Thursday, 29 April 2010

Peter Bunderlin - the making of a character


For a long time I’d had in mind to write a story around a guy I had known many years ago. Freddie was a compulsive alliterator, quoter of poetry and teller of inane jokes he must have gathered from the Beano. None of us ever knew anything about his background. It was as if he was only ever real when we met him in the city centre. When the rest of us went home, Somebody put Freddie away in his box until next time. And he was, at times, can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it sinister. Don’t ask me to explain that – he just was.

The difficulty was that so long as I was consciously trying to mould a character with Freddie as my starting point, it didn’t work. He didn’t come to life. And I couldn’t get a name for him. But then another character kept coming into my mind. An old guy who was a collector – a collector of books and jam pots and books and broken tellies and books and boxes and books. And more books. His home was packed to the ceilings with all his treasures.And then a newspaper photograph came to me from nowhere. An old lady and her very large son who had just been released after several years in prison, wrongly convicted of murder.

At last, Peter Bunderlin came alive. With his family background, his dotty habits and his crime. He wasn’t any of those characters who inspired his creation. He was himself, a different guy altogether. He wasn’t wrongly convicted. He really did do it, but that didn’t stop him being one of the good guys. It just meant that nobody could understand him. Except Martin the academic historian, Scobie the old lag, and Maureen the retired prostitute whom he set up in a rented shop.
I suppose that while I was writing Bunderlin I became the character. If he was the master of the slightly off-target quote from Omar Khayyam, so was I. I could come up with the not-quite-right stanza at the drop of a hat, and I could mangle a proverb to suit any purpose. And once I had finished the final edit, it didn't come quite so easily any more.

When my publisher suggested some revisions, I had to spend a while reading and re-reading until at last I had got back into Bunderlin's head and could see the world through his eyes once again. But more later on the process of preparing for publication. 

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