In your latest book, “The Chosen Man“, you have an array of interesting and vivid characters. How did you come up with them? I particularly like the incidental characters, such as the mother-in-law and McNab. What inspired them?
My new novel was something of an accident. I was working on the sequel to The Magpie, to cover the years 1940 – 1950, and went back to Cornwall to do some research. The house manager of Cotehele, which is the Tudor house in Cornwall that is the model for my fictional Crimphele, took me on a private tour, starting in the old Great Hall. As I walked in out of the watery English summer sun, I saw a tall, sinister figure step out of the shadows near the fireplace and disappear. His name was McNab. I knew that immediately.
Ludo, for instance, why did you choose such a squash-buckling rogue for your main character?
After the Great Hall we wandered through the interconnecting bed chambers, examining Belgian tapestries and chatting about trade between Britain and the Low Countries then we onto the flat roof of the original 15th century fortress. I looked over the wall at a familiar scene, I used to live in the area and I know the River Tamar well. But this wasn’t now and it wasn’t 1940 – I looked down on the river and saw an inland barge bringing the charming rogue hero from The Magpie (set early C20th) upriver in the mid-17th century! After that we went over to look down at the interior Retainer’s courtyard. And there was that nasty McNab again crossing to the stables, pretending he wasn’t watching me. But he was – I could feel it. Thinking back it’s rather spooky, but to be honest, at the time it felt totally real. The man coming up river on the barge was Leo’s ancestor Ludovico – Ludo because life’s all a game for him! Another charming rotter.
And Alina? She is an intriguing young woman, we are never sure, until the very end of the book, what she will do.
Alina, who is the heroine, arrived that day as well, and virtually wrote the first half of the novel herself! The sequel to The Magpie was set aside and she started to dictate her life to me through colours – the colours of her tapestry wool.
However, before I could let Alina take us much further I had to stop and do an awful lot of research. I hadn’t planned to write about the tulip scandal in Holland in 1636, although I did know a little about it – fortunately. I had to read a good deal about the Hispano/Vatican conspiracy, starting with Eric Frattini’s work ‘The Entity’.
And the other characters, such as the mother-in-law? She has a particularly strong personality.
About the secondary and minor characters – well, that creep McNab in the shadows – all I can say is that he was there. Lady Marjorie, the mother-in-law? In the end I felt rather sorry for her. Very few people are wholly bad, like McNab: Lady Marjorie felt threatened and believed she had a lot to lose.
I have to say I’m particularly fond of the witch/cook Crook-back Aggie. Years ago when I was a student, I had a menial job in a local hotel – there was a Crook-back Aggie there, but nowhere near as interesting.
Thank you Jane, I look forward to reading your next historical novel.