Blog 1: The Heroine
Blog 2: The Hero
Blog 3: The Villain
Blog 4: The Art of working with Children and Animals
On the 4th July my novel House of Secrets was turned into a paperback and I couldn’t have been prouder at the moment I got to take it back to where it all began, the beautiful Wrea Head Hall.
It was at this time, I got to look back at how I created Madeleine, the heroine of House of Secrets
What happened to Madeleine before the story began?
Madeleine is a young, widowed mother. We meet Madeleine at a time in her life when she’s already overcome many obstacles, most of which she’d thought were her worst nightmare, that is until our story begins.
Madeleine fell in love at school with her childhood boyfriend, Michael. They married young, much to everyone’s disapproval and lived together in a second floor flat which they made into a home.
But, one morning Madeleine kissed Michael goodbye as he left for work. But it isn’t long before the police are at the door, Michael has been killed in a car accident and she is left widowed, while heavily pregnant. The shock sends Madeleine into early labour and Poppy is born so prematurely that Madeleine spends many a night sitting by her incubator, praying that she survives, whilst making promises to protect her and love her.
However, just a couple of years later, Madeleine meets Liam. He’s enigmatic, caring and falls into her life in a way that becomes all encompassing. But, Madeleine soon realises that she’s made a big mistake… and this is where our story begins….!!
What makes a good heroine?
A good heroine is always someone the reader can relate to and identify with. I always give my heroine’s a history, a life and a family, after all, we all have parents, siblings and distant aunties, don’t we? So, the characters within a novel need to have that too.
I feel that by doing this, it gives them depth of character and a personality that can’t be ignored. They don’t necessarily have to be sexy, they don’t all have to be tall, blonde and straight out of a magazine. But, I do feel that they need to be a good person with dreams, hopes and wishes. They need to have a goal in life, something to achieve, something to aspire to and the novel needs to take them on a journey to achieve this.
But most importantly, the reader needs to feel that they are taking the journey with our heroine and that by the end of the novel, they’ve reached a good and satisfactory conclusion to the story.
Who would be the perfect Madeleine in a film?
I think Michelle Keegan would be the perfect Maddie. She’s very down to earth, normal and would bring a realism to the character that readers would identify with. Yes… Michelle Keegan would be my Madeleine.
A piece of the novel from Madeleine point of view..!
Madeleine covered her eyes in an attempt to shield them from the early morning sun. It burst in through a tiny slit in the bedroom curtains and shone directly at her. She lay for a few moments, waiting for her eyes to become accustomed to the light before peering across to where Liam slept.
She took a deep breath and inched her body between the crisp white sheets towards the edge of the bed in an effort to widen the gap between herself and her naked lover. Then she lay as still as she could, not daring to move, as she watched him sleep. She used to love watching the steady rise and fall of his chest, his deep, slow, untroubled breaths and the way he slept on his back with his arms spread outward, as though surrendering in a childlike, unconscious state. But he’d changed. Now, she didn’t know whether to love him or to hate him, at any given moment.
Holding her breath, she noticed his eyes flicker and knew that as soon as he woke, she’d have to quickly judge whether he was in a good mood or bad. Whether he’d want to make love or argue and, right now, she was tired and didn’t feel in the mood to do either. Closing her eyes, Madeleine lay back against the pillows, only to feel Liam’s hand pushing the sheets down to uncover her.
‘You awake, Maddie darlin’?’ his soft Irish tone mumbled in her ear.
Liam’s hand started to move over her body in soft, gentle, caressing strokes. Madeleine felt herself relax. This was Liam in a good mood. For a moment she enjoyed the simple feeling of tenderness, along with the feel of his hand moving sensuously over her body. It was what she’d enjoyed so much at the beginning of their relationship and a small part of her wondered if he could change, if they could both change, and if once again she could have the loving and caring Liam, without the nasty side she’d experienced of late.
