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When characters get minds of their own

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 5th April 2010

I find it very easy to lose myself in my writing, and once I do, I often feel more like an observer within the story rather than its creator. On coming back from one of these reveries it can seem like I’m waking up, since I’ve usually forgotten where I am. During these times, one of the absolute pleasures I get from writing is when my characters turn around and do something completely unexpected. When I was working on Come Back to Me, my husband would give me the raised eyebrow on occasions where I would excitedly announce that ‘Wow, my character did something so strange today… it took me completely by surprise’, or, ‘I found out something I never knew about my character today’. And I don’t blame him – depending on how you look at it, this sounds anything from a little bit pretentious to borderline insane. However, I’ve heard many other writers talk about experiencing the same thing. I’m inclined to believe that it happens when your imagination is firing so well that the process of creation is occurring spontaneously rather than through concerted effort. This doesn’t happen to me all the time, but it does occur now and again – and then I find my stories going off in directions that I’m quite sure were not in the original concept.

However, on evaluating such occurrences, while sometimes I love them, at other times it looks more like my characters have just been having fun running amuck in my head upon realising I’ve let them loose. Which is why it is great to be able to put my editor’s hat on again, and examine just what these new events are doing for my story. Ultimately, are they contributing to it, or taking it off on too much of a tangent. Because now and again it’s not a bad idea to remind my characters who’s boss.

Pages

Beneath the Shadows

Book Group Questions for Beneath the Shadows

1. The past is still too close to us… How does the past infiltrate and affect the present in Beneath the Shadows?

2. Grace is driven by her need for resolution: did you see this as an obstacle or a necessity for her?

3. Ghosts, omens, clocks that stop and start by themselves – is there a supernatural element in Roseby, or was it all just a figment of Grace’s imagination?

4. Windows and reflections are strong symbols in the novel. How do you interpret their significance?

5. Not only is Grace reading Rebecca, but throughout the book the classic novel is alluded to in others ways too. Consider these parallels, and what they contribute to the story.

6. By the end, the mystery of Adam’s disappearance is resolved. Yet Adam didn’t tell Grace where he’d put their money, his relationship with Jenny, or the existence of the cellar. How much do you think the reader gets to know the ‘real’ Adam?

7. How did you interpret Grace’s strange dreams? Were they warnings, her subconscious trying to process her fears, or something else?

8. How important is Annabel to the story? What role does she play?

9. Is Meredith a villain or a victim?

10. By going through their belongings and their memories, Grace seems to be trying to understand who Adam’s grandparents were. How far can she succeed, do you think? And why is this so important to her?