Used to be that before I could write a character I had to find out their name and see what they looked like. It’s a little like being at a party where you spot someone intriguing across the room then wait hoping to arrange an introduction before the evening ends. I expect that sounds a bit odd. But until recently I couldn’t write a character until I knew their name, and I couldn’t give them a name until I had a good grip on their character. It was a conundrum. One that could only be solved by making copious notes, going for long walks and talking to myself.
I remember an uncomfortable time in Doha, Qatar when I was working on the novel Clear Cut. I walked lap after lap around the hotel pools and gardens talking aloud to myself about a troubling section of the novel. The ground staff and pool staff watched me closely everywhere I went, nervous I expect, that I might be a woman unhinged. I began carrying a mini-recorder and speaking into it as I walked hoping it made me appear more official and less psych ward.
Finding names for my characters in The Realm wasn’t as difficult as in other stories. My protagonists live a secluded corner of a spit-and-you’ll-miss-it-town in Ontario. Isolated, they don’t have the habits or characteristics of modern city kids their age. In some ways they’re a throwback to an earlier generation. I decided their names should reflect that: Randy, Norman and Alice. Alice only became Alex in the penultimate year of my thesis. I’ve always thought of Norman and Randy as modern day Hardy Boys.
I had no physical descriptions in mind when I began developing the plot. But the moment I began to write Norman and Randy I began to see exactly what they looked like. Before long I realized that the Storey brothers were quickly becoming the Nixon boys.
Eric and Peter Nixon lived directly across the street from me growing up. Our houses were part of a larger subdivision in a pretty Ontario town but for me as a child, my world was limited to my house, the Nixon boys and occasionally to their next-door-neighbours, the Kendalls.
Until I was nine, I played almost exclusively with the Nixon boys. Five-Hundred-Up. Tag. Swimming in the ditches after a rain. And my favourite… night games of hide and seek. Those boys were my only friends until I went away to school in grade five. Both of the Nixon boys were tall and lean, and back then they were all knees and elbows like a colt. The older brother had thick black hair. The younger one, who was still a year older than me, had carrot red hair and freckles. They were nice boys. They were Frank and Joe Hardy. They were Disney kids. They were perfect!
I had my Storey twins.
Peter and Eric Nixon were my launch pads for creating Norman and Randall Storey.