When I was pregnant, a friend told me that the day her baby boy was born she remembers staring at him in his cot and thinking: ‘I have to get to know you..’ She realised that although she had created him, carried him for nine months and given birth to him, although he was as close to her as a human being ever could be, there was also a separateness to him: he was his own person, a whole, other, unique being who might turn out to be as unpredictable and astonishing as he was familiar.
It feels as though I have known my little Tennessee Skye my whole life – longer, even. And yet, as my friend said, I have to get to know her too. There is a wonderful strangeness to her. Reading her is like learning a new language – my pronunciation is still all over the place, I mix up tenses and make embarrassing, frustrating – and sometimes hilarious – grammatical mistakes. And I know that, as we walk side by side through life, she will forever surprise me.
This experience has reminded me of the process of creating a character: that paradox of being the author of the character’s life whilst watching him/her come to life on the page – often faster than my fingers can type or pen can scribble. There are some who mock the writer’s claim that they have to ‘get to know’ their characters and that their characters ‘surprise’ them and do unexpected things. ‘But you’re in control of them,’ the critic claims, ‘you’re the puppeteer – you’re God’. There is a degree of influence, sure. Above all, there is the generation, the setting in motion, the fusing of egg and sperm if you will. But once your creature is up and running, goodness knows what they might do or where they might go or who they might become.