Structure in Novel Writing, James Scott Bell’s ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ and a Certain Way to a Unique Writing Voice – Joy.

 

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I am sure there is a lot of happiness mixed up with the anxiety, in this elopment…

I read something the other day that made me think (unaccustomed exercise: new pathways created, and all that).

It was actually in an intriguing book about how useful the novel (excuse that Freudian slip) approach of ‘writing a book from the middle’ is, in giving a clear, effortless structure. This is, in fact, a book full of a good advice on structure for every sort of writer. It can be applied by those who begin writing with only the vaguest plan –(I am one of those, in good company with Stephen King) – for those who plan their novels like a military campaign, and for those who are in  between.

In fact, I would recommend this book, which explains how if you have the strong core at the centre of a book (a bit like Pilates for wordsmiths, I suppose) then the rest of it can hold up.

It’s ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ by James Scott Bell Compendium Press (2014).

The author quotes various massively successful novels which have, for all their superficially rambling, epic nature, that ‘Magical Midpoint Moment’ that gives structure and coherence to the whole. This, he suggests, applies to films as well as novels of all genres.  He quotes ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Casablanca’ as two perennially successful examples of stories with a watertight core. He quotes ‘The Hunger Games’ as another example (I am still meaning to read that, though I have seen the film).

This intrigued me. I was interested enough to pick up some of my favourite novels – Margaret Attwood’s ‘Bodily Harm’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ were two – and in fact, the conflict that lies at the base of both plots is indeed at the centre of the novels.

I have gone into both in depth elsewhere, so no need to repeat myself in detail about that conflict here. But briefly: –

In ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ there is a discussion between the heroine’s parents about the rumoured fickleness of her preferred, stimulating, but supposedly dead lover and the dogged devotion of her still living cousin, whom she finds dull. This really, is the core of the novel. Which one will bring her long term happiness (if either)?

In ‘Bodily Harm’ we have this: ‘Paul smiles: a kindly, threatening smile. “I like you,” he says. “I guess I’m trying to tell you not to get too mixed up in local politics.”’ And there it is, the core:r Rennie is a journalist who writes superficial ‘lifestyle’ magazine articles, who, after some devastating real life experiences, decides to ‘escape from it all’ on a working holiday in a little known Carribean island; here she gets drawn into local politics willy nilly.

I  couldn’t resist looking at one of my own novels, my first,  ‘That Scoundrel Ėmile Dubois’ to check the middle. Sure enough, there at about the centre, we have the anti hero taking his bride Sophie to their newly rented house after the wedding ceremony.

There, waiting to greet her, along with other staff members, are their new butler and housekeeper Mr and Mrs Kit. It just so happens that they are former associates of his in his old career as the highwayman Monsieur Giles. Ėmile is an incorrigible scoundrel yet – in fact, potentially a far worse one, for he has been possibly infected with the vampire virus – and Sophie sees that she will live in a household (with the exception of Agnes, her maid) run by his former disreputable cronies whose first loyalties are to him. She is uneasy about that, without knowing why…

…But, she doesn’t run off. She’s too besotted; besides, she knows underneath that she is going to stay and fight to bring out the best in the rascal.

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I was – of course – pleased to find the story has a strong core, in fact, done unconsciously. Perhaps, the unconscious sometimes tidies up those issues which the conscious neglects?

I am not saying that novel doesn’t arguably have other faults in its composition. Some find the plot too complex, for instance.

Anyway,  that was a novel I particularly loved writing. I have loved the actual writing part of all my novels (I have whinged often enough about how I hate the editing), but that one – it was, to quote a silly pop song, ‘like flying without wings’. It was a joy ride in the best sense.

And that brings me on to a point the author of ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ makes: ‘When an author is joyous in the telling, it pulses through the words…Because when you’re joyful in the writing, the writing is fresher and fuller. Fuller of what? Of you. and that translates to the page and becomes that thing called Voice.’

And isn’t a distinctive voice what makes a novel stand out?

Now, I would love to write like Margaret Attwood. I am going to repeat that: I would love to write like Margaret Attwood! But I  never will  write like Margaret Attwood.  I can only  write as the best Lucinda Elliot possible, and the only way to do that is to write what I love.

What happens to people who write what they don’t love is illustrated all too clearly in the case of the writer Patrick Hamilton.

