Emma Harrison, a character in an upcoming short story, speaks to the the author about who she is, her likes and dislikes, and how it feels to be written in to existence by a man.
The Author (A): Thanks for joining me Emma. I wanted to take the opportunity to get to know you better before writing you in to a story and, maybe, even try to find out from you how the story might go.
Emma Harrison (E): Is it not a bit embarrassing for an author not to know how a story’s going to go?
A: Not really. I don’t think anyone carries a story around – fully formed – in their heads, it always has to be worked out as it is written. I think characters, like you, act as a kind of catalyst when thrown in to a situation; an author has to anticipate how they are going to respond.
E: Really – you’ve got that all figured out have you? And do you – a male author – think you can get inside the head of a woman? I’d be interested to know how you think you can do that.
A: Well, that’s a tough question. I don’t presume that I can imagine how it feels to be a woman exactly, or any other person in fact, but I also don’t think that’s an issue. When I’m writing for myself – or creating male characters – I don’t have any essential ‘maleness’ I can draw on. We’re all in a habit of constructing who we are, playing at being; I can only try things out with male or female characters to see what happens. If there is ever a difference between what the male characters can say compared to the female ones then I want to analyse that some-way through the development of the story.
E: I know that you still feel anxious about that question. You’re quickly flicking through your mind to work out what you could read to get a handle on the subject, Luce Irigaray maybe? Why not Germaine Greer? Do you really think it’s a subject you can master so that you can have ‘proper’ relationships with your female characters? And what then, am I going to serve some kind of political agenda for you so you can appear more fucking liberal?
A: Calm down Emma, I think you’re twisting the conversation here when it’s not necessary. I’m familiar with female characters in literature, their roles in various narratives, and I obviously have relationships with women in real life. I have an awareness of gender issues and I also know there’s no formula or quick fix – it’s more of a long term relationship. BUT, I think we’re going off track here. This is supposed to be me asking you questions to get to know you, not you grilling me over the potential feminist issues with a man writing a female character. Do you expect me to write a story with only male characters, or maybe even about a world only populated by me because apparently I’m all I can write about?
E: Being John Malkovich and Multiplicity were pretty good, why not try that? Or you could write music videos for Aphex Twin.
A: Very funny. Right, I think we need a few ground rules here, author to character.
E: Oh god, here we go.
A: You shouldn’t talk as if you have access to my thoughts, and I’ll respect you in the same way.
E: Boring. I’ve got another question for you, a harder one. I feel that I speak very much like you – at the moment. You’ve not made much effort to change my diction in any way from your own. Linguistically I’m very similar to you. There is probably an expert out there – the guy or girl who spotted that Robert Galbraith was actually J K Rowling – who wouldn’t have any difficulty seeing me as you. Does that reflect the fact that you’re a bad writer?
A: At the moment I want to keep you ‘open’, I want to give you a fullness. I’m not looking to overly characterise you because I want you to be multifaceted. But, I do think I am changing when I write as you, in fact I’m practising now. It’s like practising at role playing. I think the diction will slowly follow as I get to know you.
E: You’re like a cross-dresser?
A: I don’t mind that suggestion.
E: You’re like a post-op transsexual?
A: Well, my physical body or biological make-up are somewhat distant from the text (although differences might bring about different routines, rhythms and circumstances, in which writing might come in to being differently, I still think you learn to communicate using a tool, language, that is more abstract than that. Your physical body isn’t directly written in to a text, I don’t have to physically metamorphose in order to be different in writing). But I think I’m probably being a bit serious here and that’s your fault – you’ve made me a bit defensive. And I think you’re being deliberately provocative.
E: Now you’re cheating, breaking your own rules.
A: I’m not. It was an observation based on what you have said.
E: You’re kidding yourself. You can’t be that certain – maybe I’m not being deliberately provocative, it’s just the way I am. You said you wanted to get to know me, so don’t make assumptions.
A: Okay, let’s start over. What kind of things are you interested in Emma?
E: Well. I like being right. That sounds really arrogant I know, but it’s not so much about me thinking I know it all, I just like to feel a certain control over situations by knowing how to see them objectively. I guess I like a certain emotional distance on some things and so I turn to language and science.
A: Did you study science?
