15 Keys to One Green Bottle: n° 2 – Magali.
When it comes to choosing your main character, it’s advisable not to rush, as you’ll be spending a lot of time together. Especially if she’s part of a series – you’ll be practically married then. Perhaps that’s why I made Magali a woman. I wanted someone who’d still be able to fascinate me a few years down the line. Whether she will remains to be seen, but she still does so far: though I’ve found out plenty more about her in the sequel, Perfume Island, there’s lot more yet to discover. She’s turning out more complex than I thought, but that’s the joy of getting to know someone. And I think she’s worth getting to know.
There was another reason: the detectives I know are men. To be honest, I don’t know many – though I do read detective stories, they’re far from my staple diet, and the prototypical detective for me is still Philip Marlowe. Many years ago, an agent rejected a detective novel I’d started as ‘too Chandleresque’, and for me it would still be difficult to escape that influence when endowing a male MC with a personality. With Magali I felt no such pressure. I’ve read Kathy Reichs and Erica Spindler, and I know there are plenty of female detectives around, but they don’t exert the same pull. Probably because I read Chandler during my youth, when impressions formed remain strong. And of course Humphrey Bogart no doubt has a lot to do with it.
Initially there was a doubt. I’m writing “the other”. But as William Boyd says, “The key thing is to avoid all received wisdom about gender – concentrate on personality”. Ask yourself how your MC would react as a human being, not as a man or woman. Otherwise, you’re bound to fall into stereotypes. Which is not to deny there are differences, but it’s best to start off from the common experience we have of being human. After that, I’m quite happy to follow Magali down whatever road she wishes to take. It’s clear to me now that she still has a lot to discover about herself.
She came to life thanks to a message left on our neighbours’ answerphone – I’ll call them Pascal and Sonia. The message, which Sonia found first, was from an old flame of Pascal’s from before he married, over 20 years earlier. “Hi, how are you? I suddenly thought it would be fun to get back in touch…” Like in a Cosmopolitan quiz, except for real, Sonia had three choices: (a) Call the woman back and tell her to piss off. (b) Delete the message and pretend it never happened. (c) Leave the message for Pascal to listen to. Being open-minded and trusting, she chose (c). Six months later, Pascal had left her to move in with his former girlfriend.
That particular incident doesn’t appear in One Green Bottle, but the breakup of Magali’s marriage is just as sudden. Her life falls apart in the space of a few seconds when her husband announces casually that he’s leaving. What can she do? So you see, it was a perfect match: she needed a life, I needed a detective. Deal done. I don’t know what happened to Sonia. Like Magali, she left Aix en Provence to settle in a nearby village, but at that point their lives diverge. I lost track of Sonia, but accompanied Magali to Sentabour. And it was there that she answered her doorbell one day and a woman asked her to find out who killed her son.
And what, you might ask, does she look like? Well, that’s left mainly up to the reader. Since the story’s told from her point of view, there’s hardly any description of her. Which is as it should be – unless something’s happened to change it, we don’t often think about how we look. I know very well what she looks like myself, but I didn’t want to curb your imagination by posting a picture. One thing I can tell you though – she doesn’t look like Ms Marvel.