The contrast between the wonderful vigour of his early works, such as the trilogy ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky’ and the tragic comic grandeur of his vision in his masterpieces, ‘Hangover Square’ and ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ and the sour impression left by last work, ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’ is painfully obvious.

Hamilton had lost, not only his faith in people and the progress of history, had not only descended into alcoholism and bouts of depression, but also his joy in writing.

It is not that he wrote about some very unpleasant people in ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’; becasue he always wrote about mainly unpleasant people.  However, before his last novels, he portrayed their absurdities, snobberies,  bigotories and impossible behaviour so humorously that one was left with a sense of being uplifted. Not only that: in his earlier books, there is always what he called ‘the country dance’ where the reader is truly inspired, and sees – along with the admirable character who is always there at the core of the novel  – that life has its joyful side.

In his later novels, the portrayal of that decent person is weaker and weaker, and finally, in ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’  it is actually lacking. He had forgotten that the normal reader wishes to be left with a feeling of having been ‘brought out of himself or herself’ as well as bieng wryly amused.

Had he, with his massive talent, only somehow kept in touch with that joy, he could have avoided that dying fall.

We must remember to write with joy. And that, by the way, is my true answer to a blog post I wrote maybe a year ago, about a novice writer friend of mine who was devastated by her first one star review (and I am still proud I did not say in reply ‘How nice to have only one of those: would you care to count how many I have?’ ).

One should ignore unfair criticism (just criticism with some basis for it is a different matter; we should take a lot of notice of that) and go on in revelling in the joy of writing. There will always be detractors, and anything that stands out must come under fire, but the best way to treat that is to keep on having joy in what you create.

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Where Worlds Meet Out on Amazon

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Sophie looks alarmed; and with good reason; Emile has just led her into his own world outside time – and he doesn’t seem quite himself…

At last, ‘Where Worlds Meet’ is out on Amazon.com

here

And on Amazon.co.uk on

here

the prequel, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ is here free  on Amazon  and on Smashwords here

You can also get ‘Ravensdale’, which also belongs to the same series, free on Smashwords here   and if you care to point out to Amazon that they should price match, they may make that free too:

On this cover, Sophie does look alarmed, in contrast to Émile’s swaggering and savage demeanour, and she has good reason, as he has just introduced her to his own sphere outside time, and doesn’t seem quite himself…

I did love writing this.

Well, I always love most of the writing part, but I particularly enjoyed  drawing back from the dead the half undead Kenrick and Arthur and describing the grotesque absurdities of his monster men. Also, I loved  writing about Émile Dubois and his cousin Reynaud Ravensdale working together as a team, and Reynaud’s Amazonian true love, his ex-comrade-in-arms Isabella,  as a foil to the spiritual Sophie.

When writing ‘Ravensdale’, about the adventures of Reynaud and his meeting with Isabella as a highwayman (that career seems a popular one in that family)  I was tempted to bring in Émile for them to live as outlaws together, but complications to do with Émile’s needing to be over in France at that time made it impossible.

One of the things I really enjoyed about writing this latest, was that one of the main driving points of the plot is a love affair between two characters from the servant class – Kenrick’s man Arthur, and the sultry Éloise, maid to Sophie (and once her rival for Émile’s attentions). In contradistinction to the traditions of so much historical gothic, it was interesting making the actions of a servant have strong consequences for good or evil.

There is a wicked siren in this – would it be  spoof Gothic without – the late Ceridwen Kenrick’s  own cousin (cousin’s abound in this), whose humanity has been compromised by both Ceridwen and Kenrick. She has her secret reasons for joining in Kenrick’s schemes; for Kenrick has still failed to find reunion with his beloved first wife, and as before, will stop at nothing to achieve his aims.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the practical but Tarot consulting Agnes – one of my favourite characters – back at their now home at Dubois Court in Buckinghamshire for this. I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with competing assertive characters, and for that same reason, I had to give only a walk-on role to Mr Kit in this, and to keep Mrs Kit and Émile and Sophie’s adopted waif  Katarina offstage.

I suppose I am fairly typical in being very fond of my own characters, even such specimens as Kenrick.

What made me reflect on this was reading an excellent Indie novella, ‘The Carrot Man’ by Theo A Gerken which is unusual in having as its theme a sordid, petty struggle between two wholly inadmirable characters that has no serious consequences for anyone.

That is, of course, just about the opposite for the blurb for most books.