She inhaled deeply and then caught her breath as Liam’s hand travelled down to her thigh. There had been a time when she’d have felt waves of excitement, times when she’d wished for him to be closer and, more often than not, it had been her that had instigated their lovemaking. But that was before. Before she’d moved into his house with her daughter and before he’d taken control of everything she did. Madeleine thought back to when she had first met him, how generous, caring and loving he’d been, which made her wonder why he had changed, if the arguments were her fault and whether it was her that made him angry. Maybe he regretted allowing her to move in, or perhaps he simply didn’t like the fact that she was a mother, with a very young daughter.
Once I’d finished writing about my heroine…. I started thinking about my hero…!!
And,I got to look back at how I created Bandit, the hero of House of Secrets
I’ve often been asked where the name for my hero came from.
Well, I’ll try and explain. Christopher Lawless, the hero of House of Secrets is an ex-marine, and like all marines I wanted to give him a name that gave credit to his profession, and in actual fact the nickname Bandit, came first and his ‘real’ name came after. So, his surname is LAWLESS and a lawless man is a Bandit… hope that explains it.
Who is Bandit?
Bandit is obviously gorgeous but has just an edge of vulnerability that quickly shows in his personality. He suffers with post traumatic syndrome after his time working in Afghanistan where he saw both his girlfriend and his team blown up by a roadside bomb. He’s been discharged from the marines and has gone back to live in his child hood home, the gatehouse at Wrea Head Hall. Here, he has taken the job of game keeper, and does all the general maintenance around the hall. It’s a job he loves, purely because it means he gets to spend a lot of time alone, with nature.
When we first meet Bandit, he’s getting through each day the best he can. He’s a little unkempt. His hair is longer than it should be and he rarely shaves. But, we see a very gentle, caring side to him, that comes over as being a little more than overprotective, especially when he meets Maddie and her three-year-old daughter Poppy.
What makes a good hero?
And of course this is only my opinion.
A good hero is hard to find. I often read books where the hero isn’t that appealing (to me), they are often flat and without much of a personality, which is why I like to give my hero’s a history. I feel that they need depth of character and a big personality. They don’t necessarily have to be gorgeous, but of course it helps. I feel that it’s more important for them to be kind, respectful, passionate and sensitive. I also feel that the hero needs to be interesting, a little flawed. He needs to feel emotion, even if sometimes that’s anger or hatred, especially towards someone who is trying to hurt the people he loves. All of this helps the reader identify with him, they take the journey with him as he overcomes those flaws, and what’s more they begin to root for him to achieve and succeed.
Who would be the perfect Bandit?
I think someone like Stuart Martin who played Silas in Jamestown. He’s a little vulnerable, a little rough around the edges, yet still gorgeous. Yes, Stuart Martin would definitely be my Bandit.
A piece of the novel from Bandit’s point of view..!
‘Damn woman,’ Bandit cursed as he glanced up at the hotel and saw Madeleine watching him from the window. Raising the axe high above his head, he brought it down with a satisfying thud, making the log split in two and fall to the ground. He scooped up the logs that he’d previously cut and threw them into the wheelbarrow that stood by his side. It was still early autumn and without the glow of embers in the open fires, the house could easily turn cool at night. Besides, the reception rooms always looked much nicer with the logs alight, the guests preferred it and it was his job to ensure that there was enough dry wood to keep each of the three fires going right through the winter. But he knew he had to be ahead of his game, this wood would need to be stacked and dried out for at least six months before it would be ready to burn.
He saw the back door open and watched as Morris Pocklington emerged.
‘Look, I’m really sorry about last night. I didn’t know that Madeleine was your daughter,’ Bandit said, pre-empting the conversation that he guessed was about to happen.
‘She’s pretty pissed at you,’ Morris replied with a laugh. ‘I’m not sure I’d want to get on the wrong side of her.’
