It’s not uncommon to hear writers talk spookily about their characters taking on lives of their own. However, even when a writer has planned a character’s journey through a novel, there are always changes of direction that happen during the writing process. Rather than put this down to any supernatural occurrence, I believe this apparent loss of control – as if characters are ‘taking over’ – is a sensation that occurs when the writing self and the psychic self become aligned. It is the sensation that occurs when the writer is open to both their writing and life experience that informs it.
The child narrator of Alarm Girl is a fictional character and a composite made from features from real life models (some of her attitudes and mannerisms reflect those of my youngest son, for example). She is also recognisably a version of my younger self – that is, the person I was psychologically speaking, when I was young. People who knew me as a girl say they can see me in Indy. Her circumstances are entirely different from the ones I grew up with but psychically she is me – as far as I am able to tap into this level of self.
Some writers talk about being ‘possessed’ or mention characters having a will of their own but I think the rush they are describing is simply what happens when one is open to both the writing and the life experience that informs the writing. The feeling this gives a writer is incredibly liberating. The conditions in which it can happen require open-ness and awareness as well as a commitment to the writing process (in terms of time, mostly). It’s also why timing is so crucial – as writers we might not always be at a stage in our craft to sufficiently express our experience and we might not be at an emotional pitch that is conducive to this process. All these elements need to be in place and in smooth conjunction with one another, aligning like planets.