Andrew looked at the faces of the crowd before him. Everyone was a mixture of misery and defeat. Hardly surprising as he had just announced that the Horticultural Investigation Agency, the vegetable research centre where they all worked, was to close.
Phil: Last week, Candice explained how much of our book is a mix, albeit an exaggerated one, of experiences we have had working in various places. The same applies to the characters who will bear some relation to real people. Not partially close relationship most of the time (I should say that for legal reasons this applies especially to the bad ones), but creating a person out of thin area is impossible. You are bound to use elements of real people.
Andrew Livingstone is a good example. In the story he is head of the Horticulture Investigation Agency and as it opens, he is charged with telling everyone the government is going to close them down.
The scene is inspired by being stood in the crowd watching someone explain how our quango was to be closed down. The man doing the talking wasn’t the man we saw. It was Mr Kelly. Sort of.
Back in the dim and distant past, in an era before the Interweb was invented, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I was the lowest of the low – you spoke to me about having your cows tested for TB or Brucellosis. Eventually, after a combination of hard work and being in the right place at the right time, I was the man you spoke to if your cow was a bit wobbly and you thought it might have BSE. I was truly a friend to the sons of the soil. (I didn’t just do cows, if you found a bat you called me as well but I just rang one of my contacts to get it taken away.)
Mr Kelly was the Divisional Veterinary Officer for our little office. He was a really lovely bloke. The sort of person you want to do your best for because he would appreciate it rather than because he would yell at you if you didn’t. Never obviously ambitious, he had ascended to the lofty heights of being in charge of our little office after a career in honest government service. With only a couple of years to go to retirement he had seen it all and spoken to most it too. If we had a difficult customer, he would deal with them and calm the situation. We didn’t need this skill very often but you never knew when it might be handy – an earlier occupant of the post had managed to leave a circus with a broken nose after getting off on the wrong foot. I suspect Mr Kelly would have sorted things out and probably been offered free tickets.
In my head, when I wrote Andrews parts, I pictured Mr Kelly. He would have been very upset to have to deliver the news and yet everyone would have felt for him even as he was telling them they were heading for the scrap-heap. It wasn’t his fault.
A character who is completely nice doesn’t make for interesting reading, so Andrew is also wily when required, just like his real life counterpart. He isn’t taking things lying down and has in a mind a way to fight back. As the plot progresses, his plan is revealed – although I won’t tell you if it is succesful, you’ll have to wait until we get published for that ! (Why not write to you MP demanding this ?). He also has to deal with a bit of transgression by the staff and instead of getting upset, takes the situation and uses it to his best advantage.
This last part caused a bit of discussion between us. Without giving too much away, something is found that shouldn’t be there. Candice assumed Andrew would have known about it and thus would be unhappy about its discovery. I knew that Mr Kelly would have been surprised and disappointed about it but since he wasn’t a control freak he would just put it down to young people doing what they do. However he would then have turned a potential disaster into a triumph. This would have been done very calmly and pragmatically.
So that is what happened.
What’s this got to do with the fish picture ? Well, as I say, it was a long time ago. Required to wear a tie in the office, I developed a taste for more unusual decoration. Mr Kelly saw this the first time I wore it and quietly asked that I brought it out again on his last day when we were due to have a retirement party. I wasn’t sure about this but did as requested. During his speech he ran through everyone in the office making some polite and complimentary comments about them. Getting to me he mentioned my lurid neckwear and something along the lines “…and judging from his latest tie, he appears to be joining the Fisheries division.”