As well as the experiences of our formative years and beyond, our every day social interactions have a lot to answer for when it comes to what fuels an author’s creations. Once created, however, what makes these characters credible and how can we be true to them?
It was a doctor’s recommendation that led me to the swimming pool on a strict four times a week schedule. Lymphedema, inherited from my mother, has no cure but the symptoms can be greatly relieved by plunging into the local pool and swimming while the cool water massages the ailing lymphatic circulation. I would reward myself at the end of these swimathons with a quick steam; it would make me feel cleansed and ready to start my day. However, I hadn’t expected these steam sessions to create five characters in search of a play. In fact, I was so taken by my steam room journey that I temporarily shelved the memoir I was writing in order to concentrate on a series of plays inspired by the characters I met in this two metre square steamy box.
I first met the man who I decided to name Spencer two and half years ago. I remember clearly, it was September 2009 amidst the beginning of the credit crunch months. I walked into the steam room where two men were mid flow; I could tell immediately that they didn’t know each other but had struck up a conversation thanks to Spencer’s forthright manner. He sounded like he was from Essex, my home county. In fact, his voice (not just his tone but his opinions too) felt so familiar to me that although I spoke only very briefly with him, I felt like I knew him intimately. Spencer was in the middle of a rant about the credit crunch, an airline had gone into administration while hundreds, maybe thousands, of holiday makers were stranded at their holiday destinations. I have little recollection of the exact responses of the man on the receiving end of Spencer’s rant about injustice but my imagination casts him as some one who offers polite reposts, I interpret this stranger’s calm precise manner as a shield that hides some underlying menace, he grows in my thoughts into a quietly obsessed individual who wants to control his fellow steam room inhabitees.
My imagination satisfied, the dilemma now is how can I keep these characters whole or true? I think it helps that a character is made anew out of a blend of three people or types of people we know well or have encountered. Spencer is based, in part, on the Essex boys I knew growing up, the ones who went directly to work in the city from school, making acres of cash as dealers or traders. Their materialism and their “the world owes me a living and I’m going to grab it by the balls,” approach to life was destined to burn itself out and hit crisis point in their 30’s; which is the stage Spencer is at when I encounter him in the steam room. I like to think, therefore, that I have modelled Spencer on an amalgamation of a character from my past combined with this outspoken stranger I meet in the steam room and hence a third fictional character is born who I wish to be true to. I shall endeavour to be faithful to the rich crop of characters this location has provided. I flinch, however, at the idea that they may be two dimensional. If they are stereotypes then perhaps that’s a reflection of an upbringing inhabited by larger than life characters!