Perhaps that was what the author had in mind.  Certainly,  it works brilliantly: here  is the link to my review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2219824577

The author thought I was a bit too hard on the protagonist, and I could have been more charitable about him  (I expect he was fond of him in the same way that I am fond of Kenrick).

Anyway, it makes a great read. Like all of the darkest comedy, it’s somehow cathartic.

It can be very hard to carry out that excellent bit of advice by James N Frey and to ‘follow through’ and deliver that bloody end, that unhappy ending, when it comes to writing an unhappy fate of a character to whom you have become attached (in a good way,  I mean, not as in ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’).

And that brings me to another book I relished recently, Mari Biella’s ‘Pietra and Other Horrors’.  This series of dark tales, like ‘Lord of the Flies’ is an exploration of the uneasy coexistence of the savage and amoral and the civilized, both in the external environment, and in the human heart and psyche.

Besides her elegance of style and vivid writing, I have always admired the way that this author never draws back from wreaking havoc to the lives of her characters when the plot requires it.  This is never easy to do.

The author brings a new approach to a series of classical themes of terror, the vampire, the zombie, the werewolf, the sea folk, and the traditional and malevolent spectre.

Here’s my review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2219833247

Reverting to Arthur Conan Doyle, whom I mentioned in my last post, he seemingly could do it quite happily. He admitted to being utterly callous about the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes in  1893 in that fight to the death with Professor Moriarty by the Reichenbach Falls. Still, perhaps he resented his character for taking up so much of his time and attention.  He had to be offered – for those times – great sums of money to back his creation and write more Holmes’ stories.

He was equally callous about poor Watson’s wife, the Mary Morstan whom he meets in ‘The Sign of the Four’. As he wished to have Watson share the rooms at Baker Street with Holmes again, Mary Morstan had to be killed off with a pen stroke.

It must have been convenient for him to be so oblivious to his characters happiness. While I do not, like Dickens or George Eliot, shed tears over my characters’ fates if they are sad, they do give me a pang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ is a Winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion for Outstanding Fiction

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‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ is a Winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion for Outstanding Fiction.

Winning this award really made my day. I had entered my first book, the paranormal –historical- romance satire of Gothic, ‘That Scoundrel
Émile Dubois’ just hoping that I might be one of those whose books are considered to be of a high enough literary standard to be awarded that medallion. Still, I wasn’t unduly optimistic  – for who doesn’t consider their own work to be good?  We wouldn’t carry on writing in the face of all discouragement if we didn’t . There are far easier ways to make money. – So, when I opened the email, informing me that I had won the award, I did a dance!

I would like to publicize this opportunity for the benefit of other Indie writers.

For those followers of my blog who are self-published authors, and interested in entering, the B.R.A.G website was set up by a group of experts connected with writing who saw the main problem for Indie authors: – that because there is no quality control, all self-published works are often dismissed wholesale as being by definition poorly written and badly edited.

To quote from the website:

According to publishing industry surveys, 8 out of 10 adults feel they have a book in them. But traditional or mainstream publishers reject all but a tiny percentage of manuscripts. Historically, this has presented a classic catch-22, in that you had to be a published author in order to get a publisher.
The advent of self-publishing companies and print-on-demand technology has changed this. Now anyone can publish a book and the number of books being self-published is exploding, reaching into the hundreds of thousands annually. However, there is virtually no control over what is published or by whom, and industry experts believe that up to 95% of indie books are poorly written and edited.
Compounding this problem, these books are rarely reviewed in The New York Times Book Review or by other leading sources. Additionally, the reviews and ratings at online booksellers are often provided by the author’s friends and family, and are therefore unreliable.
There are professional book review services and writing competitions within the self-publishing industry that help address this problem. However, none provide an independent, broad-based and reader-centric source to advise the public which indie books merit the investment of their time and money.
This is precisely the reason that indieBRAG and the B.R.A.G. Medallion exist. We have brought together a global group of readers who are passionate about reading, and who love to help us discover talented self-published authors.

brag-medallion-stickerThere is a fairly long wait – four months or so. I gather that the B.R.A.G website is always on the look out for readers, too.

Here’s the link.Here’s the link

I was particularly pleased that ‘Émile won this award, because he and Sophie have always been my favourites out of all my characters and are the lovers whom I love best to write about.

