On Saturday, I kicked off my mini-series on the inspirations for my characters with a look at the ideas that came together to create Augustine Piso. Today, I’m focussing on George Stewart, who judging from comments in review, is almost certainly the most popular character in the Cavaliers. The powerful, womanising part love interest, part borderline villain is certainly the character I most enjoy writing.
As I explained in the previous instalment, this will be of most obvious interest to fans of The Cavaliers, but I’d like to think that it would also appeal to writers and anyone interested in how characters are developed.
Lord George Stewart
Age: Born in 1618. Turned in 1642, aged 24.
Place of birth: Aubigny, France.
Offspring: As a Senior Officer of the Cavaliers, he’s created huge numbers of vampires over the centuries, though (at the start of the series, at least) he’s never turned anyone on a one on one basis.
Current Role: Student of Classics at Christ Church, Oxford. Senior Officer of the Cavaliers.
Special powers and talents: Generally regarded as having the strongest mind control talent of all the Cavaliers, and is able to use it in different ways to most vampires, such as controlling mobile phone signals.
Shortly after I’d published Oxford Blood, I met up with a university friend and fellow former history student who I hadn’t seen in a while, and inevitably, I dropped the existence of my book into the conversation.
“Let me guess,” he said. “I bet you called the main male character George.”
And grudgingly, I had to admit that while there was some room for argument over who exactly the “main” male character was, the series did indeed have a fairly high profile George.
The reason he guessed went back to the time when I’d been writing my thesis. I’ve vaguely mentioned this before on this blog, but in essence, my thesis was on women’s influence in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century politics. Harriet writes a seventeenth-century version of it in Ivory Terrors. It focussed specifically on a gentry woman called Jane Osbaldeston, who, following the death of her husband while her son is a young child, single-handedly controls the political environment in her area and the surrounding towns. Jane is awesome. A total feminist heroine who tends to be something of a footnote in most texts dealing with the period, even those focussed on female history. My next writing project may well be a fictionalised and romanticised version of her life.
The trouble was, there were two main primary sources for researching good old Jane. One was letters between her and the local aristocrat, Earl Fitzwilliam, which I tracked down in the Sheffield archives and painstakingly transcribed. The other was her son’s autobiography, which is extremely rare, but which I found in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In many ways, the book was an excellent source of information on Jane. The trouble was, it was a better source of information on her charming cad of a son. Enter George Osbaldeston into my research. Exit any claims to any one taking my thesis at all seriously. Okay, that’s not entirely true. The thesis itself remained perfectly serious and sensible and my tutor loved it. It was just that whenever anyone asked me about it, I tended to talk about George in an adoring tone rather than Jane in a scholarly one, which led to a certain degree of good-natured mockery from my fellow students.
A few days before the thesis had to be submitted, I was fairly seriously stressed, as tends to be the case in these situations. Now, the friend who I mentioned in the opening paragraph and I had a rather strange standing joke. Basically, we’d buy each other old second hand Mill and Boon books (I think the American equivalent is Harlequin) and compete to see who could find the ones with the silliest title – I think “The Viking’s Defiant Bride” was pretty much the winner. And so, to cheer me up, he wrote me a little Mills and Boon-style story featuring George Osbaldeston. I don’t think I’ve ever been so amused by anything in my life, and it reinvigorated me just enough to get the thesis safely submitted.
So in short, George was originally named for the guy from my thesis, and in his charming but womanising ways, they share certain personality traits. Unfortunately, George Osbaldeston was born in 1786, whereas my character absolutely needed to have been young during the Civil War, which began in 1642.
When I was just beginning to plot Oxford Blood, I went for a wander through the National Gallery, and I spotted this painting of two young Cavaliers, just before the war began. I thought it was a beautiful painting, and that despite the way historical figures often don’t look attractive to modern eyes, the men seemed very attractive. There was also an astonishing pathos about the painting. Here are two very young, very rich brothers, showing off in their finery, looking absolutely happy with their lot in life. According to the description of the painting, within five years, both of them would have died in the war.
And I just thought that one of them (the one on the right, in blue)looked just like i wanted my key civil war vampire to look. The only problem was that his name was apparently Bernard, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to have a romantic anti-hero with such a stupid name. And besides, I’d already pretty much settled on George.
So I merged their names, and went with George Stewart, and in my mind, the character looked like the one from the painting (albeit having modernised himself a bit for the current period) and acted more or less like the one from my thesis.
And I wrote allsorts of things about him, including that he had an older brother called James who died at Edgehill, leaving him as the heir – which I totally made up. If you were to re-read Oxford Blood, however, you’d notice one strange thing about George – he’s never referred to by his surname and never uses it himself. The reason was that although in my notes I had him down as George Stewart, I still sort of thought of him as George Osbaldeston.
