Simon Beckett: living with a series character
Writing a series with a returning character is a little like having a permanent houseguest. Even though they’re not physically in the room with you, you’re always aware of their presence. They’re likely to join you unannounced at the dinner table, disturb your sleep and – from time to time – cause a certain amount of disruption.
I’ve been living with David Hunter, my series character, for more than ten years. So has my wife, who fortunately likes him. A forensic anthropologist with a tragic past, Hunter has accompanied us on holidays, made himself felt at weekends, and been the cause of more than a few heated conversations. At his best he’s obliging and good company. At his worst… Well, it wasn’t for nothing that I came close to killing him off in one book.
I was recently asked by an interviewer if I’d like to take Hunter to the pub and have a beer with him. My admittedly glib answer was no, on the grounds that we see quite enough of each other as it is. The truth is he’s generally there anyway, unobtrusive perhaps, but always in the background. Still, since he’s been responsible for the main part of my income for the past decade, at least I can’t accuse him of not buying a round.
Admittedly, my relationship with Hunter hasn’t always been smooth. I’ve been accused of giving him a hard time, but he’s more than capable of returning the favour. It would make things much easier if he was less set in his ways, for instance. More of an extrovert, less prone to brooding and self-doubt. If, just once, he decided to punch or quip his way out of a tight spot, it would help no end to resolve some of the situations I put him in.
But that wouldn’t work. I might be the one pulling Hunter’s strings, but I know if I try tugging in the wrong direction they’re going to break. Character development is one thing, but after five books Hunter’s personality is too well-formed to allow liberties to be taken. He’s his own man, with a character all his own, and the writing goes a lot smoother when I accept that.
Of course, as in most relationships, there are occasions when a little time apart is needed. After the fourth novel in the series, The Calling of the Grave, I decided to take a break from Hunter to write Stone Bruises, a standalone psychological thriller. It was refreshing putting myself into another’s character’s head, one who could react in a different way and encounter different situations to the introspective loner I’d spent the past few years with. But Hunter even then was never far away, biding his time and waiting to pick up where we’d left off.
Which we did, and The Restless Dead was the result. It’s possible that at some point in the future I’ll feel the need to take another break, and maybe start a completely new series. If I do, though, it’s a safe bet that a certain forensic anthropologist will make his presence felt again sooner or later.
Hunter’s nothing if not patient.