Thursday, February 17, 2011

Character assassination

About a year ago, I posted a couple of interviews with assassin, Shayla Carver. In reading through critiques of my early chapters I realised I needed to get more firmly into the head of her antagonist, Imperial Chief of Security, Chalwen ap Gwynodd.

So, before revising the chapter where Chalwen first appears, I decided to interview her to find out what she was really thinking at that time. The interview follows. It's pretty rough, but it's done its job. For the first time, I'm actually excited about tackling a piece of rewriting because this interview tool has helped me envisage how to portray her.

Whether I can get that down into coherent words, of course, is another matter entirely...

Spoiler alert (in case anyone from CC critiquing early chapters reads this): Chalwen is not who she first appears to be. This interview mentions things that only come out later in the story. It kinda gives away something of Chalwen's position, which I try to keep the reader guessing about.

Language advisory: one or two naughty words.

Chalwen ap Gwynodd - on being in the hot seat

Imperial Chief of Security, Chalwen ap Gwynodd, sits at her desk, facing me. Her aide had ushered me in but did not offer me a seat. Chalwen's eyes lift up from the dazzling stream of information flowing across the top of her desk. I realise that I now have her full attention, which is not a comfortable feeling. I feel like a moth caught in a spotlight, and I sense her impatience...

When you first heard about Chantry Bay, what went through your mind?

Momentary disbelief. [She presses her lips together and her face reddens] That didn't last long though. I've grown too accustomed to atrocities in this job to waste time with pointless incredulity.

Then I was fucking furious. I saw red.

Just as well the attendant who woke me with the news had my uniform ready to hand to me...

[Her fists clench, and I wonder if I dare prompt her to continue]

But then...have you ever had that feeling, somewhere in the back of your mind, that you've fucked up big time? But you can't put your finger on it.

It's just some grey dread growing inside you, because something's not quite right.

No, but I think I know what you mean.

Humph. Well. A ship down on home turf, that's bad enough. But I just had a feeling there'd be more to it. Something told me I wouldn't be able to just punish the perpetrators and get on with my life. Not this time.

What were you afraid of?

[She glances down at her desk. Her fingers twist together] What I've always been afraid of since I took on this fucking job. Screwing up. Letting something slip through the net. Something that'll destroy us all.

It sounds like you don't enjoy this job. Why do you keep doing it?

Julian appointed me because he trusted me. I can't let him down.

But why you?

I worked with his father, Paul, to root out the rot in the Empire. Part of a covert movement to fight an army of forces with vested interests in the old ways. Change and reform was something which Julian believed in, too. He needed someone he could trust in this position.

[She shakes her head, corners of her mouth turn up slightly] It was a smart move. I couldn't deny it. I was nobody, so nobody had cause to fear me or wish me dead.

No more than usual, anyway.

Julian could have picked a supporter from the ranks of the security service, but all those factions out there, all those shadowy figures, would have torn down anyone stronger. Me? I was an unknown. Someone they saw as weak and malleable. Someone they could turn and use.

So they thought.

I think most people would agree that you've been a very successful Chief of Security.

But I feel like I've been a fraud all these years. What did I know about security? I had many enemies within the service, jealous, ambitious people. All those eyes on me, waiting for me to fail. I kept ahead, only just, at times. But all the time my fear was that my enemies, our enemies, would prove them right.

So...I had this premonition that this was no simple act of sabotage. This was it. The small beginning that would turn out to be my downfall.

That scared me shitless.

I have trouble picturing you as someone who could be scared of anything.

[She looks down at her desk. Her voice is so quiet I have trouble hearing her]

Believe it.


  1. I absolutely love her response to the last question! So simple but it conveys so much.

  2. Wonderful. Great job, Ian! I really enjoyed the interview, and am glad to "hear" Chalwen's voice.

    I've never tried one of these exercises with any of my characters. It's a good idea, and maybe I should start.

    Thanks for the read!

  3. This was very cool. Great way to get to know your character. I must try this!

  4. Melissa, I thought that spoke volumes too! That's the beauty of this technique.

    David & Jennifer, yes, it's a great exercise, and it has helped me out before. I'm glad I remembered about it.

  5. Great interview! Now harness all that character and cram it into the story. :D


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