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Guest blogger: Fleur McDonald

30 January 2011

Gavin, friend or foe?

Imagine, in the beginning, I’m sitting at my office desk, rounding out the characters for my next book, Purple Roads.

I’m engrossed in what I’m doing. I can see their faces, hear their voices and picture each and every one’s reactions to the different circumstances I’m going to throw at them.

Then, as I put my pen down, happy with the work I’ve done, knowing that my plot is planned and all I have to do is write, a hand begins to tap me on the shoulder. So gently at first, I can barely feel it. I’m not sure what it means, so I ignore it, now and over the coming weeks.

Starting a new book is always exciting. I love plowing head-first into a new set of characters that become my friends. I adore being able to block out the real world and live in a world I’ve created. A world where I can make it rain when the farm needs it, turn bad times into good and play with people’s lives, knowing that no actual harm can come to the characters that come alive through my pen, unlike in reality.

When my character (we’ll call him Gavin—not his real name in Purple Roads) began to tap my shoulder, slightly more insistently, I was too excited to be beginning another book, to hear him. Pleas for a major role were ignored. He kept telling me that my plans for him weren’t enough—he had a story to tell and I wasn’t letting him tell it.

It was in the early hours of the mornings, I heard him most, but I knew he was wrong. He was nothing more than a minor character.

More fool me.

Suddenly my writing came to a grinding halt. In fact, I’m positive that the squealing, as the breaks were applied, was so loud, it could be heard outside of my head.

For weeks I tossed and turned, trying to work out which way the plot would go, thwarted at every turn I made. I began to wonder if I needed to bring in a who new character to help me out of the hole I’d written myself into.

All the while Gavin sat in the background, calling softly: ‘Me, me, me!’

Ask my husband how stubborn I can be. When I put my mind to something, it’s rare that I am dissuaded. I am in charge of my book. Me. The author. I kept saying ‘no’ to Gavin.

‘You have a minor role. You don’t need a big one.’

‘But I do, Fleur. I have a story.’

‘No, Gavin. You don’t. So far in one hundred pages, you’ve had exactly four conversations. You are a minor.’

I could hear him sigh, imagine him throwing his hands in the air and saying: ‘You’ll work it out soon enough. I’m a major player.’

‘No, you’re not.’

Over the following weeks, frustration turned to fear. I couldn’t write, I was a fraud and it was only by some cruel joke, that I’d been given a publishing contract.

Then one day, once again in the small hours, I was woken by the sound of soft rain. Being nearly dawn I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep, so I got up to try and write.

As I sat at the computer, I didn’t know what I was going to say, until Gavin decided he had had enough of gentle coaxing. He slammed into the forefront of my mind, yelling: ‘Here’s my story, you stupid, stubborn woman!’

I started to type. And type and type. Gavin’s story took on a life of its own, got me out of the hole I was in and opened up a whole new sub-plot. He took me places I had never dreamed of going, pushed my boundaries and challenged me. Suddenly his story had become the whole reason that Purple Roads existed!

As I read back over my work, a few days later, I couldn’t help but wonder how he was the one who had known he needed a major role, not me. It’s my story, aren’t I the one who is supposed to be in control?

Apparently not.

Now he’s sitting quietly in the background, arms folded, nodding in a satisfied sort of way, saying: ‘I told you so.’

Now I might sound strange, having fictional characters talk to me. Maybe it’s like a nice type of personality disorder, but by hell, it’s fun!

I’ll be really interested to know if you can pick who this character is, when Purple Roads comes out in 2012. But if you’re interested in the mean time, Red Dust and Blue Skies are already on the shelves!

Fleur McDonald grew up among the farming communities of Orroroo in SA and now lives east of Esperance in WA, on 8,000 acres. Here, she cares for a husband, two children and a menagerie of dogs, cattle, sheep and a bit of crop, not to mention tractors and other machinery!

Fleur is the best selling author of Red Dust and Blue Skies, both published by Allen and Unwin. When she has five spare minutes, she is writing her third and forth books, Purple Roads and Silver Gums.

