Emily is my main character. My first novel, Black Eyed Boy, is written entirely from her viewpoint and perspective. Because of this, she feels real; a living and breathing person. Though, perhaps, she is?
I have a young cousin called Emily and just like the teenager in my story, she is tall and has the most enviable, striking red hair. A few years ago, when she was still at school and most likely going through that self-conscious stage we all undoubtedly do, I noticed that she was frequently quite down about herself. She strongly disliked her hair. I couldn’t understand that and I remember commenting that I would swap hair with her in a heartbeat. It wasn’t something I said to make her feel better or to cheer her up. I genuinely would. My hair is brown. Not chocolate brown or anything else sumptuous sounding. Just brown. Definitely not the eye-catching and beautiful hue of her hair.
I was writing at the time; flash-fiction and short stories. I wasn’t ready, nor did I have the confidence, to embark upon the novel. But I decided something, there and then. Whenever I was ready to take that plunge, Emily was going to be the star character. I would show her that it was all about the redhead. The ginger would win.
It was quite some time afterwards that I first conjured up the idea for Black Eyed Boy. But when that particular epiphany arrived, I knew just who to focus the story on. Aesthetically, my book Emily is my cousin Emily. And her bright red locks would be celebrated. And a boy would fall head over heels in love with her. So, I had a wonderfully handy starting block with my main character. I knew exactly what she looked like and I could picture her clearly.
I couldn’t help adding little snippets of my cousin in there. Back in the day, I would say that my cousin found it difficult to see the positive aspects of herself and my character feels much the same way. My cousin can be sensitive at times and thinks a lot, especially since losing her father at a young age. (Emily’s dad, John, adored her and he was a sweet, kind, warm man; a gentle giant.) It goes without saying that his death has affected her deeply and I know just how much her heart misses him every single day. This is, perhaps, where my fictional Emily differs, she didn’t have a close relationship with either of her parents. I was aware that my book character couldn’t just be a carbon copy of my cousin, I had to create a new person. I had to decide who she was and I needed plenty of other elements to her personality to flesh her out so that a brand new Emily would emerge, one that my readers would, hopefully, identify with.
Now, I never actually intended this but do you know who is in there? Who has sneaked inside of her, making her an overly analytical type with a rollercoaster set of emotions? That would be me. There are parts of the book where my 15 / 16 year old self is so utterly present that I have somewhat cringed at times. I have relived numerous teenage emotions and experiences whilst writing Black Eyed Boy. The worrying about everything. Having the friend who always wants more. The toe-curling teenage lust where you forget to simply breathe. The way that, when I had a crush on someone, a constant video of fantasy and what-ifs would play in my mind, over and over. (Alas, Mark Owen never did come knocking.) And, perhaps, most importantly of all, getting what I thought I wanted and then waiting. Waiting for it all to fuck up and come crashing down again. And it always would. I didn’t believe in fairy tales. I believed in difficulty and injustice, something I have very much given to my main character.
I do think though, despite her young age, and the fact that she quite easily loses her head when she begins her first romantic entanglement, that she is also exceptionally mature. She seems to be on an eternal search for understanding and she has a strong desire to be able to rationalise things in her mind. I like to think that this is a little gift to her from my 35 year old self. Emily endures such palpable heartbreak over the course of the story and I felt compelled to arm her with as much as I could give her. I needed her to come out on the other side, there was an emotional battle that she had to conquer. I also recognise small bits of old school friends and perhaps my sister. I hope that teenage readers see a little bit of themselves too.
I am enormously fond of Emily, warts and all. She is far from perfect but I hope that serves up a more rounded and believable being. I felt a huge sense of loss after finishing Black Eyed Boy. I wasn’t ready to let her go, she continued to fill my thoughts, which is why I am now writing the sequel, Green Eyed Girl. I would say that she’s back, but she never really went away. She continues to live on and take over the words I write, which is fine with me. Emily knows best.