Never Let Me Go – Discovering your character’s secrets

I read a review with Kazuo Ishiguro from the The Observer (February 2005).  His novel Never Let Me Go has come to the fore again now that it has been made into a movie starring Carry Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Nightley. 

I was thrilled to read how well he articulated an experience that I’ve also had with my own writing. Below is an excerpt of the interview by Tim Adams of The Observer.


His character “Kathy [H] herself first surfaced in Ishiguro’s notes almost 15 years ago when he had a sense of a book about a group of young people with a seventies atmosphere. ‘They hung around and argued about books,’ he says. ‘I knew there was this strange fate hanging over them, but I couldn’t work out exactly what it was.’ …It was only recently, when he was listening on the radio to various programs about biotechnology, that the particular fate of his sketchy students became clear to him.

I’ve found this happens in my writing too. I wrote a scene over a year ago in which the POV character, Elsie, felt someone watching her and she recognised something about the person’s gait and was sure she would figure out who it was. It wasn’t until last night when I was finally writing the difficult penultimate scene from the chapter that she (we) realised who it was. I’ve tried several time to guess and even removed the comment in one draft because I was so frustrated at not knowing who it was. Sometimes our characters don’t reveal their secrets when we want them to, maybe only when they have to.

I’ve only just finished re-reading  Never Let Me Go and I found it even better the second time around. It is a fascinating book but it could be construed as dangerous; it could lead an unsuspecting mind to places where they either don’t want to go, or cannot escape from.

The movie posters describe it as the “Best Novel of the Decade” and I cannot disagree.

The feature film of the same name, written for the big screen by Alex Garland and directed by Mark Romanek, has been released in the UK and USA and scheduled for release in Australia in March 2011.

Authorial Groups and Intrinsic Worth; “Collaborwriting”


Why don’t we see authorial groups like we do with musical bands? A quick answer could be that performing a musical work often requires a group of musicians while writing is completed in isolation. As artists, writers may be selling their work short by attempting to keep it pure and cleansed of external influences. Of course we are all influenced by other artists work but what I’m suggesting is to collaborate; a process where two or more minds produce something that could never be formed by individual writers working in isolation.

Writing a novel—any writing in fact—is a complex mix of many different processes; plotting, structural design, constructing themes and visions, discovering unique plot twists…it’s never simply putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. There’s editing too, and in some situations a good editor can tease out an author’s ideas to produce a work of art that is more intelligible. This is more akin to a record producer who tinkers and cleans, tidying the work as it exists on the page.

Collaborwriting as a group can help to avoid common pitfalls of writing such as a loss of confidence in your ability and becoming overcritical of your work. I know first hand how debilitating these moments can be. Human nature and an environment of trust will ensure we do not become too critical of a collaborative work. Group dynamics can also foster supportive behaviors; lifting members out of their low points and at other times they can stand on each others shoulders to reach heights not possible alone.

A moment of genuine collaborative writing, or “Collaborwriting”, occurs off the page when two minds collide and meld together two form something unique. An early theory about the formation of Miranda, a moon of Uranus, suggested it was formed by the collision of two planetesimal bodies melding to form a single moon. Hugo and Nebula award winning author Kim Stanley Robinson used Miranda’s unique geological history to highlight and suggest the human mind is the integral part of environmental beauty:

After that they hiked down the spine of the buttress in silence. Over the course of the day they descended to Bottoms Landing. Now they were a kilometre below the rims of the chasm, and the sky was a starry band overhead; Uranus fat in the middle of it, the sun a blazing jewel just to one side. Under this gorgeous array the depth of the rift was sublime, astonishing; again Zo felt herself to be flying.

“You’ve located intrinsic worth in the wrong place,” she said to all of them… “It’s like a rainbow. Without an observer at a twenty three degree angle to the light being reflected off a cloud of spherical droplets, there is no rainbow. The whole universe is like that. Our spirits stand at a twenty three degree angle to the universe. There is some new thing created at the contact of photon and retina, some space created between rock and mind. Without mind there is no intrinsic worth.” – Blue Mars (Pages 435-436).

Further illustrating Robinson’s metaphor, the intrinsic beauty of good writing is not contained on the page, that is just ink and paper, and it is not the words and punctuation we craft as writers, it is the thoughts and feelings the writing manifests in the reader’s mind. I’m not suggesting that this higher plane of communication is unachievable when writing in isolation, but that through collaboration we open up possibilities and manifest ideas and concepts that could not be formed by any singular sentient mind.