For more information visit or follow her on Twitter @fleurmcdonald or Facebook

  1. Aimee permalink
    1 February 2011 8:06 pm

    Great post!

  2. Barbara permalink
    30 January 2011 8:42 pm

    Hi Fleur
    Very interesting blog and your books are the sort I like to read.Congratulationa on the results of your flood appeal

  3. 30 January 2011 5:42 pm

    Oh Fleur – I think every writer who reads this will totally get your Gavin story.

    I wrote a book a little while ago where I had “Pete” as just a two-liner character, someone to get me from A to B. Well damn if that boy didn’t keep popping up and butting in with more wisecracks and searing insights and by the end of the book had became an integral part of the story and a perfect foil for the hero.

    Hell, he’s even getting his own book!!!

    Ah the voices in my head – its get them down on paper or go on Prozac!

    • 2 February 2011 4:56 pm

      I like the idea of writing, better than Prozac, don’t you Amy?!!

  4. 30 January 2011 4:46 pm

    Great post, Fleur! Loved it and understand exactly what you’re talking about. When you were writing Gavin’s story, did it come together quite clearly in one sitting…as in after the frantic writing session, did you have a clear idea about how that character would end up and did it mean you had to alter the rest of your manuscript?
    Like the others, I can’t wait to find out who Gavin is in Purple Roads!

    • 2 February 2011 4:56 pm

      I’ve got a clearer picture about how the story will pan out, now Lisa, but I haven’t had to change much of the orginal MS – I wasnt’ far enough along, although, I have gone back and tidied up a few bits, from earlier writings.

      I love Cluadia’s Big Break, Lisa. I think it’s your best so far!

  5. 30 January 2011 3:40 pm

    Great post Fleur!, it was a story in itself!

    Now I am intrigued, shame I have to wait till 2012 to find out!

    I think authors are the only people who can avoid a trip to the psychiatrist when they say they have voices in their head. When I finished my manuscript and started working on some new ideas, my original three characters paid me a visit saying “Helloooo, remember us? We’re not finished yet!” And so, they have me chained to the desk till I write their sequel 🙂

  6. 30 January 2011 3:20 pm

    Hi Fleur

    I know exactly the feeling of hearing the characters “talking” to you! NO, you are NOT meant to be in control! The characters run the madhouse that is a writer’s mind!

    Just wait till you get two of them talking to you at the same time, and then having a full blown argument in your head! And then the argument manifests itself in public, with other people wondering “Who the hell is she? Where are the people with the straight jackets?” 🙂

    I can’t wait to meet “Gavin”!

    • 2 February 2011 4:53 pm

      Hmm, good point. I’ve never been known to argue with or have an argument BETWEEN characters, although I haven been known to dress up in what I thought one of them would wear, when I went to town and tried to be ‘in her shoes’!

  7. 30 January 2011 2:50 pm

    Loved both novels. They have prime position on my bookshelf.

    Suzanne 🙂

  8. 30 January 2011 1:42 pm

    Hi Fleur,
    Nice blog. Me too. I can’t wait to find out who Gavin is.
    Wonderful flood appeal result.



  9. 30 January 2011 12:38 pm

    Oops, that should have read ‘I’ll add my congrats to Anna’s!’

  10. 30 January 2011 12:36 pm

    Lovely post, Fleur! I know that feeling all too well… Lauren was always trying to take over in my first book and it took an iron clad guarantee that I’d tell her story next to keep her quiet and stop her interfering.

    I’ll add my congrats to Anna – the flood appeal was a huge success and so well organised. Well done to you and the girls.

    Look forward to reading Purple Roads and figuring out who ‘Gavin’ is 🙂

  11. 30 January 2011 9:13 am

    Hi Fleur! Firstly huge congratulations on the success of the Authors For Queensland appeal – nearly $20,000 raised! That’s amazing!

    Oh, I laughed when I read your post. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I used to resist when character insisted they know better. These days I’ve come to the conclusion that they DO know better. In fact, often what they know is what makes the book come alive!

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