Do you ever come across someone who is just so quirky you want to write them into a story? The trouble is, of course, it's all to easy for the wonderfully odd character to appear unreal and unbelievable on the page. Of course, characters don't simply transfer from real life to fiction – and if they did we would land ourselves in a bit of bother from time to time. They need work to transform them and bring them to life. But can we make those crazy quirks real and believable?
Peter Bunderlin was such a character. I've written elsewhere about how he emerged from my raw material into the reality of fiction so I'll not repeat it here. One of his oddities was compulsive playing around with words. Here is a snippet from early in my novel. Martin, the finder-out-of-what's-been-going-on has been wanting to buy a classy old car. He's had his eye on a Sunbeam Talbot in a second-hand yard but he has dithered for too long and it's been sold. All this time he has been uneasily aware of someone following him. This is where that man speaks for the first time:
As he came out of the yard, the big man emerged from behind a Commer van and his dog trotted at his side. 'Caveat emptor, caveat empty.'
'Er, yes, whatever you say,' Martin replied warily.
'Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,' said the big man and walked on towards the row of shops further along the street, laughing as he went.
'Daft bugger,' Martin muttered to himself. And then he realised that the man must have been watching him for he apparently knew which car he'd been interested in.
He was in the Haymarket a few days later. Martin had gone in for a game of pool and there he was, at the far end of the bar. What on earth is this guy up to? Martin thought. But what do you do? Go up to him and demand an explanation? Don't be daft, Martin told himself. You're being paranoid. He made his way to the bar where the big man was standing and caught his attention as he pushed past. 'Oh, hello again,' he said.
'Moonbeam, hornbeam, sunbeam. Been and gone.'
'Yes, gone. Already sold,' Martin responded.
'Try, try and try again. Try a Triumph. Triumph Renown. A much better car, if you ask me.'
'Renown. Renown. Renown.' He pronounced it as if mimicking the impatient revving of an engine. Then, with a laugh, he added, 'John Gilpin was a citizen of credit and renown...'
And did Martin ever see that Triumph? Yes, but not until about thirty years later.