Once again I’m judging a book by its cover and adding to my enormous TBR! As I love the look and sound of The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe I just had to invite Annabelle onto Linda’s Book Bag and luckily she agreed to write a guest post all about the writing process and how authors inadvertently reveal themselves through their words.
The People We Were Before
Yugoslavia, summer 1979. A new village. A new life. But eight-year-old Miro knows the real reason why his family moved from the inland city of Knin to the sunkissed village of Ljeta on the Dalmatian Coast, a tragedy he tries desperately to forget.
The Ljeta years are happy ones, though, and when he marries his childhood sweetheart, and they have a baby daughter, life seems pretty much perfect. But storm clouds are gathering above Yugoslavia, and when war breaks out one split-second decision destroys the life Miro has managed to build. Driven by anger and grief, he flees to Dubrovnik, plunging himself into the hard-bitten world of international war reporters.
There begins a journey that will take him ever deeper into danger: from Dubrovnik, to Sarajevo, to the worst atrocities of war-torn Bosnia. Slowly, Miro realises that even if he survives, there can be no way back to his earlier life. The war will change him, and everyone he loves, forever.
The Unintentional Reveal
Sounds like a twist in an Agatha Christie plot doesn’t it? The moment when a character gives something away, a glimpse into the inner workings of their mind, that either counts them in or out as the murderer. But unintentional reveals happen all the time in fiction; moments when the author surfaces momentarily, in a character’s opinion or way of behaviour. Sometimes this is done deliberately; some authors base a character on some facets of their own personality, or recreate their own experiences and life lessons in their books.
What’s more common – and what definitely happened to me whilst writing The People We Were Before – is how facets of yourself appear in the book without you even noticing. You’d be forgiven for thinking that with a novel written in the first-person, where the narrator is a young Croatian boy (who becomes a married Croatian man) there’d be little opportunity for unintentional reveals of any kind. That was something I liked; an ability to remain anonymous, hidden behind my character, my own voice never really heard.
But gradually, each time I read the book back, I realised it was filled with unintentional reveals; episodes from my own life, re-cast and re-written, often dredged from my subconscious and only recognisable to me once I saw them on the page. At the beginning of the book Miro, my narrator, and his family move hundreds of miles from the town where he grew up, to a village on the coast, very much against his Mother’s wishes. It was only when I re-read those early chapters, read Miro’s perceptions of his mother’s dismay at having to move, that I remembered moving house at a similar age, and my own Mum’s unhappiness at an unwanted move. When Miro – wide-eyed with excitement – attends his older sister’s wedding, he is exactly the age I was when my first sister got married. Recently, flicking through the book again, I recognised Miro’s need to explore beyond the comfortable world in which he grew up, as a mirror of my own.
Writing a novel can equally show you things about yourself that you’d never realised before. As a journalist myself, albeit of the soft, travel-writing kind, I’d never really considered war reporting as something relevant to me. But as the world of hardened war correspondents became increasingly central to the book, it became clear to me that I admired them, that it was a world that I felt drawn towards, could imagine being part of. In reality of course, I’m not brave enough (and too squeamish, sadly) to put myself in that sort of peril on a daily basis, but still – it was a revelation to me how much the job appealed.
In my second novel, Night Falls on the Kasbah, which I’m currently writing, my central character – Freya – is a woman, and I’ve been constantly aware of whether I am putting too much of myself in her, whether her anxieties, fears, joys and opinions coincide too closely with mine. But the other day, reading a chapter from The People We Were Before where Miro and his two friends, Josip and Pavle, had exactly the kind of mickey-taking conversation I have with my closest friends – I realised there was really no point in worrying. We are the novels we write, the characters we draw, the situations we put them into. Intentionally or not, as authors, we are constantly revealing different facets of our characters – both to our readers and to ourselves. And I’ve come to realise that that’s a good thing rather than bad; another part of what makes being a writer such an endlessly fascinating job.
About Annabelle Thorpe
I’ve been a travel and features journalist for almost twenty years, writing mostly for the Times, Sunday Times Travel Mag, Express and Guardian. Ironically, I turned to journalism as a way to make some money while I wrote my first novel – this was in the mid 1990’s! Getting published was an incredibly long, slow process – The People We Were Before has been in the works for about ten years!
I split my time between London and Sussex, where I grew up, and am currently working on my second novel, Night Falls on the Kasbah, which is set in Marrakech and Doha, and should be published in May 2017.