Today on Irish Writers Wednesday I am joined by Susan Lanigan, author of the historical fiction novel White Feathers, a novel about kinship, love, and betrayal set during the First World War.
Susan has written a post for us all entitled ‘Characters Who Won’t Let Go‘ ~ ‘The kind of book I want to avoid is the kind where I don’t care about the characters enough.’
I do hope you all enjoy.
Characters Who Won’t Let Go
by Susan Lanigan
Since publishing my own novel, White Feathers, in 2014, I’ve read quite a few books. Some thrillers, some exquisitely written literary fiction, some crime, some historical. As my life gets shorter, I’ve tended to avoid, more and more, books I don’t enjoy reading. Some might accuse me of laziness. But for me it’s not just about enjoying the book, it’s seeing a reflection of what I want to write. Reading is always a bit of a busman’s holiday for me now and the work I enjoy most challenges me on that front. And I’ve come to one overarching conclusion.
The kind of book I want to avoid is the kind where I don’t care about the characters enough.
You can write the most beautiful fluff and pull out words barely found in a dictionary; you can eschew the niceties of literary purpleness and write a tight, plot-driven thriller. But if you don’t have characters a reader can invest in, to my mind your book suffers from what we might call 1 Corinthians 13 syndrome and as a reader I probably won’t finish it, no matter how many awards it is nominated for.
(What I have learned about character building is that dialogue is as crucial as action and description. I now know the calibre of a writer by how comfortable they are with dialogue. How willing they are to allow the characters to actually talk and stop the writing getting in the way.)
From starting the first draft in 2010 and sending in the last proofs in 2014, it took me four years to write *White Feathers* and during that time I became obsessed with the characters to a degree that bystanders might call unhealthy. I worked, socialised, took part in political advocacy and lived my life while playing scenes in my head. I would talk to them about dilemmas in my life, even the villains. As I was writing the story of Eva and Christopher who were torn apart by WWI, family and insane social pressure, symbolised by the white feather, I wanted to know what would happen *as I was writing* even though I’d already plotted that bit. One particular scene, which occurs on the Isle of Wight, had my heart in my mouth every time the door tentatively opened. Even on the fifth draft. Even though I knew well.
Not only about the major characters, but also about those who accompanied them on their way. And I hope that even a small fraction of that care filtered its way through t the book. Feedback from disinterested (but not uninterested, thankfully!) readers suggests that it has.
Finishing the book, with close collaboration with an editor who was as enthused by the project as I, felt like ending a pilgrimage. I missed the constant presence of the characters, and also became more and more aware that I was not finished with that universe. And after a couple of wrong turnings, one particular character kept demanding more.
Eva’s friend Lucia Percival, newly come to wartime England from Jamaica to escape an arranged marriage, then plunged into tragedy, has her own story to tell. And being a soprano by vocation, she was never going to be happy with just sharing the stage.
I am writing her story now, in second draft, and trying not to get in the way of her voice.
I hope I do her story justice.
I hope you all get to read it.’
Thank you Susan so much for joining me on Swirl and Thread today. It was an absolute pleasure having you here. I truly wish you the very best with your writing career.
For further detail about Susan please see below.
Susan Lanigan was born in Ireland and has been shortlisted three times for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award. Her historical novel White Feathers, an intense tale of passion, betrayal and war, was acquired by Brandon Press after winning a place on the 2013 Novel Fair and was subsequently shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year 2015. She is currently working on another novel set in the same universe.
She now lives by the sea in the south of Ireland and enjoys the sheer shock of swimming in the Atlantic, gardening, and playing the piano badly. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook. She is represented by authorrightsagency.com
Website ~ http://www.susanlanigan.com
Facebook ~ https://www.facebook.com/Susan-Lanigan-1506360509651210/
Instagram ~ http://instagram.com/susan_lanigan
Love Susan, we met at the RNA Irish Chapter earlier this summer, great writer and great craic too!
I have never had the pleasure and sure she now living not too far from me!! I’m sure our paths will cross at some point in the future though. X
Great post! Characters are at the heart of a story, and I cannot fully enjoy the best of plots without the right protagonists. What a beautiful cover, too!
It is isn’t Meggy. Really evokes strong feelings with the poppy….thank you for your comments and for taking the time xxxx
As always, a fantastic post for Irish Writers Wednesday – fast becoming my favourite all time blog feature!
The right character in a book really makes it for me, if I cannot connect with them or believe in them then I cannot enjoy the book properly.
Thanks Kate. I love doing the Wednesday feature too, so long may it last!!! I agree on the importance of character….I need a really interesting personality in a book to draw me in and keep me reading. x
My favourite time of the week again! I’m delighted to see it was Susan’s turn!
I’m total agreement with Susan on characters. I’m stubborn so I tend to persevere, but it’s so much more enjoyable if I you care about the characters!
I was delighted to get Susan on board. Always great to have someone local also….so let me know!!!
Great post and White Fewthers is a wonderful book, I loved it as did some of my friends and am thrilled to hear there’s another book on the way from the same universe, Her characters were intensely realised, and I agree with her about how important that is to a novel..nothing more disappointing than characters who are one or two dimensional. I knew Susan when we were both a few years youngerthan we are now and it’s lovely to see her success!
Sarah thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I really do appreciate it. Susan has really hit the nail on the head regarding the character of the novel. Lots of ‘sameness’ in many books on shelves today so something has to differentiate them…personality of character is vital…
Lovely guest post. I can’t get on with a book if I can’t connect with or care about a character either.
Tx Vicki. It’s so true isn’t it? We need to feel something for them…good or bad..