Last week at work, I had to phone the distant (but reasonably efficient) IT department, to organise access to a certain corporate shared drive. Before we got down to business, the cheerful young man told me his name – which just happened to be a name shared with one of my main characters.
I felt myself do a sort of audio double-take. Experienced a jolt of weird recognition (“what are you doing here?”); a feeling of familiarity, an emotional bond. I know this man. I created him, I observe and nurture him, and – ultimately – I will decide his fate. And, knowing this fate to be an unhappy one, I felt a mad moment of tenderness towards my faceless techie.
It wasn’t as if I was consciously thinking about my story whilst at work. In that I am very disciplined; I pass through the ticket barriers at the railway station and switch from passion and loss in the early twentieth century to malpractice and policy in the twenty-first. Even so, my story world is never far away. I stop in my tracts to examine obscure monuments and plaques. I am moved (as never before) by Remembrance Sunday, bugles, and soldiers young and old. I wonder what my characters would make of Hollyoaks and Christmas-flavoured cappuccino and thongs.
A lung-busting gym session suggests adjectives for my action scenes. Otherwise insipid period dramas offer insights into female underwear. Serendipitous happenings and overheard conversations clarify motives. Elections and demonstrations echo past political passions.
As I walk, I feel my heroine’s long skirt around my ankles.
Oddly enough, encountering my heroine’s name (a relatively common name, chosen for its multiple diminutives used to denote differing degrees of familiarity between characters) is far less traumatic. Is this because I have a lesser bond with her? Or because she is so real to me that we have moved beyond names?
Needless to say, I hid all this from the nice gentleman from IT and we swiftly resolved my access issue. But it leaves me rather nervous of my feelings should I encounter a man sharing my hero’s name (mercifully – and deliberately – an unusual name). In which case, I would just have to make my excuses, end the call, and hide under my desk.