I am very fond of the romantic Reynaud Ravensdale and his amazonian lady love Isabella in ‘Ravensdale’, and I have become equally fond of that pugilistic, caddish musical virtuoso Harley Venn and the down-to-earth Clarinda in ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns’. In ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’ I was also particularly fond of the haughty Ivan Ostrowski, and I had a lot of sympathy for Natalie Nicholson, who wanted to be a successful modern model, not the love object of a man from Tsarist Russia.

Still, writing of those absurdly over-the-top goings on in the North Wales of the time of the French Revolutionary Wars was the greatest fun of all, maybe because then I was a novice author, and those characters were so vivid to me, they at times almost took over the writing.

There was the pure incongruity of those two eighteenth century scoundrels caught up in occult happenings. Then there was their larger than life aspect: many historical romances feature a hero who is a highwayman, or a smuggler. I decided to go for the full hit and put both on Émile and Georges’s CV. That was besides their experience as the eighteenth-century equivalent of protection racketeers in Paris: and it  is when he is in this guise that Sophie meets ‘Monsieur Gilles’.

I loved writing about the redoubtable, Tarot reading Agnes, and the heartless, sadistic siren Ceridwen Kenrick. I had a great deal of fun from depicting Sophie’s benefactor, the elderly Countess, and the ‘sad tangles’ in which she got her embroidery, work for the poor box, or her tapestry work, which poor Sophie always had to right.

And then, I loved writing about the creepy (in all senses of the word) dirty minded, gossiping, giggling Goronwy Kenrick, who somehow manages to be self-righteous about ‘that French ruffian’s’ criminal history.

Yet, the unlovable Kenrick has his tragic element; just as Émile longs for reunion with his dead siblings, so does Kenrick yearn for reunion with the one human being he has ever loved – his late wife. That is why it was finally written as dark comedy.

The original winning this award inspires me to return to writing the sequel with renewed vigour.

‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ is available on

here

‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte; Structure and the Role of the Antagonist

When re-reading ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ I was struck by many things. I hope I don’t annoy the spirit of Anne Bronte by making a comparison with the structure of ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a beginning, though this is not the invidious comparison of the sort that were until recently usually made between her work and that of both her sisters’.

What I want to say is that I had forgotten it was a story within a story. I remembered that it contains a story within a story, just like ‘Wuthering Heights’.

The tale starts with Gilbert Markham, a young man who is a gentleman farmer and wishes he was destined for a less earthy occupation, who is vain and infatuated with the even more vain coquette Eliza Millward, the local vicar’s daughter.

When the mysterious young widow Helen Graham comes to the area, he is at first repelled by her cold, discouraging manner and refusal to reveal much of her personal history.

She even flies into a temper when he discovers a portrait of a handsome, sensual looking young man, whose chestnut curls tumbling over his forehead lead Gilbert to conclude that ‘he thought more of his beauty than his intellect.’ The bright blue eyes show a glint of mischief.

Of course, the reader guesses who this must be long before Gilbert…

The story within a story is the tale that Gilbert reads in Helen’s journal, when after many misunderstandings she at last confides in him.

It recounts the tale of Helen’s disasterous marriage to the charming, lively and enticingly attractive Arthur Huntingdon. This match, based mainly on their mutual physical attraction, is, as Josephine Macdonaugh comments in my Oxford World Classics edition, is as doomed to unhappiness as would be Gilbert’s to Eliza, should he marry her.

Some readers and editors claim that the ‘epistolary method’ creates a distance between the narrator and the reader. I can’t say I have ever found that myself. I found the account of Helen’s disillusionment with Arthur and the failure of their marriage as he gives way to the temptations of alcohol and philandering, recounted as it is in occasional journal entries, tinged with a sense of tragic inevitability precisely because the reader already knows that it ended in Helen’s flight from the marital home.

The second feature that struck me most was a dissimilarity with ‘Wuthering Heights’ in the striking contrast between the appearance of their antagonists—Heathcliff and Arthur Huntingdon.

These are almost completely opposite. Heathcliff is, quite frankly, a miserable so-and-so, so self-pitying that I have always been completely at a loss as to how any reader can find him appealing or sympathetic (and that is leaving aside his unfortunate habit of bullying women and children). Although he has cheated the Earnshaws and the Lintons out of their inheritances, he can find no pleasure in the money he has come by. Instead of dining well, this miser takes porridge for dinner and begrudges offierng a cup of tea to visitors so that the young Cathy hesitates to offer a cup.

