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Ian Beck on Visualizing the Characters in his YA novels,
Hearty congratulations on the release of your two new YA novels, both in the one year! That is some achievement! I’m fascinated by how you come up with such a range of amazing and vastly different characters and all so vividly drawn.
Do you ‘see’ with your illustrator’s eye, the characters before you flesh them out? What part of the author is still the illustrator? Does the novel roll out in movie sequence in your mind?
I do see the characters quite clearly and I watch them move about in my head too, so in a sense it is a little like watching an inner cinema sequence but not quite, not entirely. At the same time you are questioning their motivations and inner lives, thoughts etc so it is also like seeing an x ray of the character too, all very hard to explain and much more like a waking dream than a film, and one which you are able to leave and enter again at will. The story certainly rolls out in movie like sequences, a chunk at a time but not necessarily in the narrative order, which is where the importance of editing comes in, the shaping and reordering and the advice and admonitions of the third eye, your editor, which is the vital spark. I could never publish my drafts without the benefit of my editor’s input.
Firstly, the characters in “The Hidden Kingdom” [see review below]-
What was the origin of Prince Osamu, the arrogant prat turned soldier king?
The whole book started with a single sentence. I wrote it for inclusion in a book which was intended to kick start ideas in children and encourage their own writing . The original sentence went something like, ‘The Prince woke to the howling of wolves’, and I thought, ‘well I would like to write that story myself and see what happens’, and so my Prince was the first settled character around which the story built. I imagined him as a pampered princeling in a fairy tale forced to confront something very big but I wasn’t sure what it might be at the beginning of the process.
Why Baku and the Snow Maiden? Is this a tip of the hat to the Brothers Grimm with their tales of transformation and tragic love, thinking particularly of The Little Mermaid, but with role reversal?
Not quite, Baku and the Snow Maiden were in a separate book, based on a Japanese myth story. It was only after working on both discretely for a few months that I realised in a flash of inspiration, (which now seems obvious but didn’t at the time), that they belonged in the same book as Prince Osamu.
Lissa, the warrior maid, is a thoroughly modern miss. What were her antecedents?
I think Lissa is to me quite clearly based on the character and beauty of Zhang Zi Yi in the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, that is exctly how I saw her in my mind, fiery and difficult, but dedicated to the saving of the Prince even though she begins the story despising his weakness.
Secondly, the lead roles in the very visually realized, “The Haunting of Charity Delafield” [see review below]-
Charity Delafield, is a quintessential heroine for a disaffected generation. The working woman’s children, tossed from home to childcare, child care to school and back and never long enough in one place to identify with it as ‘home’, whom I suspect ask ‘Who is Mum? Is she really the hollow eyed lady who picks me up late afternoon/early evening, rushes me through dinner to bed and pulls me out in the morning, drives me and drops me off with a stress fraught kiss and a wave?’ Charity is a brave new kind of heroine, finding her way, finding herself. In a seemingly disaffected world. What inspired her?
Charity began life as picture book idea. I had drawn some rough sketches of a girl in a long red coat out in the snow in an old fashioned formal garden. I liked the place and time of the story, the only difficulty was that there was no story. At about the same time my daughter started leaving notes for the Fairy she believed to be in the house and I started to leave replies in minute hand writing, which developed into a nice game. I mentioned them to my agent and she thought it might be worth developing as a book. My editor at Random House, Annie Eaton, always liked the initial drawings and would occasionally enquire if I had done anything with them. After I had finished the Tom Trueheart books, I finally saw a way to develop the story as a novel with the girl in the red coat in the garden. It went through three very different drafts before it was finished.
Do you ever get tempted to ‘storyboard’ the creation of your characters in the way you used to ‘storyboard’ illustrations to a picture book?
I do have visual avatars of my characters in mind usually a strange amalgam of bits of drawings and half remembered films, or people I know or have known and so on.
Have any of your own doodles or sketches actually inspired one of your book characters?
In the case of Charity Delafield certainly yes.
How do you go about plotting a story or does it just flow through mind to pen as if you are scribing from a screening?
I am very much a ‘gardening’ type of author. Apparently there are two kinds of author, Architects and Gardeners. Architects plan carefully, and gardeners scatter seed and wait for the growth. I tend to plan in retrospect, what Bernard Cornwell calls ‘putting doors in alleyways’.
Finally, what are you creating for readers right now?
I am working on several things. One is a book of my own poetry (for grown ups) called, Behind The Dusty Glass. This will be a limited edition and finely printed on heavy paper, illustrated by me too, and in the case of the special copies each illustration will be hand coloured by me as well.
Click here for a preview of poem and illustration for ”Behind the Dusty Glass”: “Flora at Kings X” by Ian Beck from forthcoming “Behind The Dusty Glass”
I am also publishing a book of poetry which I have written as if I were someone else; namely the husband of Lucia in the Mapp & Lucia books of the 1930s by E F Benson. He is called Pepino by Lucia and his book is called Fugitive Lyrics. The poems are mentioned in the novel and the appearance of the book is minutely described. He is dead and Lucia wants to be found reading the poems in her grief but can’t untie the ribbon on the binding. My late Brother in Law, Jonathan Gili, always wanted to see the fictional book made real and so it is being created in his memory as an elaborate spoof. I have also illustrated the poems and, again, specials will have hand colouring. I am also writing two novels. One is called The Sky Stone and is set in the 1300s, a big adventure story about art, lapis lazuli, and a fallen warrior which will be published by Oxford University Press. For Random House I am hoping to write a series of stories collectively called; The Casebooks of Captain Holloway about a top secret department during world war two in London dealing with the mysterious and the occult and the inexplicable. The first will (I hope) be called The Disappearance of Tom Pile. I also hope to write the story of the Sweep’s boy Silas and what happens to him up to and after the Charity Delafield story.
Thank you Ian! We have a feast to look forward to! Keep us posted!
Review – The Hidden Kingdom, by Ian Beck
The Characters are drawn very visually in this old world adventure with an Asiatic setting. This is no surprise, as author Ian Beck , is also a master illustrator who half way through his illustrious career turned to story telling himself. The prince, Osamu is very typical of his era and culture, spoiled, petulant, and arrogant. Not a particularly likeable character till circumstances take through him together with Lissa, a girl soldier and Baku, a humble potter’s assistant and the three of them find themselves fleeing for their lives in an unforgiving winter, though lands torn by war with a supernatural origin. Will the prince find his destiny, despite himself, as leader of his besieged people? Will the young potter ever find happiness with his love and nemesis the mysterious snow maiden? And the fierce soldier girl, is she capable of more than dealing death? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyLad-6odnw&feature=related
Review – The Haunting of Charity Delafield by Ian Beck
Have you ever felt you are a stranger to your own family, a prisoner in the life you find yourself living? The heroine of Ian Becks’ latest YA book experiences exactly that. Her father treats her a bit like a potentially dangerous alien, surrounding her with rules and regulations so she feels a prisoner in her ‘home’. And where is her mother…? Children are good at unraveling conspiracies of silence, and this is exactly what Charity does with the help of a mischievous chimney sweep and a curious black cat. The cover is wonderful, a genuine enticement to open and savour contents, but then Ian Beck is a master illustrator as well as an award winning author. Peopled with larger than life characters and a magical world within a world, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The central character deserves a revisit in another adventure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XMwYigBNiw