“…The portrayal of the characters and their development is outstanding, and I was completely invested in Terry and his families. The book uncovers some disturbing family situations and even more disturbing individual decisions and these are both honestly and sensitively handled, making them both understandable and plausible.”
In which 28-year-old Terry has an amazing encounter. It will change his prosaic life forever. Why can’t he tell gauche wife, Gudrun, about the search he’s embarking upon? This psychological domestic drama will compel you towards examining your conscience. Bizarre situations touched with dark humour. Will Terry ever mature and discover what he really needs to know? Many characters – some worthy, some nefarious – colour his journey. Then there’s Part Two and its excruciating moral dilemmas.
It seems odd, now, that I wrote my trilogy, A Relative Invasion, during years when we were so free: free to go where we wanted, free to say what we wanted, buy what we wanted, free to arrange our daily routine as we liked, with children or with children cared for by teachers and playschemes. Not being able to come and go is particularly hard for the teenagers, but a luxury, now, like being able to breathe, that we all took for granted.
I wrote about two young boys, cousins, whose freedom to live at home had been ripped away. In the first book, Intrusion, war threatened and they developed a rivalry. The London blitz meant they had to be evacuated to the country where the second book, Infiltration, is set.
However traumatic, they were still able to go to school and play outside. One of my grandchildren said the hardest thing for him was not seeing his friends. “It’s been a whole week!” I hadn’t the heart to warn him it would likely be a month or even longer. At least he has siblings, a garden and a trampoline.
Wartime children had no play equipment like that and it was long before Health and Safety initiatives, so they climbed on building structures, bomb sites and slid down hillsides on whatever flat object they could find, sharp edges or not.
Cuts and bruises were not the danger they feared but what planes overhead might drop on them, or what family members they might lose. And there’s the similarity: in WW2 everyone knew someone, most with someone close, that had lost their life in the conflict. And it’s getting that way for us now.
In A Relative Invasion I tried to show both the best and poor responses to the war effort. I’m afraid Billy’s mother gave the latter, but his foster parents the former. Meanwhile his rival, cousin Kenneth, capitalised on their situation by invading Billy’s personal space even further.
Billy turned to his icon for imaginary power to resist: a Cossack sabre he’d secretly seen. That sabre had a wartime story of its own, in WW1, as Billy discovers during a library visit to the nearby manor.
Book 3, Impact, begins as war ends. Now in adolescence, the boys’ rivalry intensifies. It’s doubtless worsened by the severe shortages in post-war austerity London. We’ve had just a tiny taste of this, but it IS tiny by comparison.
How lovely to read this really warm review for my trilogy on the red-headed reader’s website, here:
The reviewer has been transported to those times, she says. It’s the right time, now, to be transported to other places and times through books. I hope A Relative Invasion might do this for you.
My little review (also on Amazon and Goodreads) *****
I enjoyed that the word ‘umpteen’ appeared in the first chapter,
reminding me of how older relatives used to talk when I was a child in
the 70s and 80s. I knew then that the prose was going to be lovely and
fitting. Billy, aged five is excited about his cousin Kenneth staying.
He turns out to be a real bully – his parents believe anything he says. I
noticed his character so why didn’t they, even when Kenneth’s eyelashes
were compared to a camel Billy’s dad commented ‘Displays calm, the
camel, but they can turn nasty’ (quote from the book). This was a great
piece of foreshadowing. Billy’s only saviour is his neighbour who has a
fancy Russian knife (for display purposes, but looking at it made Billy
feel brave). Not only is Billy’s life intruded by his cousin, but World
War II is about to start. The reader learns from Billy’s observations of
his parents how scary this is going to be. Billy is evacuated early on,
his journey to the country is so enthralling, children wondering where
their next meal is coming from – and some sharing out food. The
heartbreaking bit when Billy is the last to be chosen. Gas masks, uncles
returning from Dunkirk, it’s all in there. The most heartwarming bit
for me was Billy’s stay with Mrs Youlden, her two younger children and
another evacuee Alan. Billy has never experienced poverty before or been
cold and dirty but here, he is loved and makes a true friend with Alan.
