When Characters Come To Life

Reading & Writing

This weekend I was up against a number of excellent nominations in the category of ‘Funniest Crime Novel’ at Bristol Crimefest. I was surprised that ‘The Memory Of Blood’ had been nominated at all because it’s considerably darker than the usual Bryant & Mays, but it’s always nice to be nominated. The winner was not Colin Cotterill’s delightful ‘Killed At The Whim Of A Hat’, as I’d first thought it might be, but Irish author Declan Burke’s ‘Absolute Zero Cool’, which I’ve just finished.

Burke’s tale of a porter who plans to burn down the hospital where he works is a clever meta-fiction in which the leading character’s interference in the story keeps undermining the author’s intentions. It’s a neat parable about the creative spirit, and highly worthy of the award. It would have been wrong if any other book had won this year.

If you enjoy ‘Absolute Zero Cool’, may I recommend a classic novel about a character coming to life. In Frank Baker’s enchanting ‘Miss Hargreaves’ two friends on holiday in Ireland are required to invent the titular 83 year-old woman. Later, forced to explain how they met her, they slowly add details to her life, embellishing her backstory with news that she always travels with a cockatoo, a harp and her own bath. The lark gets out of hand when they receive a telegram from Miss Hargreaves herself, informing them that she is coming to stay for an indefinite period – but how can they explain who she is when they can’t even understand why she exists?

A comedy about the creative imagination, loss of control and the pressures of conformity, ‘Miss Hargreaves’ came to the London stage starring Margaret Rutherford.

4 comments on “When Characters Come To Life”

  1. Gretta says:

    This was already on my bookstore wishlist, as was every other book you were short-listed with in that award. Bit miffed that you didn’t win though, admin, but I’m just off to add ‘Miss Hargreaves’ to the aforementioned list.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Sounds like fun! I’ll order it. And a bit like Rod Serling’s Twilight (can one now safely use this word without calling down the Googling masses?)Zone story.
    Plot: a very successful writer has a fantastic wife, who doesn’t mind that he writes all the time. But soon she begins to make suggestions! She wants more of his time! She wants to go places, travel, see and buy stuff! He begins warning her to not do “whatever”, to leave him work, her life is good, so please…, etc. She keeps on. He eventually gives her a last warning – most regretfully -she doesn’t listen. He goes to his safe, takes out a tin, removes a plastic typewriter ribbon and burns it. (This is an old show.) His fantastic wife suddenly vanishes. Writer pours a stiff drink, shakes his head, broods a while, and then sits down at his typewriter. He thinks my character always take on a life of their own. He begins to type: “The writer’s wife was extremely beautiful, a great cook, a perfect housewife, she let him write….” A new wife takes shape before him.
    It was a double-edged satire and social commentary, ladies, if not triple. Just reporting.

  3. Declan Burke says:

    Dear Christopher – That’s very kind of you, sir; very generous indeed. Coming from your good self, I’m going to take it as high praise. Much obliged. Cheers, Declan

  4. Vickie says:

    Ah, jeez, Dan, I saw a film preview yesterday based on that very premise: a writer’s female character comes to life. I don’t think it’s meant to be creepy (love appeared to be in the air). The circle of life, er, plots, is very small, indeed.

    Oh, re Declan Burke: I have also ordered a copy of the book, as it sounds interesting. I might never have heard of him or it without the mention here…hear, hear!

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