E: Yes I did, but I didn’t actually finish my degree [in chemistry]. I guess that what I wanted from the subject, which really amounted to personal control and conflict resolution, didn’t match so well with the objectives of the course. I got in to a lot of arguments with the tutor and one thing led to another.
A: Why did you argue with your tutor?
E: Because she was a fucking bitch. Nah, that’s not true, that’s just me being ‘frank’ which maybe I am sometimes in a defensive way. In truth, she was a kindly and intelligent person. Maybe I just couldn’t stick her because I didn’t feel as smart; I was having a bad time making friends; I was home sick at that time and my dad was ill and I just got wound up by the whole experience.
A: Would you say you’re a fragile person?
E: Would a fragile person be sitting here wondering how fast they could beat you to death with your own laptop while providing frank and brutal literary advice?
A: Er, what else do you like doing?
E: I like listening to the Flamming Lips – especially Soft Bulletin.
A: I like them too.
E: What a fucking suprise it’s like you are me isn’t it? Well I used to like Placebo and I now like Slant 6, The Raincoats and The Only Ones.
A: I don’t know them very well at all.
E: See my face, this is called a sideways glance. Are you going to have to research them now?
A: I guess that depends how much of a part in the story they have. I’m supposed to be asking the questions though, remember?
E: Why can’t we both ask questions, can’t an author and character have a kind of reciprocal relationship?
A: It poses interesting philosophical questions. Okay Emma, what do you want to know?
E: What are your intentions for me? Are you gonna write this story and then just ditch me afterwards like a used condom [A: Do you have to [speak like that]?] or am I going to appear in more stories?
A: I haven’t thought that far.
E: OH, so I’m basically at your whim, like a some kind of novelty T-Shirt?
A: What does the phrase, “You’re just a character”, mean to you?
E: It’s fucking hurtful and not true.
E: You know I’m more than that, in your imagination and in a reader’s imagination. There’s always feeling and resonance when you read, I’m alive in some respects.
A: In that respect, if you only appear in one story, you’ll still live on in people’s memories or when someone re-reads it.
E: And what if I want to appear in other stories. Maybe I don’t want to be in a ‘subtle sci-fi’ story whatever the fuck that is. Maybe I want to be in a Rom-Com or something?
A: No you don’t.
E: Might do.
A: I thought you were critical, edgy – you like Raincoats for god’s sake.
E: (The Raincoats actually) Maybe you could write a Rom-Com where there’s a scene where I rape Hugh Grant (no enjoyment whatsoever), cut off his head and then spend the story pretending I’m him and seducing shallow, but achingly hot, mindless, automaton chicks?
A: I think that might transgress some of the parameters of the Rom-Com Genre. It’d be more of a kind of Russian-Surrealist-Beat-Postmodern mash up. (It could be good.)
E: Do you like me?
A: Wearing a flapping skin mask and talking in a strained English accent?
E: (Flapping skin face, you see you’ve half written it already) No, do you like me? Do you fancy me?
A: I find that an odd question that kind of manipulates me and you at the same time.
E: I thought you liked odd questions.
A: You’re cheating again… taking my thoughts. I want you to be a likeable character and I guess in some way I’ve got to find you attractive for it to work. I want readers to be on your side. I’d intended the narrative voice of the story to be partial, absorbing your acerbic and devious traits. In fact that’s why you ‘came out’ as a female character. In the context of a story where I was writing about a wedding, I wanted to get a distance on the groom’s table, to find someone with an outside critical voice, so I posited you as the estranged friend of the bride, maybe a bit of a feisty loner [See the initial ideas by clicking here].
E: Do you really think I want to know how I ‘came out’. Gross!
A: What? It’s a pretty clean process really, not like a real birth with meconium, placentas, blood and possibly the faeces of the mother.
A: And you’ll always be coming out, I have to write you to get to know you.
E: And what about you, isn’t this conversation just as much about ‘the author’ being written into existence huh? I love Sci-fi, clones and all, and I think you’re just as made up as I might be.
A: I’d not looked at it that way, but you may be right.
E: And with that in mind I want you to think carefully about that awful ‘only a character’ question!
A: Sorry, can I make it up to you?
E: Yes. Do your best – even though that might not be very good – to make me exuberant, critical and funny. And… let me choose a title for this conversation.
A: Ok, I’ll try. What do you want to call this conversation?
E: Call it, “The Wonderful Emma Harrison and an anonymous man”.