Reading this book was like going back in time to childhood.
This decade readers demand instant drama from novels. A murder, a chase, a shocking incident on the first page. These are options external to the characters who the reader must identify with. Yes, how terrible to witness a murder, or struggle to discover the perpetrator.
But what about the drama inside? Whereas ACTION and INCIDENT characterise the thriller, suspense can build as effectively when the drama is inside the characters’ heads.
What is s/he going to think?How are they going to cope with the dilemma or confusion around them? Tension is not fast, maybe not shocking, but worry and guilt are both long burns and can remain with the reader long after the last page. I had a review recently that mentions re-thinking how this reader treats people.
I have attempted to build suspense and tension within my 2-book fiction, UNCOMMON RELATIONS. Terry is faced with an initially exciting encounter but it leads him into terrible difficulties. It causes tension between him and his shadowy wife, and with his good-hearted parents. His best mate is dismayed and sometimes derisive about Terry’s attempts to deal with his unexpected situation. But who can Terry trust?
There are moral dilemmas. Is transparency always for the best? How damaging can secrets be?
Pierre Acobas is an English teacher and photographer. I found this image on Unsplash. I found it arresting.
Getting inside peoples’ heads is a sure way of capturing the involvement of the reader in a tale, whether fiction or non-fiction. The best biographies manage to do this by dint of thorough research and psychological insight. Character-based fiction fails if it can’t achieve this feat of letting the reader believe he knows and understands a character (and preferably several) in the novel.
I am just about to upload Uncommon Relations Part Two to Kindle for Pre-Orders. Part One is already on Kindle. It will be on other platforms in February, and in paperback in March.
Terry has received a climactic relevation at the end of Part One. How he deals with this must be understandable in light of his personality shown in Part One but not so predictable that readers won’t want to bother discovering what happens.
Uncommon Relations Part Two has the sub-title “What must be forgotten”.
Like all of us, Terry has weaknesses and has made serious mistakes. He is both wrong and wronged. A good novel allows characters to develop. Some of mine in this tale do not own that strength. As the main character, can Terry rise above the serious of dramatic situations, some of his own making, and leave the reader satisfied at the end of the second book?
I do hope so! That’s been my focus in writing this pair of novels but
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”Ernest Hemingway
When you include a child in your novel write his or her voice as carefully as you do your adults’ dialogue.
I’ve often been irritated by a novel that includes a child who speaks with vocabulary or phrases that are just not true of the age given. Even if the child is precocious their voice will differ in terminology, pace and focus. For instance, one novel had the nine-year old, anxious to be off and out, say “Time’s getting on, Mum. You need to get your skates on.” Just, no. Far too old and hardly current. More likely, “Mum, come ON.” or “Mum, we’ll be late,” or just “MUM!” as the child flaps at the front door. Very small children tug at the adult’s clothing, make frustrated noises/whine. Have a look and listen to get the child’s voice right.
For any character to have realistic dialogue the writer has to hear the character speaking in his or her head. Either there’s a direct memory of this kind of character or researching and listening to such a voice. If this isn’t possible, best not to write that character speaking. For instance, if there’s no chance of my meeting a newly arrived Japanese visitor with poor grasp of English, I’m not going to risk imagining errors he might make or bowdlerise the words I have him say. No. Best to keep the Japanese man silent. That seems to be stating the obvious and few would take on a character for their novels who is completely outside their experience.
Yet, some writers seem to think that children are fair game. Their dialogue is sketchily written. True, some writers make their children such geniuses that adult speech can be accepted. (Even Sullivan’s All the Light We Cannot See has its two child characters possessed of exceptional ability). It’s my belief that such children are over-represented in fiction. Let’s face it, we prefer kids not to quite match our own intelligence, so writing this dialogue needs to be as believable and convincing as that for the adult characters. Surprise, surprise, every child is different and their dialogue needs to indicate that difference or personality, or else it’s best left out.