And this is where it gets a bit strange. One day, I did a bit of research on Bernard Stewart, and I discovered something mind-blowing – he had an older brother called George Stewart. And so I looked into him, and lo and behold, everything about the real George was absolutely perfect. He had an older brother called James. He fought for the king in the Civil War and died at Edgehill in his early twenties. He’s buried in Christ Church College, where my character has rooms. He was so ridiculously passionate that he defied his uncle the king to marry the woman he loved against his wishes. He had a cool title. I read his Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Stewart,_9th_Seigneur_d’Aubigny) with an increasingly dropped jaw, and from then on, the character tended to be referred to by his full name, and I started to think of him less as the man from the thesis, and more as the historical George Stewart – though he seemed slightly less blond and attractive than his little brother Bernard, so I retained him as the mental image and merged together a few points from all four of the brothers’ personalities and biographies.
So that’s the weird and fortuitous mix of historical characters that came together to give George his name, background, and the basics of his personality. But that’s still only half the story. Firstly, there were the real life inspirations. Unlike some characters, George was not directly heavily based on any one – or even any two or three – real life acquaintances. He was, however, based to some degree on a certain type of person I often came across at Oxford – extremely posh, very good-looking, utterly charming but ultimately not very nice people. One of my favourite lines in one of my favourite plays is the following from a Streetcar Named Desire:
“A man like that is someone to go out with—once—twice—three times when the devil is in you. But live with? Have a child by?”
It sort of sums up the people I have in mind. By all means ogle them and have some fun, but don’t let your heart get involved and don’t be upset when it inevitably goes wrong. From the safety of a long-term relationship, I have a certain amount of admiration for people who can effectively turn on the charm at will, but I was always horribly pervious to their charms once upon a time.
I’ve always believed that a key theme in romance novels is the idea of the man who is adored by all women, acts like a cad towards most of them, but truly loves the heroine. I think it plays into some near universal fantasy of being special, and on the whole, I think it’s a dangerous one – people may get a bit more mature as they age, but I’m pretty sure that it’s rare for someone to completely change their personality, outlook and behaviour.
As you can probably tell, i’m ambivalent at best about the “bad boy gone good” love interest. 99% of the time, when it’s done in a contemporary, broadly realistic novel, I hate it. Somehow, however, in the context of a fantasy or paranormal tale, it quickly becomes more palatable, and when done well, these sorts of characters are some of my all time favourites. For me, the key is that they have to not just be “bad boys” in the sense of attractive men who drink, fight, and womanise. They have to be bordering on actual villains. And this was the sort of character I wanted to write here.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Augustine that my favourite character in Gladiator was the evil emperor rather than the heroic legionnaire and gladiator. I tend to fall a little bit in love with the charismatic, scheming, unpredictable villain (far more than the staid hero or heroine), resent their lack of screen time, and feel a bit disappointed when they are defeated and die unmourned. So when a character like this gets to be a love interest too, I rejoice. Screen time! Romantic scenes! Ambiguity and a chance for redemption! Though hopefully not too much redemption – I liked them because, not despite of their dastardly plans, after all.
My all time best example of this sort of character is Julian in the Forbidden Game series, one of my absolute favourite reads as a teenager, and still a firm (if guilty) favourite now. To attempt to summarise what quickly become a fairly involved plot, Julian is some sort of demon from northern mythology. A scorchingly hot and charming demon, needless to say. He poses as a shop-keeper, sells the heroine a board game in which players have to draw their worst nightmare, and then she, her boyfriend, and all her closest friends get sucked into the game and have to face their nightmares in reality – which in some cases risks being fatal. Julian pursues them around the game, has them pursued by his monster animals and tries to force the heroine to marry him. So proper villain territory. And in any normal book, he really should be despised by the characters and booed by the readers and the plot should focus on bringing him down. But increasingly, the heroine starts to fall in love with him of her own accord, and their scenes together, despite things never going further than kisses, are just some of the sexiest and most romantic things I’ve ever read. And this is not just me being twisted – nominally, the book contains the inevitable love triangle, but the heroine’s actual boyfriend stays firmly in the background for 90% of the series, and every review or fan page I’ve ever come across absolutely adores Julian. Incidentally, one of my very favourite aspects of the Forbidden Game is it’s ending, and without wanting to spoil things too much for anyone who’s read it and hasn’t yet got round to reading Ivory Terrors (or vice versa) let’s just say I was inspired by that too…
This sort of character is basically LJ Smith’s trademark, and it’s one of the things that made her one of my favourite authors – and probably my absolute favourite paranormal author. It’s something that crops up in other books too, most recently, for me, in the Grisha Series, which was pretty much my favourite book of last year (review here) helped in large part by The Darkling, who fits this kind of role perfectly.
It’s a style of character I also love to write. Prophecy Filler, the first proper novel I attempted to write, way back when I was about seventeen, had a character who absolutely fit this pattern. He was an ancient force of evil and trying to destroy the world – but was sure to make time for some sexy scenes with the heroine who was prophesied to stop him. (Incidentally, I really, really, want to rewrite Prophecy Filler now I’m hopefully slightly more adept at writing and slightly more resistant to the lure of giving characters stupid names). When I was plotting Oxford Blood, having a character a bit like this was an absolute must for me, and though he’s presented as less of a direct villain than some of these examples (in the sense that the heroine isn’t actively working against him most of the time) in his moments of ruthlessness around both sex and death, and in his intense scenes with Harriet, full of sexual tension and a longing to give in but a determination not to, George really fits this mould. And it’s always made him damn fun to write.