Remembering how my novels began their life is always a problem. With Incident on the Line I wrote a paragraph, without knowing where it was going, likening life to a concertina, each event as the pleat of the bellows. Those particular events that are marked in your memory. At the same time I wanted to explore opening a novel with a character’s name; my main character, Greta Salway was born.
The name came but who she was? Was she speaking to someone or her identity being questioned? What was the event? Then Gerald appeared, the philandering lecturer, coming back into her life thirty years after their original affair. Why she became a famous crime writer I don’t know, though it allowed for her to have risen to fame at the same time as his career had diminished. The complete shift in the power of that relationship.
It is the secret that she holds, though, which is most disturbing, the child which he fathered and of which he has no knowledge. The secret she has kept from everyone. I needed to explore why that might be the case and the crisis that this causes in her life.
I was then able to go back to the idea set out in the prologue, events which are strange coincidences, as was her meeting with Gerald. She names Lottie, Gerald and Roger as connected in some way in this passage, though I had no idea how, or who Roger might be. The theme of coincidence or fate turning a life into turmoil and worse, became obvious. From then on I knew that she (and I) needed to explore her life, recollecting her various liaisons and friends, her parents and her career, as well as the daughter, Lottie, in an attempt to understand how this had happened.
The meeting on the station, when Greta first encounters Roger, is a combination of moments I’ve experienced. There was the occasion when I was sitting on a station bench reading a book and a man next to me started a discussion about the author of the book I was reading. That lodged in my brain as an episode to explore. I have also heard those announcements that your train has been delayed for reasons which are couched in the terms, ‘an incident on the line’, more times than I wish to remember. The title was clear though it also stands for the other incidents in the line of her life,
I wanted to introduce different literary forms. Having made Greta a literature student, who became a crime writer, I was able to use poetry to express her frustration and grief. The short story, Lost, is again used to focus on the way in which Greta handles her bereavement. And as I’ve walked the track I describe many times, the images of a ghostly presence were as natural as if I’d seen them myself. The glove, of course, is device so well suited to loss.
It is one of the joys of writing, my acquaintance with the characters. They develop gradually, revealing themselves, not always doing what you expect. You have to allow them some choice, some scope. Gerald, although a pretty nasty and pathetic character, is one of my favourites. And Leo French, I love, as the wisest wasp who uses his sting to promote Greta, in the best possible way. For all the others I have a deep knowledge, they ‘live’ though I am unlikely to write with them again. This is when making up stories is at its finest and such fun.
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