Happy birthday, Matthew Carter!

January 15th, 2014 was a very special day. It was the day that a character walked into my head and refused to go away. So it seems only fitting that January 15th became his birthday. That character, of course, was Matthew Carter, Managing Director of a multinational cider producer, divorced father of a teenager and brooding, autocratic, alpha male love god. Well, sort of!

I can still remember when he ‘arrived’. I was walking the Strawberry Line that runs parallel with the village where I live, and all of a sudden I had this vision of a tall, dark, brooding man. I didn’t think anything of it, other than  it was probably just the fantasy of a mother of two, still on maternity leave with the second one, who was getting slightly bored of being at home and needed a little bit of entertainment. When I thought about it later, about six months later, I realised that something very specific had triggered off the creation of this character. That will remain my secret for the time being, but let’s just say I was reminded very strongly of a moment from my teens, of a place that seemed to assume a near-mythical significance the more I thought about it. That place found its way into a scene or two of Far From the Tree, and I’m grateful for that moment of memory as it’s given birth to so much in terms of my writing.

So, what else did I learn about Matthew Carter? Well, I keep learning, even as I think I’ve finished the book. Like an ink blot spreading colour across a sheet of paper,  I discover new things about my characters all the time. Yesterday I learned his birthday was the 15th January, which actually feeds in nicely to a birthday gift from his daughter in the story. That makes him a Capricorn. I quite like the traits that are described here. They’re quite fitting for Matthew!

Matthew is a natural leader, intelligent, loyal and reliable. At times he’s also self-sabotaging, stubborn, autocratic and uncommunicative. He guards his heart fiercely, but once it’s moved, he’s the softest touch in the world. A passionate, single minded, successful man, the failure of his marriage is the thing that haunts him the most.

Looks wise, I’ve made no secret of what the man in my head looks like. He stands at  around 6 foot 3 in his socks, with broad shoulders and  long legs. The hair’s a little longer, and a little greyer than it should be in a man of his age (forty four), and the eyes are a deep brown, with long lashes (these I borrowed from my actual husband!). There’s a prominent jaw and a pronounced nose, and a smattering of stubble when he’s not paying attention. He’s a composite of Patrick Dempsey, Gabriel Byrne, John Lynch and Richard Armitage with a touch of Paul McGann, Ioan Gruffudd and Gerard Butler thrown in for good measure!

Sartorially, he’s a jeans and jumpers kind of guy, but can rock a sharp suit when necessary. He doesn’t deserve the physique he has because he’s got a lousy diet and can’t cook. He used to play rugby and is under the illusion he still can. The most exercise he gets is walking around the cider farm and taking his collie Sefton out for an early morning and evening dash down the Strawberry Line. His favourite colour is blue.

Matthew loves his daughter Meredith more than anything else in the world. He would kill to protect her. He’s frightened she’s growing up too fast, and tends to bury his head in the sand when it comes to the more contentious issues of dealing with a teenager, especially a girl. He feels tremendous guilt about the impact his divorce has had on her. In spite of his workaholic tendencies, he’s a good father, and she knows that.

Matthew’s story is the one that overarches the whole of Far From the Tree, even though, of necessity, the story begins with Anna. It is he who makes a journey, and his family who provide the backdrop for the story. So, tonight I raise a glass of cider to Matthew Carter and his lovable, dysfunctional family. Thank you for coming into my life.

Happy Birthday, Matthew! And here’s a present to everyone – a short video with lots of lovely pictures of the men who make up the visual composite for Mr Carter, twinned with the song that sums him up, in my mind. Enjoy 😉

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