"You Won't Believe Who Just Came Through The Door!"

When I was at the Vancouver Festival, I read twice with Quintin Jardine, once a speech-writer in Margaret Thatcher’s bureaucracy, author of an astounding 30 books – 2 series:  the first featuring, Bob Skinner, the “toughest cop in Britain”; the second (I am told)possessing Oz Blackstone, a protagonist who after 9 books dies offstage from a congenital heart ailment to be replaced in book 10 by his ex-wife, a lady enticingly named Primavera who has started her own series.  I may have some of the details wrong here.  Quintin has a machine-gun verbal delivery and, to my Canadian ears, a pronounced and charming accent, but I think I have the essentials right. 

Quintin is a lot of fun. He has a kind heart, a normal-sized ego and he actually listens to what others on the panel say. I’m a listener too, and I learned a great deal from Quintin. He loves the act of writing.  He talked about his work with such gusto that we couldn’t help but be swept along. He scattered many nuggets along the way, but here are two I held onto.  The first was what he referred to as his FG moment.  This comes when he’s written his protagonist into a particularly dangerous spot from which logic and the principles of sound writing would suggest neither the protagonist (nor his creator) will ever be extricated.  Quintin beavers away at the problem until the epiphany comes, the problem is resolved and Quintin runs upstairs and announces to his wife “I’m a F…….g Genius!!!!!”  That’s the FG Moment.

Quintin’s other intriguing insight concerns his relationship to his characters.  Most writers acknowledge that their characters surprise them on occasion, responding uncharacteristically, taking a surprising chance, walking away from a situation that the heroic would face down.  Quintin’s characters surprise him ALL THE TIME.  He says he never knows when a character walks through a door if that character’s going to appear in the next room or be blown to bits. Characters appear, disappear and re-appear again.  Good guys become bad.  Bad guys become good. 

It seems that when Quintin writes he’s on his own picaresque adventure.

Of course his ebullience led to me to examine my own relationship to my characters.  I write what are often referred to as ‘character – driven’ mysteries.  That means that if a character walks through a door and gets blown up, something in her character has directly or indirectly brought about the explosion.  This does not mean that my characters don’t surprise me. 

Sally Love, who figures so large in Murder at the Mendel, and in the lives of her biological daughter Taylor and my protagonist, Joanne Kilbourn, was to have been killed off fairly quickly and then forgotten, but a funny thing happened along the way. I couldn’t let Sally go.  A brilliant visual artist with a toxic past but a brave determination to live large, Sally captured my heart, and memories of her loom large in the lives of Joanne and Taylor. The paraplegic trial lawyer Zack Shreve, whom Joanne came to love and happily marry was introduced as a villain (or at least as a not very nice guy) in The Last Good Day but he and Joanne sparked off one another in a way that I found intriguing.  They’re a good couple: each supplies something the other needs.  Their sex life is lusty; their delight in one another is constant, and neither can imagine life lived without the other.  A good marriage.

I'm glad they both made it through the door safely.

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