It's time to say goodbye to 2015. And to Elisa.
It’s strange, you know. But when you spend months, and sometimes even years, with fictional characters, you get to know them really well – better than most of your friends, or relatives, or even family members. In a sense, you know your characters better than you know yourself. Omnipresent and God-like, you’ve created them. You have seen into their future. You know how they act and why. And you can’t always say the same about yourself.
Plus, there’s nothing better in writing fiction than the moment when your characters come alive. You can’t say why and how it exactly happens – but still, you know the difference. Because suddenly, it feels like they’re breathing. Moving. Having a will and a soul of their own. And that’s the moment when your story starts to glide forward.
It’s a weird friendship, that between an author and fictional characters – and unlike real-life friendships, it is doomed to come to an end one day. Because all your writing is directed towards finishing that damn book, and once it is finished, your hero or heroine leaves you and moves out into the Big World. And let me tell you, it’s a happy and sad moment, both at the same time. Just like you had a child who is grown-up and leaving the nest.
For those of you who have been following this blog know that I had the Book Launch Tour of my second novel, Absolute Truth, For Beginners, last month. And what a month it was! Full of interviews, toasting, reviews, guest blogs… My usually oh-so silent writing life in a moment turned into a roller-coaster of thankyous and toasts. It was great fun while it lasted.
But now that month is over, and Absolute Truth is out there on Amazon. And Elisa, my heroine, is gone. And for some strange reason I feel a bit lonely and nostalgic. Because she is no longer here.
So let me keep her with me just for a few minutes… and introduce her to you.
But first I must warn you. Because I know for a fact that if I truly were to introduce you to Elisa, she’d be nervous to meet you. She would probably be silent and shy for the first few minutes, and then talk endlessly so that no one else could get a word in edgeways.
This is how I remember her. Elisa is one of those perennially insecure people who don’t think much of themselves. She wishes she could be smarter, wittier and prettier, and is never satisfied with the way she looks, acts and thinks. I have long hair that is exactly the colour of the hardened rye bread my aunt buys in IKEA, big dark eyes, straight nose, a bit too generous for my taste, she writes in Absolute Truth about her appearance, and a pallid skin that luckily has never given me problems in the pimple department. So yeah, hardly your next J. Lo.
Plus, she’s a typically bookish person. An art history graduate, she used to burn the midnight oil while her university friends went out partying on Saturday evenings. Books and words for her are more comforting than people, so much so that her brain is like a huge encyclopaedia, and she must analyse and define each interesting word that comes her way. ‘Life’, for example, is a sitcom with no audience, runs till the day you die – whereas ‘melancholy’ is a mixture of something sweet, tender and heartbreakingly bitter, ‘shit’ is not only what comes out of your body, but happens in your life, and ‘love’ is zero points in tennis.
And she considers herself a Nobody – an unimportant person, no one, a beginner: someone who hasn’t achieved much and doesn’t know anything about life. In a sense, she is like so many other twenty-somethings who have just come out of university, and are trying to find their paths, who are changing and growing, making epochal choices, deciding who they are, and what they want to do with their lives.
Yet then Elisa meets a female mathematician thirty-two years her senior, and falls in love with her at first sight.
Judith Shapiro is everything Elisa isn’t. Brilliant and famous, as well as arrogant, she is a woman who loves to be in the company of numbers instead of human beings. She has dedicated her life to abstruse scientific theories, yet knows nothing about the daily world beyond them. A superstar in her own field, she lives in a cloistered world in which everyone admires her, and no one questions her. It is that exact world into which Elisa bursts, almost by accident, and becomes her mistress for sixty-eight days.
Let me tell you, they were rather tumultuous, those days. (And I know it, because I witnessed them, for four entire manuscript versions.)
And now Absolute Truth, For Beginners has been published. Elisa is gone. Her story is finished… at least it is for me. Because we’re no longer talking together. Instead she is out there, somewhere, talking to my readers. And yeah. That does make me feel both happy and sad. Plus, like all parents, I wish her nothing but the best. I hope she will live happily ever after, and do whatever she was born to do.
And if I must be completely honest with you, I’m not left alone – not completely. I’ve got Mimi and Irene, my next protagonists. Nowadays my hands are full with the two of them, because they’re full of problems and errors. And I know that within a year I might be saying goodbye to them. And it will be sad, too – but at the end of the day, that’s fine.
Because you know what? As an author, you’re never alone. There will always be someone new.