I’d like to welcome back David Cook to talk with me about the characters in his stories. David has been interested in history since his school days, and developed a love for the Napoleonic Wars era from his father, who painted and amassed a lead model army of the Battle of Waterloo. From there David became fascinated with The American Civil War, The English Civil Wars and English medieval history, particularly the legend of Robin Hood. David is writing a novel entitled The Wolfshead, a story of Robin Hood, but based on the original medieval ballads as the source.
David, what are the common movements your characters make?
“England expects that every man will do his duty” Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson signalled from HMS Victory when the sea battle of Trafalgar was about to commence and I think it’s entirely relevant to this question. My protagonists are always beset (in some way or another) a task that they will try their best to achieve. It’s about going up against something required of them, almost a test, and it could be perceived a ‘life lesson’. Will it make them? Break them? Whatever happens at the very start of the story they will have changed by the ending.
I think of Lorn Mullone in LIBERTY OR DEATH. He is an Irishman working for the British government during the terrible Irish rebellion of 1798. His sympathies aren’t really for the Irish who want to break away and become self-governing, but the ordinary people caught up in this. Mullone is loyal to God, to King George and to Ireland. He is tasked to find a murderer when the spark of rebellion rips through the country changing it forever and what he witnesses do change him.
What are the habits of your protagonist?
I like to make them as human as possible. Perfection? In my opinion there is no such thing. I can’t stand it when you read about someone so ‘perfect’ that it’s sickening. So I start by making the protagonist someone who you would like to have a drink and chat with. It’s that simple. Give them a back story so the conversation would be interesting, but I make each one individual. Captain of Marines Simon Gamble from HEART OF OAK is someone who (said is a Richard Sharpe-esque character which I think is unfair) was designed to be a man at ease in warfare, a warrior-like soldier, which many seem odd to some people. I wanted Gamble to be ruthless, daring, steadfast and because of this, he was also suffering from it. He is disfigured from battle wounds and emotionally scarred.
Who are your five top antagonists?
#5 Pierre Helterlin, a French Dragoon Colonel from MARKSMAN. Hell-bent on eliminating Spanish partisans, he is a hero of the French Empire, decorated because of his bravery fighting Austrians and Prussians at the time when Napoleon Bonaparte was at his prime, he meets his match in Spain. War breeds horrible men and Helterlin is a result of that.
#4 Andrew Clements from BLOOD ON THE SNOW. A British officer who is devious, spiteful and corrupt. The epitome of self-serving officers of the time and I enjoyed writing Clements because he is the polar opposite of Jack Hallam, the protagonist.
#3 William Tate, an American Colonel introduced in TEMPEST. He might be the antagonist but has a devotion to his cause, an honour and that is completely recognised and understood by Lorn Mullone, the protagonist.
#2 Colonel Black from LIBERTY OR DEATH. A shadowy figure and I think if I ever remade the novella into a story I have lots of ideas to flesh him out. Black is a creature born of horror, panic, fear and bloodlust.
#1 De Marin, a French spy and nemesis to Lorn Mullone. Appears in LIBERTY OR DEATH, MARKSMAN and TEMPEST and he will ultimately be around until Mullone can stop him for good. His real name is unknown but nicknamed the Spider-King, which is vague but designed to be mysterious. He operates throughout the French Empire and will see its enemies destroyed.
What is the mood or tone your characters portrays and how does this affect the story?
The Soldier Chronicles are standalone stories set against the backdrop of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815, so the tone is already set. The protagonists are (hopefully) not as bleak as the setting.
How are your characters influenced by their setting?
By just doing what is expected of them but they all have ideas on how to achieve that.
Jack Hallam in BLOOD ON THE SNOW carries out his duties as an officer during the horrendous British retreat in the bitter winter of 1794 and apart from the death, starvation, drunkenness and dishonesty, he just wants to get home so he can see his wife. It’s all he cares about. Simple things, pleasures of the heart, but very human.
Often times the best inspiration comes within us. How do you flush out your characters to drive the plot?
I just use instances of times when I have let myself down or others, been hurt or caused pain, been lucky, wealthy and happy and put that all into the stories. Good and bad.
What are the emotional triggers of your characters and how do they act on them?
There are many and it plays on who they are. Lorn Mullone is having nightmares about his dead twin brother and it’s the manifestation of guilt. Guilt because he let him go during the War of Independence and he was killed. Lorn blames himself. Simon Gamble blames himself for a friend’s death but he could not have prevented it. They act with the job at hand but they are very different so the outcomes are different. Mullone realises that, as a Catholic, his belief has been shattered by his twin’s death and looks at the signs to renew his faith. Gamble, using his anger, just wants to annihilate every Frenchman.
Self-image is important in characters, how is this important to your characters?
It’s very important. It has to be. They have to be individual with all their little idiosyncrasies. It’s what makes them believable. They also believe in what they see as right and wrong, as we all do, even if it’s not entirely correct.
How do you/or talk about how you flesh out the moment of greatest sorrow in your characters?
It goes back to using moments of time in my own life when I have been scared, depressed and sad. I just think about how it affected me and write it. Usually I don’t write the scene until I shed a tear. It may sound corny but several death scenes in all of my works, (unpublished and published) have been re-written until I feel the tears come.
Talk about the courage and strength of your character -and possibly the isolation your character may feel with these attributes.
Mullone is the sort of man who doesn’t buckle under pressure. He shows his worth and courage by challenging other people or situations that are wrong (I wish I was more like him) with a wonderful remark. Here’s an excerpt from TEMPEST:
Mullone kicked the beast forward with a stab of his heels to its flanks and rode off down towards the impatient colonel.
Knox saw his approach but pretended that he hadn’t. ‘Major Mullone,’ he said wearily.
‘Order your men back!’ Mullone told him. ‘You are disobeying a direct order!’
‘Who is this man?’ said a voice beside the colonel.
Mullone saw that it was an officer wearing an expensively tailored coat with gold lace and buttons. His belts and epaulettes gleamed, his buckles and gorget dazzled, and yet Mullone knew this man had never fought in a battle before.
‘This is Major Bowen of the Newport Volunteers,’ Knox said.
Bowen glared at Mullone with pale, unfriendly eyes that seemed lost in a large, fleshy face. ‘Colonel Knox tells me your some sort of government man? Chasing shadows and the like. Not real soldiering is it?’
Mullone gave the major a look that would have killed. ‘Tell me what is?’
Bowen was not impressed either. ‘Be gone with you, sir. Leave the fighting to Welshmen. We don’t need foreigners to fight our battles.’
‘You needed one in the fort,’ Mullone retorted. ‘Where were you?’
Thank you, David!