He is wholly anti social and we never hear that he drinks or indulges himself in any way; his existence is as Spartan and joyless as a doctrinaire puritan’s.

I’ve written just what I think about Heathcliff as a romantic hero before on this blog and discussed it on a Goodreads thread, and there’s no need for me to repeat myself here.

Here it is, for anybody reading this who might be interested:

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1019195

Here, I want to point out that Arthur Huntingdon is his complete polar opposite. He is the life and soul of the party, full of blithe mischief. He does much harm, but this is through carelessness, vanity, self-indulgence and a lack of moral values rather than through active malevolence of Heathcliff.

Arthur at ‘Wuthering Heights’ would be about as out of place as a doormat that played a jolly tune of welcome.

He betrays almost everyone he knows – Helen and his unfortunate friend Lord Loughborough, whose life he embitters through seducing his wife – more than anyone. Yet, as Marianne Thormalen comments in her intriguing article, ‘The Villain of Wildfell Hall; Aspects and Prospects of Arhtur Huntingdon’ the long term consequences of his destructive life, are, like those of Heathcliff, short lasting. Once these two antagonists have gone, peace and normality is soon restored.

While they are alive, they determine the action through force of character; but their lives are short and their reign of influence transitory.
Heathcliff corrupts by hatred and fear; Arthur through wicked charm and careless indifference to the moral consequences of his wrongdoing.

Anne Bronte was, of course, her sister’s chief confidante in their weaving of the fantasy world of Gondal. I think it very likely that they discussed, not only the fate of non repentant sinners – neither, clearly, believed in damnation – and the long term earthly consequences of their wrongdoing. Certainly, the poetry of each notoriously touches on these points, as does the text of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’(but more about Anne Bronte’s beliefs about Arthur Huntingdon’s final destination next week.)

Another thing that struck me was, yet again, how great a role unconscious influences play a role in our writing and in our creation of characters.

The characteristics of Arthur Huntingdon had largely slipped my mind in the years since I read ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’. When I decided that I wanted to create in ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ not a brooding, savage vampire but a jolly, sociable one, I did not consciously think about Arthur Huntingdon, or draw on his characteristics; but the similarities are strongly marked, down to the ‘mischievous twinkle in the eyes’ and the habit of drinking to excess.

I am pleased by that; it’s a fine thing to be influenced by classic English Literature; however, I do have to say that there is a strong resemblance also, to Disney’s John Smith in ‘Pocohontas’. That swagger and gallows humour…Yes, well, we see our characters everywhere…

As Monsieur Gilles, Émile starts each day with ‘a good swill of red wine even before he chewed a piece of bread’ to make himself face each hateful day.

Like Arthur Huntingdon, the wicked and godless Émile Dubois wishes to marry a ‘good angel’ whom he hopes will convert him to good behaviour without too much effort for himself.

But Émile is far more cerebral than Arthur Huntingdon and has a serious-minded streak. His desire to reform is a little more serious, and his love for the innocent and devout girl he marries a good deal deeper than Arthur Huntingdon’s for his.

In the sequel I am s-l-o-w-l-y writing, I plan to return to this theme; apart from introducing some rubber monster men, Kenrick and his right hand man Arthur Williams return, and some more of Émile’s cousin Reynaud Ravensdale.

Complex Villains and Samuel Richardson’s Robert Lovelace from ‘Clarrissa’

imagesComplicated characters , whether heroes or villains (I’m applying the terms to both sexes) or a bit of both, are always fascinating.

As I see it, there’s only two problems with complex characters , good and bad: one is that they take so much work to envisage and the other is that, portaying them adequately will necessarily involve a bit more of a word count – and in this age of hurry where every minute is counted, that may be resented by readers.

To name only two examples from classic literature – Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony is intriguing, and so is Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Both combine admirable qualities with very inadmirable ones, a capacity for feeling, for magnanimity, mixed with an equal capacity for cold indifference.

I am particularly fascinated by the depiction of the wicked Robert Lovelace by Samuel Richardson. He is meant, of course, to be an arch-villain. I think, like some writers today, Richardson was dismayed, even shocked, when he found that too many readers – particularly women – found Lovelace so charming that they were prepared to fall over backwards and make excuses for the rape and even apportioned some of the blame to Clarissa herself.

