Last night, amid several incursions by real life characters, I left a fictional one walking down a familiar stretch by riverside. The fictional one has lived in this same fictional town all his life – something far from what my personal CV looks like.
A solitary character in a solitary place is one of the hardest writing exercises for me. There’s none of the friction two or more characters can produce through dialogue, conflicting agendas, misunderstandings both great and small. Plus, neither descriptions of landscape (or even, physical descriptions of the characters) feature in my habitual writing patterns. In fact, a lot of the revising on a first draft involves adding some pointers for the reader as to where events are occurring; where the characters are holding their verbal joust; where so-and-so happens to be, etc.
After leaving both real life and fictional characters of my immediate acquaintance, I opened my copy of Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth, a Folio edition I picked up for five euro in Lisbon, three years ago. Will I read through the book yet again? Maybe. What mattered last night was the first page that begins with the words : “I was walking by the Thames,” and proceeds to show the scene through the eyes of Gulley Jimson – the kind of character copywriters describe as “a lovable rogue”. Had Gulley been a flesh and blood type, I doubt he would have described himself in those terms but that’s neither here nor there.
My fictional one walking by riverside is nothing like Jimson, and his river is nothing like the Thames. His general mindset is of the whereto now variety, as pertains to his life, not only to the purpose of his stroll.
Meanwhile, real life characters phone, ring my doorbell, walk into a neighbor’s house while I visit. My closest contact with a Gulley Jimson-like character yesterday would be one of the elders from the local gitano community. He usually greets me on the street with a respectful bonjour, madame. He was in his cups yesterday. Called me Céline, told me I was mignonne and made kissing movements in my direction. Hello. Goodbye.
A man walks by riverside in the small French town in which he’s lived out his life thus far. He’s fictional and doing so in the overall context of an ongoing story.
Nu? Nu, on to the day, both his and mine.