Kate Riordan | How a difficult secondary character became the alluring antiheroine of my novel

Kate Riordan, author of The Stranger, reveals how a difficult secondary character became the dazzling (anti)heroine of her latest novel

the stranger

I’ll always go for dark over light, and messy over nice

This was all well and good and I had great fun writing her until I asked myself the fatal question: why? Why is Diana the way she is? Because there’s always a why. And once I’d glimpsed into Diana’s past and understood what made her the way she was, I knew the fulcrum of the book had shifted and wouldn’t ever go back. The bad girl had become the antiheroine of the story. There would - sigh - be a lot of rewriting.

First I had to scale back the other women in the book, just a touch. It turned out I’d originally been trying to write three stories in one: a romance for Rose, a family mystery about Eleanor and then - for Diana - something rather more psychological. ‘I’m afraid you’ve got to pick one and go with it,’ said my editor, sagely. We both knew there was no choice to make. I’ll always go for dark over light, and messy over nice.

To mark Diana’s new significance, I gave her the only first person perspective in the book and turned these sections into diary entries. This would allow readers to lift a corner of Diana’s breezy, brittle facade and see the damage underneath. Of course, anyone who’s ever kept a diary will know that what gets written down isn’t the whole truth either. All of us are prone to slightly rewriting our lives when we play them back to ourselves - to preserve a little bit of pride, or paint ourselves in a more generous light. Just as we unconsciously delude others about what sort of person we are, so we delude ourselves.

Diana became a mille-feuille of complexity and contradiction which I hope adds up to a whole person. To paraphrase an editorial assistant who read the book after Diana became fully-fledged, you go from wanting to slap her to wanting to be her. You start to veer away from hate towards something like love, or at least understanding. I hope that’s the case anyway. Having found her so nebulous at the start, the threads of her slipping through my fingers until a couple of drafts in, she’s ended up not only being my favourite character, but the most real and affecting too. Even now the book is out and I’ve moved on to the next story, I can still hear her languid voice in my head. I still know exactly the kind of amazingly dull thing she’d dismiss with a roll of her green eyes. She’s in me now, whether I like it or not.

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