Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Death in Focus: The Start of Something New: Guest Post by Anne Perry

Death in Focus: The Start of Something New

I have just started to write a new series. There are only so many days in a year, so why undertake something so risky by abandoning the old and trusted characters, settings and general format? For adventure, to leave the familiar before I grow tired of them, and so do others. For the fun of creating new characters with new relationships, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. And even more appealing to me: to address other and different issues, perhaps even more relevant to today.

Where do I begin? With a subject I have wanted to address for about 9 years and has become more immediate through the time between. Setting? One that has fascinated me for a long time: the 1930s. Place? England and Western Europe. Situation? The rise of Hitler and Nazism. The issue? How did this happen then, and can it and will it happen again? How much are we responsible for what we see and do nothing about?

But of course it needs a specific plot, and that was far more difficult. I struggled with it for quite a long time. It must move swiftly and every change must be believable, all the way to a climax that satisfies. I made more than one false start. But I learned, went back and began again. Finally, I found the plot that was international in one thread and completely personal in another. And believable, because on the international level it actually happened.

Next, I needed characters. I always had the main ones: a young woman who had disgraced herself by falling in love inappropriately with someone who betrayed her. Who hasn’t done something like that? A thread that drew her inexorably into the plot, her danger, her resolve, and ultimately the courage and the intelligence to play the winning hand.

Then I needed to make her personal, not just a collection of characteristics. Absolutely vital, she must have passion, vulnerability, humor, and something that made her unique. And you have to identify with her sufficiently to like her. I never know whether I have got that or not. How much of myself do I put into her?

There must be other characters too of course. For a start there must be an individual villain whose point of view is understandable and believable. Weak villains ruin a story, like trying to run a race with a wooden leg. I changed him several times.

I gave my heroine a background and a family drawn in bits and pieces from my own family, with all their idiosyncrasies and crosscurrents of emotion. Consequently I loved and understood them all, or felt as if I did. They were all changed, of course, set back in time, altered in occupation. But the idiosyncrasies remained, the humour, the care. It was great fun and I think it worked. Settings! What a dream exclamation this is, where I can indulge all sorts of daydreams. I can use some of the most beautiful places. So I began in Amalfi, on the Italian coast a little ways south of Naples. You can visit any time of year. I chose May because of the world events, one of which was a turning point in my story.

From Amalfi, I moved by train. I love the 1930s trains, especially the Orient Express. But rather than the full journey, I only went from Naples to Rome and Milan, then most of the way to Paris. Anybody taking a trip on one of those gorgeous trains would mingle with glamorous and dangerous people, dressed in chic 1930s clothes, at a time when the world was still haunted by the terrible losses of World War I, and yet still dancing to fabulous music along the razor's edge between light and darkness, inching closer towards World War II.

Crisis number one. Train stations in the night. Violence and danger.

Crisis number two. Tragedy and an unexpected diversion to Berlin. As a writer, I wonder what big scenes I can place there. Which has a bigger impact: masses of people questioning a huge event or a pivotal change of direction? I think the latter. It’s equally important to have characters who grip the imagination with terror, admiration, love, grief…anything that changes the stakes and brings the reader major fear and even gut wrenching horror, because we know the terror and the violence that is to come.

Horror means different things to different people. One thing that has always haunted me is madness. I don't mean purely mental distress, but the realization that someone is unreachable by any sort of reason, pity, or other humanity. People you thought were basically more or less like you, but who you discovered that you have no meeting point whatsoever. Those people are more frightening than animals for the primary reason that you think they are human until you look in their eyes, and there is nothing looking back at you.

If you are going to frighten other people, first frighten yourself. I think of how the war ended and how it still haunts all of our imaginations.

I created a series of mounting tensions, physical danger, and a climax which resolves the whole story—I hope. I left a few threads that tie this book to the next one in the series, featuring the same characters that my heroine loves, fears, laughs with, and grieves for. Did I succeed? I don't know yet, but it stretched every writing muscle I have. I have written the second, and i'm thinking about the details of the third.

Did I enjoy it? Oh yes! I feel excited, renewed, and highly nervous, but not for a moment do I regret it. The possibilities are immense.

New York Times bestseller Anne Perry sheds light on the writer’s process as she dives into a brand new series featuring her first, most fearless heroine, Elena Standish.

1 comment:

LJ Roberts said...

I finished "Death In Focus" last night. I shall be writing a full review, but suffice it to say it was a very good book. There were scenes which may be painful to read, particularly for those not that familiar with this time in history, as they so clearly represented what was happening at that time. However, they were also a very good mirror of what is happening today.

LJ Roberts - Reviewer
It is purely my opinion