‘Shouldn’t be going round pretending to be a burglar then, should she?’ Bandit fired back as he picked up another log and brought the axe down to split it. There was no way he could have known who she was. He hadn’t even known that the boss had a daughter, so he couldn’t be blamed for not knowing who she was when he’d seen her creeping around like a hunting tiger, looking for its next meal. But tigress she was not. He’d seen the way she’d looked up at him like a frightened doe in the darkness. Her eyes wide open with fear. She’d appeared vulnerable yet powerful, and timid yet fiery, all at once. She was so similar to the type of women he’d encountered in the marines. Women who could cut you down with words at ten paces, or shoot you from a distance and, to be honest, he wasn’t sure he wanted to encounter women like that again. Not after Karen.
‘You don’t like her?’ Morris asked as he stepped up on the log to perch on the fence and pushed his hands deep in his pockets.
Bandit bit his lip. ‘I barely know her.’
He thought of the deep musky perfume that she’d been wearing; its scent had annoyingly stayed with him through the night. She’d had a feisty personality, a spark about her that could have lit a campfire from a distance, yet he couldn’t work out what annoyed him the most; her high spirits, her feisty personality or the vulnerability that shone from within. None of them could possibly be a good thing.
‘Afghanistan, it changed you, Bandit.’
It was true. Afghanistan had changed him. Karen had changed him. ‘I know.’
‘Do you want to talk about it yet?’
‘No, I don’t.’ The words were sharp, harsh and meant to stop the conversation. The very last thing he ever wanted to talk about was Afghanistan. Just the thought made his palms begin to sweat and he rubbed them down his jeans as he felt his whole body begin to tremble. He wanted to close his eyes, but couldn’t. On some nights there was no sleep at all, some nights he’d sleep for an hour or two, but then the nightmares would begin. Every sudden noise reminded him of the explosion, every beach reminded him of the desert and every woman reminded him of Karen. Everything that had happened played on his mind. One minute he’d been part of an elite group, the next he was flying home: inadequate, alone and uncertain of his future.
After the launch of my paperback House of Secrets, I began going through my characters one by one. I’d looked at the heroine, I’d looked at the hero…. so here… I look at the villain, Liam.
I’ve been asked about Liam’s childhood
Liam had grown up an introvert. He’d been an only child until he was in his teenage years, when his mother gave birth to his sister. The child was needy and Liam was filled with jealousy, he didn’t want his sister playing with his toys, nor did he want to share his mother’s love.
Why was he so obsessive?
After the birth of his sister, Liam didn’t like being at home. He tried to focus his attention elsewhere, and at the age of fourteen he noticed Madeleine at school. She’d smiled at him in passing, an innocent action that led to Liam begin waiting in corridors, watching her every move, and doing everything he could to be her friend. But Madeleine was already in love with Michael and to her, Liam did not exist. But Liam is not one to let go, he normally gets what he wants and doesn’t care who he hurts in the process.
When we first meet Liam, he’s living in his home with Madeleine. He’s controlling and manipulative and Madeleine fears what he will do next. She doesn’t like how he treats her daughter, nor does she want her three year old growing up in such an environment.
What makes a good villain?
And of course this is only my opinion.
A good villain has to be bad from the beginning. The reader has to dislike him from page one and I would suggest that he has something to hide.
I feel that the villain needs to be interesting, he needs a history, a life story, a reason to be evil. Liam would not have been born cruel or flawed, something must have happened to him to make him bad, something the reader can understand, without feeling too much empathy for him. He needs a depth of character that keeps the reader guessing, that keeps them wondering what he’ll do next.
Who would be the perfect Liam?
I think Tom Felton would play Liam. He’s the ultimate bad guy and has grown up a lot since 2001 and his days of playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.
A piece of the novel from Liam’s point of view..!
Liam slipped a key into each of the front door locks, knowing that once he entered the house, Madeleine would be gone and his pain would begin. Nevertheless, he stepped through the door with purpose and carefully surveyed his home.
