How ‘Horrible Histories’ gave me Harry Sinclair.

When I’m writing a novel, I always like to have an image in my mind of what the two lead characters look like. Often, this can be a composite of two or three people – for example, in my debut novel, The Second Chance Tea Shop, Matthew Carter, the leading man, was a kind of hybrid of Richard Armitage, Gerard Butler and Gabriel Byrne, with a bit of Paul McGann thrown in for good measure. Having a face to put to the name helps me hugely with plotting the action, and reactions in the novel. I’m a sucker for using body language and facial expression as dialogue tags, and so imagining how a particular actor or performer might walk, speak and bring life to a character helps a lot when I’m in the throes of writing the story.

Just For The Summer was a hard book to write, for many reasons, most of them pandemic related. I’ve talked about this recently in a post on the Boldwood Books blog, so I won’t bore you here by repeating it. But one of the key issues for me was that I just couldn’t picture the male protagonist, Harry Sinclair, in any detail while I was writing the first third of the book. I had a clear picture in my mind of the female protagonist – she looks a lot like Kate Winslet- but I was lost when it came to the guy! And when I can’t ‘see’ a character, I find it incredibly difficult to write about them.

Anyway, time passed and this book just wasn’t getting written. I know, right? I’d leave the computer at night, and in the morning there were exactly the same amount of words onscreen as when I’d left it. Not even the bloody dog could help, and he’s clever! I was starting to flounder.

And then, something happened. My daughters got really into Horrible Histories. Being too old to watch it myself as a kid, and my own children being too young to fully appreciate it the first time around, this was a whole new experience for all of us. And, to tell you the truth, I absolutely loved it. We all did. It’s funny, educational, beautifully acted and scripted, and the best kids’ TV show with adult appeal I’d seen in ages. The magic of those writers and that cast (basically the same people), is pure alchemy.

But that wasn’t all. Somewhere in the back of my mind, something started falling into place. Without realising it, I’d got a style model for Harry Sinclair. And he was there, in five series of Horrible Histories, two series of BBC Ghosts (which we also all love and watch on repeat), and, after a sneaky Now TV subscription just to watch it, Yonderland, too! Yes…Ben Willbond became, to all intents and purposes, the perfect style model for Harry. In my head, I’d had this blurred impression of someone tall, greying and gentlemanly in a kind of clever, bookish, slightly rumpled way, and he just seemed to fit the bill. Harry was found!

Suddenly, the cinematics I have in my head when I’m writing started to come to life. Kate had her Harry, and I could see, incredibly clearly, the events I was writing about. I could see Harry in his bookshop, Harry and Kate on Willowbury Hill in the early morning discussing their lives, the ‘mishap’ that happens when a famous author comes to visit and all of the other bits in between.  And although it was still tricky to write (you know, home schooling, pandemic, lockdown, remote teaching etc), it felt as though it was getting easier. And that’s a key thing for me…if I can ‘see’ it, I can write it.

In conclusion, I owe a debt to the Horrible Histories  team in general, for keeping the family sane with their brilliance during lockdown, and to Ben Willbond in particular for giving me the perfect style model for Harry. If the screen rights are ever bought for this book, I’d love him to take the role! So much so, that I did actually mention the HH team (and Ben) in the book’s acknowledgements. So, Mr Willbond, can I interest you in playing a suave, yet slightly shambolic bookshop owner in a sleepy Somerset town? I think you’d be just perfect for it! 

And as for the next novel? I’m thinking I might use Laurence Rickard as a style model, too…

If you’d like to read the book for yourself, here’s a link or two:

JustForTheSummer HI RES (1)




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