As part of my MA at West Dean College, I gave a presentation about my work-in-progress. I used images and texts to evoke the period and place that my story was set in quite comfortably. I felt confident about portraying the 1960s without cloying nostalgia, and happy firmly locating it on the Yorkshire coast. I was able to outline the general social background: the underlying tension between the seal people and the fishermen of Scoresby Nab.
But then I reached the specific ‘who’- my central protagonist – and it all went a bit vague. Come the plenary and it was clear my audience had been left in some fuzzy hinterland they disliked.
I determined to do something about this.
I had no joy with writing a bog standard character description. It came out twee, stereotypical. If I could sneak up on him sideways somehow, Mattie might become clearer. It occurred to me that in the best stories we learn a good deal about a character by the reactions of those around them. I hit upon the idea of ‘asking’ Mattie’s grandmother and others: I could see him through a matrix of other people’s views.
So now I am creating chunks of Grandma’s diary, newspaper cuttings, and a doctor’s note. I wonder what else might inform.