I might not agree about many things with Richardson – as much an arch patriarch in his own way as the rakish Lovelace – but I do about this; there’s never any excuse for rape.

Still, I can see how the readership became fascinated by Lovelace. His letters do make fascinating reading; witty and debonair, his fiendish delight in his own machinations is often amusing. Sometimes the reader has to laugh along with him. He manipulates others as if they were, in his own words, ‘just so many puppets dancing on my wires’.

Robert_Lovelace_Preparing_to_Abduct_Clarissa_HarloweThis man is subtle and conniving; he’s got a flashy charm, and he’s clever enough to appear ingenuous; in fact, he’s always declaring how ingenuous he is and how he gets carried away by his natural ‘warmth of temper’ (or words to that effect). After a time, the astute and sharp-tongued Anna Howe begins to see through him; Clarissa, so honourable herself that she finds it hard to discern underhand, manipulative behaviour in others, takes longer. Without Ms Howe’s letters, she would soon be overwhelmed by Lovelace’s connivances and her own over fine moral scruples.

A lot of this is purely calculated; he has anger fits when he wishes to intimidate – he has something of the bully in him, as he can keep the said passions in check as well as anybody when he chooses to.

This is a point that ought to be bourne in mind in view of his later rape of the unlucky Clarissa, who has allowed herself to be drawn in by him and thrown into his protection, believing in his honour: if Lovelace has any honour, he has none towards women. They are to pay forever for his earlier betrayal by his first love. This is insane; Lovelace’s egotism and misogyny often border on the deranged.images

This calculating rogue, who defines himself as ‘as michevous as a monkey’ who ‘would have been a rogue, had I been a ploughboy’ loves bribery and corruption; he’s got a conniving tool in the hostile Harlowe’s manservant, his double agent Leman (wonderful name; I think it means ‘lover’ in old English) . He spins a complicated web to surround his victim, because he likes to make a woman fall into his trap, so he can look down at her and say: – ‘Aha, my charmer! How came you there?’ (Lovelace is often rather a stagey sort of villain: I believe he was based n the character Lothario in the play ‘The Fair Penitent’ and he often has the speech patterns and mannerisms of this stage villain).

This is the more fascinating, because the puritanical, diligent Samuel Richardson obviously had hidden depths in his psyche – we all have, of course, but rarely is there such a huge divide between the character depicted and the superficial personality of the writer. Richardson’s imagination must have been incredibly fertile, and I would love to hear what a post Freudian analysis of his psyche would make of his apparent sexual repressions.

Did Richardson’s model hero, Sir Charles Grandison, lock himself in his closet, concoct some noxious brew, and turn into Robert Lovelace on the sly? I wouldn’t put it past him at all. I never trust these too-good-to-be-true types.220px-Renoir23

Overall, the challenge of a creating a complex character, particularly a complex villain, or a complex anti-hero, is a tempting one for any writer. I’m tempted to delve further into it myself in due course.

My own Émile Dubois is a fairly complex character. He is apparently straightforward, and he doesn’t usually tell people lies (apart from the forces of law and order, that is) . His intentions towards Sophie are honourable and his courtship of her straightforward until he mistakenly believes that she is lying to him.

Still, neither does it always suit him to tell people quite the whole truth. He appears to be open-hearted – but he can outwit both the Committee of Public Safety over in Paris, living under an assumed identity for upwards of three years – and he is fully able to second guess the underhand machinations of Goronwy Kenrick. Bribing Kenrick’s servant comes as second nature to him, just as it does to Kenrick. This was all part of the eighteenth century aristocratic mentality, of course, particularly of those who had been connected with that hotbed of conspiracy Versailles.

This slightly tricky quality, demonstrated by his skill at chess, is lurking in readiness to come to the surface when he starts to turn into a monster. One part of him always remains as a tender lover, but another, the increasingly prominent monstrous side, revels in surrounding Sophie and driving into a corner just as he does in a chess game.

Émile, however, is – as his human self – generally a nice enough scoundrel despite this slight trickiness in his make up; he is extremely gallant to women generally, and has a sense of honour, being almost fanatically loyal to his friends. He is also shown – I’d like to emphasize here – as disgusted by the idea of rape.

Reading Clarissa has certainly tempted me to write about an out-and -out scoundrel without moral scruples – and just like Richardson, I won’t dream of letting him off; he’ll get the come uppance he deserves at the end.