Being the first in what will probably be yet another short-lived series, in which yours truly reclines on a hammock by the pool with a jeroboam of Elf-Wonking Juice™ and lets a proper writer talk about the origins of his or her characters and stories. First up: Ava McCarthy (right), author of THE COURIER. To wit:
“Harry Martinez has been with me a long time. Actually, that’s not true - I only created her in 2004. But it feels like she’s always been here. The seeds of her character first sprouted while I researched an earlier novel. One of my characters was a small-time hacker (don’t ask me why), and the more I researched hacking, the more fascinated I became. I loved the whole idea of someone intruding on a system, creeping around like a burglar, covering their tracks, peeking at sensitive data. The concept fairly rippled with tension and danger, and suddenly, Harry Martinez sprang to life. I could picture exactly how she would be: an ace hacker; a forensics whiz; resourceful, independent, enduringly curious, and with just a touch of larceny in her soul. I can still remember the goose bumps I’d felt at my discovery: I’d created my own techno private eye.
“People often ask me why I chose the boyish name Harry, and for a long time, I didn’t have an answer. Instinctively, I knew the name was right, but I couldn’t for the life of me explain why. One publisher even rejected THE INSIDER, the first book in the series, on the basis that he “couldn’t be doing with a girl called Harry.” I cursed him roundly, but I didn’t change her name. Obviously, on one level I wanted to convey tomboy characteristics: Harry is gutsy, resourceful, unsentimental and feisty. But why I felt a woman couldn’t exhibit these qualities while going by the name of Susan, I couldn’t quite rationalise. Until recently, that is, when someone mentioned that her daughter loved the girl called George from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. The rush of insight was like a cartoon light bulb in my head. I’d grown up on Enid Blyton; I’d admired George enormously. She was fiery and obstinate, loyal and brave. Her real name was Georgina, but she never answered to anything except George. Was she the first childhood role model for Harry? The subconscious weaves its fabric in unexpected patterns. Maybe I’m right after all, and Harry has been with me a long time.
“The Harry Martinez books start from tiny ideas, random notions that happen to make me curious. Back in the day, I used to be a physicist, so I like to know how stuff works. THE INSIDER, for instance, began with a curiosity about insider trading. I researched the mechanics of it and by the time I’d understood the characters inhabiting that world, I knew I wanted to write a story around them. The second book in the series grew from a curiosity about diamonds. I looked under the hood, digging deep below surface clichés, and learned about the world of underground mines, expert diamond cutters and international diamantaires. And out of that world evolved the story of THE COURIER. For the third book, I’m sniffing around several trails, including scam artists and the Basques of northern Spain. Who knows where that will lead …
“But that’s just the hammer and chisel side of things. Otherwise known as The Plot. While my conscious self hews out great chunks of action, my subconscious just keeps on weaving. Knit one, purl one. And as the story plaits together, a pattern of emotional nuances will emerge almost in spite of me, until finally it dawns on me what I’m really writing about. With THE INSIDER, for instance, I came to understand that apart from insider trading, I was writing about the relationship between an estranged father and daughter. In THE COURIER, my subconscious turned to the complexities of mothers and daughters, and the struggle for self-belief. In the third book in the series, I have recently realised that, apart from scam artists and the Basques of northern Spain, I’m exploring the whole notion of family and identity.
“So while Harry came to life for me in a single, goose-bump moment, the inkling for a story doesn’t arrive all at once, and sometimes the hammer and chisel can even bend it out of shape along the way. But if I manage to hold onto the emotional vision by the end while staying true to Harry’s character, then I consider that a success.” - Ava McCarthy
THE COURIER is published by Harper.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.