Creating a Disabled Character

Since Baptism was published in July 2012, I have been asked a number of times what drew me to creating a disabled character as the protagonist in what is intended to be a series of crime novels. This is a subject that I intend to explore in greater detail in the PhD that I am writing which is entitled “Writing the Thriller Sequel”. In the meantime, however, here are some thoughts about my motivations for creating a character with a specific disability. 

In 2005/6 when I first conceived of the idea of creating a series of crime novels focused on a hostage negotiator, the central character was very different from the one who appears in Baptism and its sequel, Sacrifice. In the first couple of drafts of Baptism, Ed Mallory was a hard-drinking police hostage negotiator and archetypal maverick. This version of the character appeared in 2009 in a Dutch version of Baptism entitled Claustrofobia. However, editors at British publishers were not so keen on this character, finding him to be a little derivative and even stereotypical. At around this time, I moved literary agencies and my new agent suggested that I revisit the manuscript and along with addressing various structural issues, look closely at the character of Ed Mallory. 

One of the most important skills that a hostage negotiator can have is that of “active listening”. This is the ability to establish the character and motivations of a hostage-taker – or “subject” according to the relevant terminology – and in so doing, establish a rapport and understanding from which a satisfactory resolution to a crisis can be found. It was on this aspect of Ed Mallory’s work that I started to focus. Was there something about him that might make his senses and abilities in this area more heightened and effective? What if he was blind? As soon as I asked myself this question, I felt daunted by the possibilities that it presented. So much of the story of Baptism was written from Ed’s point of view that it would mean a huge rewrite and an entire recreation of his character. But I also realised that it was something that I had to at least explore. The more I did so, the more Ed’s character changed. Rather than a hard drinking ageing Lothario, he became a solitary man with deep physical and mental scars, a man who couldn’t come to terms with his disability but knew that because of it, his abilities as a hostage negotiator were greatly enhanced. 

Writing from the point of view of a blind character presented a number of unique challenges, some of which I am still coming to terms with as I adapt Baptism for the screen. So much of what a writer describes when writing from a specific character’s point of view is visual. Not so with a blind character of course. Touch, taste and smell become all important. As I reconfigured Ed’s sensory experience, I realised that he was becoming a much more complex and hopefully satisfying character. Publishers certainly felt so and once the rewritten manuscript was submitted for publication, I was offered a two book deal with Quercus. Baptism was published in July 2012 and its sequel, Sacrifice, will be published in July 2013.  

I cannot claim that I created a disabled character for my stories for any other reason than I wanted to create the most interesting and effective protagonist that I could. A blind hostage negotiator with a reluctance to come to terms with his disability provides a complexity of character which I can explore throughout a number of novels. I hope none of this is seen as exploitative; I’m motivated purely by a desire to create the most compelling character and story as possible. Writing from the point of view of a blind person has been a fascinating and challenging process and one which I hope to repeat in further books that will follow on from Baptism and Sacrifice.   

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