On this, the last Friday in the year, Marcia and I have been back to Tavistock to meet up with some of our friends in that area. There are two ways of making the journey – by main road or across the moor. Most ‛sensible’ people would take the first option: A38 down towards Plymouth and straight out on the A386 to Tavistock: distance about 28 miles and time in the order of fifty minutes. We, however, habitually take the road over the moor. This is about the same distance but will take you ten minutes longer and there are, for us, huge plus factors.
Even on a day such as today when for most of the journey we were in low lying cloud with very poor visibility it is a magical place and, to us, as beautiful as it is in brilliant sunshine. In some ways it is even more magical and, as often happens when we cross the moor, we started talking about the books: today it was about the way in which Marcia gets inspiration. Often these discussions are centred around places but today we talked about people. It is an absolute fact that not one fictional character in any of her books is based on anyone she knows. I put it like that because in some books she will mention a real person in a specific context. A good example is Patsy in the Post Office in South Brent as recorded in The Courtyard. Patsy, long since retired, was, of course, based on the real Patsy and she still lives in South Brent.
Marcia started the ball rolling by saying she thought she had received more inspiration from books she had read than from people she had met – did I agree? Well, no, I didn’t think I did. I have watched Marcia watching people for over thirty years and I know when she is just being very polite but has allowed her brain to slip into neutral and when all the antennae are waving about and notes are being taken in some dark recess in her mind.
It is body language that she studies when she is at a distance from the people in focus. ‛That man is telling lies,’ she may say. I will watch him attentively but be completely unable to see what it is that she sees – the tilt of a shoulder, perhaps, or the movement of a hand – but, at the same time, I do see that she is absolutely right.
When her ‛prey’ is close to and talking to her, I watch the story that is being told wash over her knowing that she is not the least bit interested in what model her companion’s grandson made during the last art class but fascinated to observe what the person is feeling, what is making them tick. Then the following conversation can be quite unsettling. ‛She is terribly unhappy,’ Marcia will say. ‛How can you tell?’ I ask. ‛You can see it in her eyes, poor darling. She is worried about something, very worried.’ I have to be content with that.
What makes her characters so real to us all? There is no doubt that readers who send us emails and so on all feel that these characters have become personal friends. I don’t really know (and could, I suspect, make a lot of money if I did know) but it is a fact of life that when she is writing she lives in the world she has created and it is ‛real life’ that ceases to be our ‛reality’.
Talking about emails: a huge thank you to all of you who send us emails. They really are terribly important to both of us (needy creatures that we are). We now get so many that some, I fear, do go unanswered. Please forgive us when that happens: it really is because there are too many to cope with and not because they have been ignored.
May I wish you all a peaceful and healthy New Year. Believe me, 2013 will be a glass half full: not one half empty.