Friday, 7 October 2016

How to make a Hero - Part 1

How do you create a leading character - and in particular a wartime hero from a time long gone?

That was one of the challenges I faced in my forthcoming novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, due out early 2017.
There were several specific requirements. My hero needed to serve on particular warships that took part in the Second World War AND happened to pass through the British naval base of Simon's Town, South Africa, during the conflict. Some serious research was required plus a large dose of inspiration.

I started - not with my hero - but with the navy in which he was to serve. As I combed through records of Royal Navy ships that had called at Simon's Town for repair or refuelling between 1939 and 1945, I built up a list of suitable candidates. Then I matched them with battles or encounters that were pivotal to the war, especially in the Atlantic. Soon my hero had a sequence of ships in which he might serve, and a series of battles in which he might be involved. I chose Gunnery as his speciality so that he could participate most closely in the battles I'd chosen. So... I knew where my man would be at any time during the war and, in particular, I knew when he'd be in Simon's Town.

That was all very well, but now I had to find a way to link the individual to the action. In order to make him believable on a professional level, I'd have to design a career trajectory that would allow him to start as a midshipman and then move up to being a Lieutenant during the war years and to be in a position to serve with honour on the vessels I'd earmarked.

How do you manufacture a young man, bring him up to be in love with the sea, send him to Dartmouth and then engineer his career and his life to ensure he's in the right place at the right time?

Clearly, a further line of research was needed.
More next time!

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