For instance, in Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng manages to give really distinct voices to each of her young characters. Four are from the same family and are quite close in age but we can tell from the dialogue which is speaking because Ng has imbued each with clear personalities.
In A Relative Invasion I set out to make my boy characters different – that’s the point of their rivalry. I’m encouraged by the men who have emailed or reviewed and identified with the often beleaguered Billy. Psychological bullying is endemic, sadly. It means that Billy, well-meaning, has a different voice from the manipulative and knowing Kenneth. Similarly aged boys, if they both speak in “standard kidspeak”the novel just would not work
There was an interesting article in The Guardian by WB Gooderham some while ago categorizing novels with children into three types: accurately portrayed; go-betweens and untethered from social norms. Well worth reading.
If child characters are to figure in novels, it’s wise to remember that children judge adults as much as adults judge them. (Look well at the girl above). And that they remember detail, often of a different kind from that catching adult attention. Children regard, think, judge and do have a voice. What they say may well hit the point. Beware!
It’s a hefty secrets and lies narrative and your advice to the main character might be: “Be careful what you wish for!”
At 28, Terry fantasises a life more exciting than his marriage or job provide, but then he meets someone amazing on his daily commute and his life is changed forever. He rushes home to tell his wife, Gudrun, but events prevent him. But what is she hiding, and why? Both have developed some awkward secrets. When Terry opens his Pandora’s Box it traps him into increasingly bizarre situations. Bizarre can be funny, but also tragic, and this novel offers both, as well as a great deal of mystery.
Will Terry ever discover what he really needs to know? Is Gudrun a heroine, a victim or a packet of trouble?
By the end of this novel, you will be provoked into siding with more than one of the many characters, who range in age from 3 to 73. Here are a few.
Character list – the first few of a large cast
Terry Stedforth – our hero, termed ‘Yesterday’s Man’ by his mate.
Gudrun Stedforth – his shadowy wife, who only buys fair trade and avoids microwaves.
Jeremy, self-appointed tormentor, Terry’s line manager – known for his severe halitosis
Leon – exuberant software creator, moonlighting as Max Supremo, Illusionist, Terry’s best mate
Will and Eileen Stedforth, Terry’s kind but conventional parents who have to withstand shocks to the system as the narrative progresses.
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“This wonderful little tale leaves me, as it should, with loads of questions and a very eerie feeling.”
I wrote this story – HOMED – to engage readers in the mystery of a child’s life when his secure base changes. It is also a crime story, if you accept a different take on the idea of crime in fiction.
It begins like this: The Tall One said, ‘Here’s his bag. Any problems, Enid, ring me.’ He looked down. ‘Bye, Wilf, you’ll be fine. High five?’ He held up a hand with his fingers spread. I didn’t bite them, though they’re a good size. The front door closed behind him, leaving me in this new sleeping place. It smells of soap, long-ago cats, piss of Young not so long past, and sugar. My shoes are off, bag taken away. The female says, ‘Come and make yourself comfortable, dear. It’s nearly dinner-time. Hungry?’ I nod. I want to eat.
Characters conversing? Isn’t this a great idea, interviews with characters from historical novels? Author Helen Hollick created such an interesting blog a while ago. My character, young Billy, hero of my A Relative Invasion trilogy managed his interview with some honesty and aplomb, helped along by chocolate biscuits and orange.
This is what Billy had to say:
I wasn’t that terrified when the bombs started falling, not like Kenneth who shivered in the corner of the cellar. Mother told me to look after him although I’m younger. I wasn’t that worried, only a bit, when I was evacuated with my school. Kenneth was, and he stayed behind. Auntie said she couldn’t manage without him. But I was really, really scared when I was the very last child to be chosen when we walked around the village with the teacher hoping that some kind lady would give us a billet. In the end, I was lucky, although I didn’t think so at first…