Karen Foxlee, Queensland author of three prior novels, including CBCA Notable book for younger readers in 2015, Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, is about to release her new novel, A Most Magical Girl (out September 28). Here she shares with us how she grew a villain.
Some characters arrive fully-formed into a story. I know what they look like, I can hear their voice, and I know their personality. Others take longer. I call them shape-shifters. They are the type of characters I can’t see straight away, that hide in the shadows of a story, or sometimes inside other characters. I have to peel away layers of story to get to them. They can shrivel if I scrutinize them too much. Mr Angel, the villain in A Most Magical Girl, was one such character.
Annabel thought Mr Angel was sad and lonely-looking. Wicked-looking. She thought he might pinch babies when their mothers weren’t paying attention. But in the beginning I couldn’t see him at all. He was a darkness, a silhouette. If I tried to see his features he dissolved. Oh, but I knew he was bad.
It was through his terrible dark magic extracting machine that I grew him. I decided I’d concentrate on that rather than him. I pictured that machine, all gleaming brass and dark leather, bellows and gauges, all susurrations and sighs. The more I saw the machine the more I noticed things about Mr Angel: his crooked back as he examined its gauges, the lustre of his dark hair. I knew I had to be patient.
I decided that his machine was fuelled by sorrowful things; black-bordered handkerchiefs and the booties of long-dead babies. Mourning shawls, tear-catchers, and jet brooches. I saw him stealing such things, creeping into houses, bending down to pilfer the shoes from a pauper. These items, which had touched sadness and sorrow, were sucked with great force into that hungry machine. They were crushed, distilled, mixed with moonlight, to produce pure dark magic.
Still I had to wait. Writing is mysterious like that sometimes. It wasn’t until the magic flowed from that machine into his black wand that I saw his face illuminated. His pale skin, his haunted eyes, his hollow cheekbones. His cool dry hands. His terrible laugh. I heard him whisper “Umbra, Pentumbra,” and up rose that terrible first shadowling….and I saw his smile. My villain had arrived.