He dropped a large heavy suitcase and a shopping bag down in the entrance, walked down the corridor and stood in the doorway of each room in turn. He wanted to see what she’d taken with her, but, more importantly, he wanted to be sure of what she’d left behind.
Taking deep, deliberate breaths, he walked into the dining room and allowed his hand to travel across the keys of the piano, the noise reminding him of the days his mother would play and sing. Even then, the piano had been as out of tune as his mother and, though it had been in the room for as long as he remembered, he’d never once thought to learn how to play it himself, or to have it tuned.
His eyes glanced down at the pedals. A small piece of blue Lego was trapped beneath and he knelt down to retrieve it, banging his head as he did. He cursed and picked it up, held it tightly in his hand and looked around the room for the box that it belonged in. The Lego had been his, a toy he’d loved as a child and he’d repeatedly told Madeleine that Poppy shouldn’t play with it, but like everything else, she’d gone behind his back and permitted Poppy to do whatever she wanted, in his house, in his absence.
He felt the tension build up inside him, the tightening of his stomach and the acceleration of his heartbeat. He threw the small piece of plastic as hard as he could and screamed as it bounced off the wall and onto the dining table, where it landed, with an unimpressive thud.
He couldn’t find the box and stamped out of the room and down to the kitchen, where he began opening cupboards. They were practically empty, but what remained was untidy and he began moving what was left into the tidy straight lines that he preferred. Everything had been moved, nothing was how it had been and he kicked at a door with a foot, while his arm swept the entire content of the worktop onto the floor. Warm, almost hot water spilled from the kettle and splashed up onto his sock, making him realise that it hadn’t been long since Madeleine had left.
He stared into space. ‘She has to come back. I will make her come back,’ he shouted at the carnage that now littered the floor. He shook his head. ‘But what if she doesn’t? What if you’ve lost her forever?’ He slapped himself on the face. ‘It’s your own fault. You’re a fool, you should have held onto her? You should have made her stay.’
THE ART OF USING CHILDREN AND ANIMALS IN A NOVEL..!
After the launch of my paperback House of Secrets, I decided to take a close look at my characters. Today I look at both Poppy and Buddy and how to use children and pets in a novel.
Why use three-year-old little girls and puppy springer spaniels in a novel?
I needed Poppy to be young, innocent and young enough to be affected by Liam. I needed Madelaine (her mother) to have to protect her, the reader to feel an empathy for her and for her to come over as vulnerable. If Poppy had been a baby, I wouldn’t have been able to get her interacting, nor would I have been able to get her to create a link between Madeleine and Bandit, who automatically wants to look out for her and keep her safe.
Buddy had been a recent gift from Liam. He’d been bought for Poppy as a bribe after he’d shouted at her. I needed a puppy that would learn fast and after owning spaniels myself, I know how intelligent they can be. I also knew that teaching a spaniel the command ‘speak’ was simple. Initially, Madeleine teaches Buddy to speak to earn food, a way of trying to get Poppy to eat. I also knew that the command ‘speak’ would come in very useful later on in the book and used this to my advantage.
Are they plot muppets or not..?
It’s very important not to allow your sub-characters to turn into ‘plot muppets.’ When your heroine has a child it’s important to remember that they are always there. In real life a child can’t just disappear because the scene doesn’t need them. A child always has to be there or they have to have a good reason not to be.
If for any reason you’re writing a scene where the child isn’t needed then they need to either be sleeping, away at a nursery or school, they need to be being looked after by someone else or you need to find a ‘safe’ place for them to be. Children of this age can’t look after themselves.
It’s similar for the pet, a dog always needs to be looked after. As your novel progresses it’s important to remember that the dog needs walking, feeding and playing with. Like the child, you can’t just allow them to disappear without trace for huge parts of the book.
What makes a good sub-character?
And of course this is only my opinion.
