. And that drives me, that feeling. Absolutely drives me.

PKR
Do you believe in evil?

FB
Gosh, that came from left field! I think the answer has to be no, not in pure evil anyway. I do believe in corruption, and I suppose that suggests that some influence, whether it’s internal or external has been at work. And I don’t believe in pure good, either. I doubt if any of us is immune from a little bit of illegality or immorality. You know, a few biros pinched from the office, speeding through a built-up area, just being mean to someone or taking a bit of spiteful pleasure in someone’s downfall.

PKR
But don’t you think mass murderers and so on are evil?

FB
I think that’s a bit na├»ve, if you don’t mind me saying so. I think there are people who are somehow born without, or with very little anyway, empathy. And that might explain why they do certain things. But you’d have to talk to a theologian, not me, if you want to discuss the nature of evil.

PKR
So are you religious?

FB
Not really. I’m not actually irreligious. I was brought up a rather lukewarm Catholic, and I think I still have a bit of that residual guilt that we Catholics imbibe with our mother’s milk. It’s not something I give much thought to, to be honest.

PKR
Well I’m going to ask you one last question. An easy one. Do you watch cop shows or read detective novels?

FB
(laughs) I’m not keen on TV representations of the police. They’re not usually very accurate, and I get exasperated. My husband watches them. I do sometimes read detective novels, though. Usually that’s because I like the main character. That’s really important to me in a novel, and I like to feel that the author really likes his/her characters, even if s/he is poking gentle fun at them.

PKR
Well thank you so much for this interview.

FB
So can I go now?