Now I’ve got myself a job I enjoy, I’m able to not only think about writing again, but can get back to talking candidly about the processes behind my writing.
When a character is born, just like any human in this physical world, they need to have a name. Some names come naturally, but others have taken time to reveal themselves to me. I’m going to tell you about a few of my characters who were either named after or dedicated to, people in the real world.
Almost twenty years ago, my father was training to be a lay reader in the church. He had, at the time, already survived two heart attacks, and a triple heart bypass. My mum, (a nurse – who had saved his life on previous occasions -) and my brother and I knew we were lucky to still have him around. I was away at university at the time, doing fine art (and writing a very scruffy prototype for Unbound Boxes) Well, my father was an academic, an artist, an engineer, he could build anything from telescopes to garages, and despite his bad health, he really did take every opportunity to throw himself into life. He was the type of man who would go on a holiday to Turkey, and end up meeting someone who knew him.
To be quite honest, I was in awe of him, and getting back to the point, his latest project involved training at a convent to become a lay reader.
I spent my 21st birthday at university, writing and painting, blissfully unaware that two days later, I’d receive a knock at the door, (mobiles were like breeze blocks back then, and my land lord didn’t allow incoming phone calls) so I answered the door, and unceremoniously my friend, (who my mum had managed to contact) said “Cheryl, your dad’s dead,” so one very surreal journey later, I arrived back home and my mum told me that he had another heart attack, barn dancing at a convent. In retrospect it was a very good way to go, but back then, it didn’t seem so great. Anyway, the nuns at the convent invited my mum, my brother and I to visit, as they were very upset about what had happened too, and wanted to offer us some support. So we drove up to the convent where he had died. (Yes my dad died, barn dancing at a convent) anyway, one of the nuns, was a very kind lady called sister Ancille. She showed us around the gardens, made us coffee, and told us we were welcome to visit them any time. She took us to the hall, where dad had died, and let us have our own time. I suppose, that sort of kindness has a lasting effect and so I decided to name Alexand’s daughter, after sister Ancille. Ancille means God’s handmaiden. If you knew a little about the story of Ancille in Unbound Boxes, you’d realise that this is a woman who offers hope in very bleak times, to Alexand, after she almost loses the will to live.
Moving swiftly on, to another character named after a real human being, Jarad Vijay, (Ancille’s father and Alexand’s husband.) I’m not sure whether this is before or after my dad died, because that time was very surreal and I’ve blocked a lot of it out, but I was in Cardiff, on a night out with some friends. We stopped to get some chips, and there was a homeless man sitting outside of Macdonalds. I got talking with him, and it turns out he was an ex gurkha, who had been made redundent from the army due to mental health issues. I remember thinking how disgusting it was that someone who had served in the British army was now sitting on the streets with a hat full of coins. He told me he had a son and a wife, but he didn’t know where they were. He had a scar across his face, which looked like it had been made by a knife. But we sat and talked, and he asked me if I could guard his coins whilst he went to the back of Macdonalds. Apparently the staff at Macdonalds knew him and used to give him the left overs, that time of night. So true to my word, I stood and guarded his money, my friends hanging around patiently for me. A few minutes later, Vijay walked back with a Big Mac in his hand, and thanked me for looking after his money. I had sneaked a few coins from my pocket in there, possibly to relieve my own guilt, and he began to eat his burger, grinning at me as we parted company. I made a promise silently that I would name a character after him. It was the least this ridiculous, privileged, white girl could do under the circumstances. I’ve never forgotten Vijay, or the guilt I felt, at not being able to do anything for him. I still wonder about what happened to him, and hope that somehow he was able to build his life back up, and that he found his family. I’ll never know, but I’ll always remember him through his namesake, Jarad Vijay.
Salma Hayek as Frida Khalo
Other characters are named after people I haven’t met, but admire. One of my favourite actors, Salma Hayek, is the inspiration for Heyem Merek’s name. I changed it a lot, but I like the sound, it rolls around so easily, and to be perfectly honest, Frida Khalo is one of Heyem’s heroes. Apparently Salma Hayek spent a long time trying to get that film made, and I have a lot of respect for her work. Heyem, in the Unbound Boxes world, means “Home,” whereas (her identical twin sister) Alexand’s name means “the People’s defender,” Alexand’s middle name is Heyem and Heyem’s middle name is Alexand. Heyem became a lecturer, in women’s herstory, in Hong Kong University, before the Amanojuko took power and banished the humanities. Occasionally, a few historical figures appear in the stories. Women such as the pirate queen of Rockfleet Castle, Grace O’Malley, Boudicca, and Queen Elizabeth the 1st, but that’s skipping too far ahead…
The Balsara family, which consists of Eldenath, Giselle, Bernadette and Yemi, were all named after Freddie Mercury, whose real name was, Farrokh Bulsara. I think I’ve mentioned before about how adorable my mum is, and how she is the kind of person who brings happiness with her, wherever she goes. She loves to sing, and when I was growing up, one of her favourite renditions was the complete works of Queen. I had a very happy childhood, and can remember my mum dancing and singing “I want to break free,” at the top of her lungs, as she cooked us dinner. Or she would occasionally sing to her cat, “All we need is Radio Ga Ga!” whilst clicking her fingers and dancing. Alexand Merek isn’t named after my mum, whose name is Barbara, but she certainly has a lot in common with her, personality wise. Anyway, getting back to the point again, Freddie Mercury reminds me of my mum, and a very happy childhood, and so I honoured him, (and mum) by lending Eldenath and her family his name.
Alexand’s brother, Farokh is also named after Freddie Mercury, in honour of my mum. Farokh is eight years younger than Alexand and Heyem, and he’s quite an immature and wayward boy. He’s nothing like my own brother, (my brother is a lot like our dad.) I named Alexand’s father, Eric, after my dad, as there’s nothing like fiction to keep someone alive. In a way, when you’re writing for multiple characters, parts of the real world merge together with what you’re creating, so that eventually you can’t tell the difference between who is real and who isn’t. To be honest, I’ve had far too many people die in my life, and I will admit that writing is a very easy remedy to bereavement. When I name a character, I am naming a real person. I’ve even done the reverse and named my own son, Sam, after Alexand’s son, Sam (although my ex swears he’s named after his dog). For me, Unbound Boxes Limping Gods is a part of life, it’s where I go to escape. I am a conduit, nothing more than that, but if I can throw a name into the mix, then that person is essentially immortal. I don’t like death, in fact I’ll do anything to avoid it. I’ve named characters after my friends, my best friend, Rachel has a place in my book, Alexand’s best friend (or one of them) is called Rachel. Anyway, I feel I’ve written enough. I’ve shared too much, and I’m going to stop. My ex told me once, that everything ends. Not if you capture that person, and put them inside a story. You can make them live forever.