A novel inhabits your mind like a lover. A novel youre writing, I mean. A novel youve read, someone elses book, will too if its good, at least while its still on your bedside table, but a novel youre writing lives with you. Its always there, at the back of your mind, like homework due or an event anticipated. It shouts or it whispers, but it never goes away. Kate, Luke, Cary, Cressida. Those are the names of the main characters in my first novel, After The Fall, which came out in Australia last year and was recently published by Doubleday in the US. After the contract was signed I wrote in an article for the Victorian Writers Centre that it felt a bit like being pregnant… the work was done, the thing was made, and now all I could do was wait for the birth, its publication one year hence. Only, I later found to my surprise, that I didnt just wait. I still thought about my characters. Id thought I was done with them, but they continued to live with me, nudging me now and again, announcing themselves at random intervals. Id see a man in a queue and find myself thinking that his back looked like Carys; Id overhear a woman on a tram and turn half-expecting to see Kate.
Rory, Kelly, Joe, Nick, Anita, Pete, Trinity, Laine, James, Colleen. These are the cast of my second novel, tentatively titled Losing Rory, which will be published by Allen and Unwin in May 2011. Ten main characters this time; ten more people to jostle at the edges of my consciousness, pressing their suit. I needed pages of notes to keep track of them in the planning stages and a spreadsheet to make sure I gave them each equal time, but two years later, on the day I finished the draft that would go to my agent and publisher I wrote my last sentence and burst into tears. They had become so real to me, and I was so sorry to see them go.
Of course, they havent gone. Im half-way through a third novel now, but every so often in the first ten thousand words I would look up from my hands (Im a dreadful, two-finger typist) and realise that Id typed said Kelly, my favourite character from Losing Rory, rather than the name of this books female lead. Kelly wasnt even meant to be my favourite character. In the plotting stages, I was sure it would be Laine, but two pages into writing Kellys first chapter she stepped off the screen and announced herself. Thats when characters become real and a novel comes alive for me: when I stop having to think what they would do or say, and start simply knowing it.
Skye, Ben, Hamish, Zia, Nell, Arran, Mary. Thats who Im working with now… theyre the ones that Kate and Kelly and Luke and Anita are just going to have to move over and make some room for. I started this third novel, Into My Arms, two weeks after finishing Losing Rory, which in hindsight may have been a mistake. Between my first two novels, I compiled and edited a whole non-fiction book; my mind had time to settle and absorb my first cast before gestating another. Not so this time around, with the process of developing a new novel, new characters being further complicated by having to stop after 40,000 words to spend six weeks eyeball-deep back in edits for Losing Rory.
As a result, it took us a while to get to know each other. Nonetheless Skye, Ben and the rest are with me now, becoming more familiar each day. I saw Skye in a bikini at the beach last week; I watched Zia on the skateboard ramp outside the aquatic centre while I waited for my eight-year old daughter to finish swimming squad. When she came out she asked me what Id been doing. Oh, she said when I told her, I saw you through the fence. You were smiling, so I thought you were with someone. I was, I wanted to tell her. I was with Zia, trying to work out how we could get that skateboard into the book, and wondering if maybe it was Arran who taught him how to use it. I was thinking about some characters in my new book, I admitted.
I thought so, she said, smiling herself now. You do that a lot.
Kylie is a novelist, freelance writer and neuropsychologist. Her first novel, After The Fall, was recently released in the US, while her second (yet to be named) will be published in June 2011. You can visit her website www.kylieladd.com.au or follow her on Twitter at @kylie_ladd.