Friday, February 17, 2012

Meet Dale Harcombe

Welcome to Dale Harcombe who has answered some curious questions about her book Streets on a Map.

Thanks Sally for having me here today.

Q 1. What came first; concept, character or title?

A. Character is always my starting point because everything stems from the character as to what happens and how the story evolves. Character is the most essential aspect to get right. What we remember most from the great books we have read is not usually plot or beautiful writing but the characters.

One young woman told me she saw a lot of herself in Abby. People need to be able to relate to the characters. Perhaps that is what prompted Laila, the other major character in Streets on a Map, so if people found because of age, experiences or outlook they did not relate as well to Abby, they would relate to Laila. Interestingly, from readers’ comments Laila is often the favourite character – the person we’d all like to know or have as a friend in real life.

Fiction is, after all, to some extent based on real life. In fictional characters we see people who may reflect character traits we ourselves have or wish we had. They may say the things we are thinking but would never say. They might start off based on traits of those we know.

Q.2. When you introduced your protagonist(s) did you have a real person or
animal in mind for a template?

A. When I sat down to write about Abby I had a picture in mind of a young woman I saw once in a tavern in Centrepoint. She sat down at the piano stool next to the pianist who shuffled over for her as she started to sing. It was like she couldn’t help herself. She just had to sing. I had no idea of the woman’s name or anything about her but she was my image for Abby. She lived in my head for several years before the rest of the story of Streets on a Map came. She told me her name was Abby. Not Abigail but Abby.

Looking back, (hindsight is great thing,) I think Laila started albeit subconsciously with a visual image of my mother with the chestnut hair and her defining trait of generosity. But in others ways Laila is very different. I tend not to stick too closely to a person I know as it is too limiting. A character may be made up off several different traits and mixtures of people, or even with desires that are opposed to each other. That makes for a complex character. The interesting thing about writing is you can start from a person you know and suddenly the character deviates from the original model and is imbued with a personality and life all their own. To the writer the character needs to be real, as though they are in the room with you. That is the only way they will ever become real to the reader. Though Pearl is one of the minor characters of the novel, she is the type we have all met. I’m sure you’d find a person like her in any small town or neighbourhood. People are fascinating with their contradictions. Pearl is one example of this in Streets on a Map. There are others.

Q.3. Does your protagonist have a pet? If so, what?

A. Early on in Streets on a Map Abby adopts a white pup of indeterminate mix. Her best guess is some sort of wire haired or foxie terrier cross. She names him Hermit because of his tendency to, ‘sidle sideways like a crab.’ This is a result of being of one of a litter of pups bashed and left for dead on the side of the road. From her quick response to the newspaper article we see Abby is not only impulsive, she is a sucker for the hurt and helpless. Hermit has one fault as far as Joel, Abby’s husband, is concerned. He is a one woman dog and he doesn’t like men. He barely tolerates Joel.

Q.4. When writing dialogue, do you "hear" it in your mind's ear?

A. Yes, most definitely. Writers are the only people who can have people carry on conversations in their head or out loud with no-one else in the room and not be thought to be suffering from a mental problem. As I am writing, and later when revising, I speak the words aloud. That makes it easier to pick up if anything doesn’t work or ring true to the character and their interests and speech patterns.

Readers should be able at all times to tell who is speaking by their speech patterns and the words they use. Just as not everyone in life sounds the same, neither should our characters. For example when I listen to my husband tell a story he has his own unique way of phrasing things. We might be on the same wave length but we have different ways of getting our point across.

Dialogue should sound true to life. It is not true to life in the sense that if you taped an actual conversation you would find it riddled with waffle, pauses, 'um' and various other expressions. Much of what people talk about can be trivial. Dialogue is like real life without all the boring bits. It must always serve a purpose, to help the reader learn more about a character or situation, or move the action forward and not be idle chatter.

Q.5. What are three things you do on a regular basis to promote your book(s) your author "brand" or reading and writing in general? How successful do you find these?

A. I have a website which lists all my books and tell readers a little about me. You can find it at I hope to get to and update it a little soon. Time is as always the enemy.

I have a blog Write and Read with Dale where I talk about writing and writing related matters, and share book reviews or anything else that captures my interest.

I enjoy being asked to do interviews like this one. Thanks again for inviting me to your blog, Sally. Other times I might do character interviews which I have done for both Laila and Abby individually at other sites at the request of those bloggers.

Plus I leave comments on other blogs so it may introduce me to readers of those blogs. Because I write for both adults and children I am part of several online writers groups which support, share information and experiences, and often recommend books to read. Sometimes any of these can result in sales but like anything it is time consuming too and time taken away from writing. The best thing is, as happened recently, someone who had bought and enjoyed Streets on a Map, came back and bought another copy for a relative. There have been several instances where people have bought multiple copies for family or friends after having read Streets on a Map themselves. In the long run word of mouth about a book is the best advertisement.

For more about Streets on a Map and to order a copy, click this link.


Anna Jacobs said...

I enjoyed your interview, Dale. And you're so right. Character is the most important thing in a novel - at least the sorts of novels I like to read.

Sally Murphy said...

Great to more about you, Dale. And, yes, character is king!

Sally_Odgers said...

Thank you, Anna and Sally. I am always interested to see what comes up in author interviews.

BLCSDina said...

Hi Dale-Great interview! Good luck on your book. And I agree with you on dialogue-never thought of it like we're the only ones who aren't considered nuts-although we are! Your main character sounds like someone I know. Dina Rae, author

Dale said...

Thanks Sally for the interview and also to Anna, Sally M,and Dina Rae for reading it and commenting. Sounds like a few of us are on the same page when it comes to character, whether in writing or reading.

Linda Hays-Gibbs said...

Well, I am excited for Dale and I think that the book will be great. I wish her the best of luck. I enjoyed her thoughts and insights.
Linda Hays-Gibb
My Angel, My Light As Darkness Falls

Karen Tyrrell said...

Congratulations Sally and Dale for this very informative interview. Always fabulous to learn more about fellow writers and their writing processes.
I come from a different angle when I write. STORY is always the instigator for me then later the characters take over.

Dale said...

Thanks Linda and Karen. That's the fascinating thing about writers, we all work differently.

Rosanne Dingli said...

I would so literally be lost without one or two characters out of each novel I write - they accompany me through the maze of story I concoct... and they bring it about so cleverly, without much help from me. In my forthcoming novel Camera Obscura, my male photojournalist sits at a cafe table in Fremantle wondering what is to become of him... and by the turning of 300-odd pages, he is in a place where he can make decisions. But what a journey!

Chris Bell said...

Great interview, Dale and Sally

I find character really guides my story progression, but I've found plot and setting also to spark a story. My first historical novel emerged after a place screamed at me "story here, look, look" and refused to shut up.

Characters are totally directing my current WIP. I love it either way, but I engage most with characters and that's when real passion comes into the writing for me.

Tiffany Mandrake said...
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Tiffany Mandrake said...
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Sally_Odgers said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone; I appreciate it, and found the different comments interesting in the similarities and divergences.