Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Real people are not an option.

I’m in a weird publishing frenzy at the moment. Stanley, needless to say, is constantly demanding attention, but the latest in my detective series, Shadow Selves, is also available now as an ebook on Amazon (UK and USA) and from Solstice Publishing. Not only that – today I received my author’s copies of Brilliant Essay, which appeared just before Christmas.

Shadow Selves was triggered by a visit to an operating theatre while an operation was in progress. It was arranged by Donnie Ross (Dr Dx to his online friends) and I’ve reproduced some details of the experience in the scene where Jack Carston, my DCI, visits the hospital to check their procedures. More interestingly, though, the whole book is set in and around the fictitious University of West Grampian. And why is that ‘more interesting’? Because I used to teach at a university here and the assumption (among some people) may well be that the people and things I describe may also be based on personal experiences. They’re not, except insofar as I know the general academic atmosphere, the demands and privileges of working in such an institution and the small p politics in which some teachers and researchers delight.

The people are certainly fictitious. Books always carry the careful ‘any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is coincidental’ disclaimer but I have to say that, even though you’ll find it in my books, it isn’t really needed. I may borrow how someone looks, or copy what he/she wears, but using a real person as a model just doesn’t work for me. I only tried it once, and I found that my awareness and knowledge of the actual person prevented my character from growing and being himself. Presumably (and it was certainly true in my case), a writer ‘uses’ a real model because there’s something special or unique about that person – he/she is wonderful or despicable. The real person I chose was the latter but he wasn’t my character. In the end, I had to free the character and let his nastiness develop in the way he wanted to express and live it. The result was that he turned out to be more charismatic (in a horrible way) than the real guy. But I wouldn’t want to spend too much time with either of them.

So anyone reading Shadow Selves and expecting to recognise x, y or z will be disappointed. What I hope they will get, though, is a sense of the strange world of academia – a rarefied place where high culture and low cunning co-exist and some individuals continue to be blissfully unaware of how privileged they are to be safe in their ivory tower. Oh, and they’ll get a couple of deaths, a stalker and a case of sexual harassment.

OK Stanley, be quiet. I’m coming.


  1. A publishing frenzy is a good place to be. A publishing frenzy holding sharp objects? Even better.

  2. It's funny how we keep having to tell people this. It's like, NO, I didn't base him/her on anyone, I made him/her up. It's what we do!

    I am soooo pleased to hear I'll be able to read more Jack Carston (but don't tell Stanley I said that).

  3. Good work, Mr Kirton. But go on, spill. Who's your favourite? Stanley or Jack?

  4. Being involved in any kind of a publishing frenzy is an envious position to find oneself in.

    Way to go!

  5. It's not just your publishing frenzy that's impressive, Mr Kirton, it's the diversity of your work!

    Looking forward to reading Shadow Selves - intriguing title.

  6. Diane, rather than holding sharp objects, I’m holding a Kindle that I can’t get to work. Does that count?

    Gillian, the worrying thing is that I suspect there’s a bit of Stanley in Carston (and therefore in me – I obviously need psychiatric help).

    Michael, the truth is that my favourite is actually Helen. Work that one out.

    Linda, I agree, but only if the books don’t disappoint. I was horrified to discover that the Kindle Stanley has no pictures. I’ve queried it with the publisher but I’m telling people not to buy it until that’s been sorted out.

    Rosemary, I think I maybe get bored too easily. Low attention span or something. As for the Shadow Selves title, I had trouble finding it and it was a compromise. It’s from a thing Jung said about people having a dark side as opposed to the face they present to the world. He called it the shadow self. Pretentious? Moi? Jamais.

  7. I agree with Rosemary. The diversity is inspiring. I tried to use a real person as inspiration for a character and bumped up against exactly what you described. I got stuck in her realness eventually dropping her and setting the plot free. Jack's cool, but Stanley's the man.

  8. Thanks, Marley. But it's only just occurred to me that I've chosen the name Jack for both my detective and the Stanley straight man. Now I'm confused. But as long as Stan is the man, I suppose things are OK.

  9. Sounds fun. My characters always turn into someone else after I've started writing them. If I try to tie them down they just harangue me while I'm walking round the green.

  10. That's a very familiar feeling Sheila, and there's no point trying to ignore them, is there?

  11. Helen it is. That's for sure.
    I'm glad you're not a Paul Auster kind of writer. If you were,in your next novel Helen would meet Stanley and Jack the detective in a room while they were visiting an enigmatic man (Probably called Kill Birton) who can't remember how he ended up there.

  12. What a good idea, Anneke. Thanks.