Author: Helen Cox

Helen Cox is a UK author. She made her on-screen debut in The Krankies in 1990. Given the choice, her Mastermind topic would be Grease 2 and when someone asks her if she is a god she says 'yes.' Oh, you want to know about her books? Best click some of the links below.

What Writers Owe Their Characters

DinerPhotograph: Eric Richards

I wasn’t planning on writing a fiction book when they came to me. It was 10.30 on an otherwise uneventful Thursday evening. I had curricula to plan. And several non-fiction projects on the boil. I didn’t have the head-space for anything else but Esther, Jack, Mona and Walt were not the kind of people to take no for an answer. Particularly Esther. Headstrong, acerbic and drier than the most remote corners of Tatooine, she was insistent I tell her story. For a few moments she may even have possessed me. I can’t think of any other reason I opened that clean Microsoft Word document and typed ‘Chapter One’ at the top of it.

Sighing, muttering that I should already be asleep, I listened to Esther. She told me about her life working at the Starlight Diner in New York. Two thousand words later I clicked ‘save as’, and labelled the document ‘waitress story’. That’s all she really was to me in the beginning. Some waitress I didn’t know who had this story she wouldn’t shut up about. I didn’t take her seriously. And that was a mistake.

Esther came back the next night. And the night after that. Every night for six weeks in fact. At the end of it I had a rough, eighty thousand word sketch of what happened to her during the summer of 1990. But I wasn’t listening properly. Worse, I was being an insensitive foot-dragger. I told you, and her several times over, I didn’t have the head-space. Still, she reiterated her tale, even the most traumatic segments of it, so I might get it right. And partway through draft three I realised something…

Esther chose me. She could’ve entrusted her story to anyone. But no. She chose me. In that moment it hit me how much I cared. How she deserved so much more than my late-night, grudging attempts at a half-baked simile. It was my job to tell her story to the best of my ability. And after four months of editing and thinking and redrafting, I feel I’ve at last done justice to her.

As writers, we owe so much to these strange beings who hold conversations in our head (often against our will and there’s no medication for it, I’ve checked). They bequeath their lives and their narratives to us and for that they deserve our respect. And, if we have it to give, our love. Yes, there were times when I just wanted to go to sleep. When I was exhausted from a day’s teaching and didn’t have the strength to transcribe the next portion of Esther’s journey. But she was sharing her most intimate thoughts. With me. Every feeling and dream and secret she had. The least I could do was stop up past watershed to hear her out. Some of the things she told me made me LOL. And I mean, really LOL. Others drew tears. Shock. Grief. Compassion.

I don’t yet know where in the world there is a place for Esther’s story but, regardless of publishing market trends, I will find one. And whatever happens to the book in terms of fiscal or critical success, I’ll always be grateful that she chose me.

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One comment on “What Writers Owe Their Characters

  1. lisaemme
    October 25, 2015

    Reblogged this on lisa emme and commented:
    I can totally relate to this article. I was possessed by Harry’s story and had to tell it. It was like an addiction that didn’t let up until I typed ‘The End’ on book three. Even now, there are bits and pieces of further adventures starting to gel in the recesses of my mind. When they are ready to get out, when they finally bubble to the surface, I will have no choice but to tell that story too.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on October 21, 2015 by in Author Blog and tagged , , , , .
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