Each character in a novel has to be there for a reason. They need to have a purpose. Poppy’s reason was to create a bridge between Madeleine and Liam, she’s scared of him, barely eats and her mother naturally needs to protect her. She’s also instrumental in bringing Madeleine and Bandit together, she creates the softer parts of the book and shows Madeleine’s maternal side to it’s full.
And Buddy, well… he’s instrumental in the novel too and a character in his own right. But, you need to read House of Secrets to find out what happens next….
A piece of the novel that shows both Poppy and Buddy in action..!
‘Oh, Poppy, come on. Don’t cry. It’s not your fault. Mummy should have known better.’ She pulled the child away from her for a moment and stared into her tear-stained face. ‘I know, tomorrow morning, you remind Mummy and we’ll scrub-a-dub you all over until you sparkle like a princess.’ She watched as Poppy began to smile. ‘Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go and let Buddy in.’ Both glanced in the hallway mirror in a well-practiced manoeuvre, flicked their hair back simultaneously and laughed at one another, before running through the old Victorian terraced house, past the two rooms at the front and down the passage that led to the back room and the old kitchen that had long since seen better days.
Madeleine quickly placed Poppy on the floor and opened the back door where an excited Springer Spaniel puppy sat waiting.
Buddy jumped up and down. His tail wagged a hundred miles an hour and as soon as the opening was big enough, he burst in through the back door and straight into the arms of a waiting Poppy, who collapsed on the floor, giggling, as he licked, jumped and wagged his whole body excitedly.
Madeleine smiled. Poppy was so different when Liam wasn’t there. She was happier, playful and appeared to blossom in his absence. Whereas when he was home, she tended to sleep, play with teddy bears in her room or disappear to a quiet corner where she’d sit for hours playing with Buddy. It broke Maddie’s heart to see her daughter unhappy. But what could she do? She’d known moving in with Liam was a mistake but she’d had no choice. The block of flats that she lived in was being demolished. She’d been dating Liam for eight months and he had seemed the perfect boyfriend, loving to her and kind to Poppy, so when he suggested she move in with him, she’d agreed.
‘Look, Poppy, do you think Buddy wants his breakfast?’ she asked and Poppy started nodding enthusiastically.
Reaching for Buddy’s bowl, Maddie pulled a biscuit from the box, broke it with her fingers and crumbled the pieces into the ceramic dish. She then soaked it in milk before placing the bowl on the floor where Buddy immediately pounced, his nose disappearing deep within the dish as it began to rattle around the floor.
‘Would Poppy like some breakfast too?’ Madeleine asked hopefully, but knew what the answer would be. The immediate shake of Poppy’s head confirmed what she’d already thought. She’d noticed over the past two months that Poppy often refused food or only ate tiny amounts and Madeleine nodded her head in confirmation of what she’d been trying to avoid: the days that Poppy didn’t eat always seemed to coincide with Liam being mean to her and Madeleine knew what had to be done. She had no choice but to leave. She needed to take Poppy as far away from this environment as she could.
Madeleine pulled another biscuit from the box and knelt down on the floor. ‘Here, Poppy, watch Buddy eat his biscuits.’ She held the treat up in her hand and waited for Buddy to sit before her. ‘Buddy, speak.’ The puppy barked to order and both Poppy and Madeleine began to clap. ‘Good boy. See, Poppy, Buddy loves his breakfast. Do you think that you’d eat some lovely breakfast too?’ But once again Poppy shook her head, clasped her hand over her mouth and lay down on the kitchen floor.
Madeleine shrugged her shoulders. She had to get her daughter to eat and began searching the cupboards for something that might tempt her, but the cupboards were almost empty and she resigned herself to pushing a slice of bread in the toaster. Maybe she’d find a way to persuade Poppy to eat it.
Madeleine turned around and laughed as she caught sight of Poppy lying flat on her back on the kitchen floor, submerged in what was left of the milky cereal, giggling and squirming as Buddy pinned her to the floor, licking at every remnant he could find.