Life beyond the book


Do your characters exist beyond their story?

I’ve had some lovely reviews for my first novel, The Oceans Between Us but some of my favourite comments are those that suggest the characters can live on for the reader after they have turned the last page. ‘I will forever keep these characters in my thoughts,’ wrote one reviewer. ‘I will be thinking about Jack and Molly for a long time to come,’ said another. A third wrote, ‘This is a well told debut novel that will stay with the reader for a long time.’ Hope I’m not showing off but I love the idea that characters have an existence beyond the scope of their story. I must admit to having a very soft spot for Molly, the damaged and vulnerable main character of my first novel, and feisty, doomed Eva from my second. They are still very much with me. I have certainly spent a long time with them during the writing process. I wonder whether one reason for the characters staying with me – and some of my readers – is that they are based on real people who lived through real events in history, often suffering greatly as a result. Our response is focussed on Molly and Jack but we are really empathising with the real-life victims of World War Two and the child migrant programme.

Something that brought this home to me this week was meeting up with Frankie Atkinson, an Australian lady over from Perth for a UK holiday. Frankie’s partner Laurie Humphreys, had been a child migrant and his book ‘A Chip off What Block?’ was a great help to me in my research. Sadly, Laurie died before I could meet him but I have corresponded with Frankie on and off and it was a joy to meet up with her in London and give her a copy of my novel. During our lovely chat she told me something that shocked me. She used to be a secretary at the Rupert Murdoch University in Perth. One day, a student came in who was writing her thesis on the child abuse at Bindoon, which features in my novel. The thesis was kept under lock and key for twenty years! Clearly someone at the highest level was hushing this up. Eventually the truth emerged but too late to support some of the children who were so appallingly treated. By the time I came to write ‘The Oceans Between Us’ the child migrant scandal was becoming known (although people are still writing to me to say they knew nothing about it). Thanks to people like Laurie writing a book, and Margaret Humphreys the British social worker who first unearthed the scandal, knowledge of this terrible event is spreading. I hope I am playing some part in that, and if people feel my characters are living beyond my story then I am pleased this is another way for the real life victims to gain the sympathy and justice they so deserve.

CharactersGill ThompsonComment