We’re so pleased to welcome author Charlie Cochrane to The Novel Approach today to chat about her new novella from Bold Strokes Books, Don’t Kiss the Vicar
How and where does a story and its characters start?
I know that some authors get an idea then plan their novel/novella down to the nth degree, and more power to their elbows if that helps them to craft a really good story. I honestly believe this is something there are no hard and fast rules for; so long as a tale gets out of the author’s head and onto the page or screen then it matters not how it gets there. Which is just as well, because I’m a total pantser; if I try to write to a plan I find it’s like wearing shackles.
I usually begin stories with two characters and a conversation, then maybe construct several different key scenes and conversations which eventually go into the whole, finding their natural place in the action. It’s similar to doing a jigsaw, although you don’t know the picture on the box until you’ve completed it (which sometimes means going back and changing some of those original pieces!)
In the case of “Don’t Kiss the Vicar” I had the character of Dan Miller (said vicar) spring pretty well fully formed from my imagination right at the start of the creative process. A man of the cloth in a sprawling village parish not unlike the one I live in, a man of great integrity who finds himself having to hide his true nature from his flock. I have to admit that I’ve put several snippets of local geography into the tale, to form the backdrop I wanted to set the action against, although I haven’t included any of my fellow parishioners.
The other main characters in “Don’t Kiss the Vicar” appeared one by one in my head – and on the page – rather like in a Shakespeare play where the key players gradually emerge. I based them on the sort of people I’ve known in the various churches I’ve been a member of, snatching little bits of personality here and there then amalgamating them into something new. So Margaret, Sylvia and Harry are as real as I can make them without being vaguely libellous; although the interesting thing is that I had to curb some of their characteristics as they were getting a bit too “BBC sitcom” to be convincing, even though they are based firmly in reality.
Dan’s love interest, Steve, was the biggest challenge. He had to be likeable, but still believably prickly with Dan. These two men had to be in the classic romantic situation of feeling attraction for each other but not daring to show it. Very Beatrice and Benedict! It’s a widely used trope, so the author has to attempt to keep the pairing fresh while treading a well worn path.
I hope I succeeded…
Blurb: Vicar Dan Miller is firmly in the closet in his new parish. Could the inhabitants of a sedate Hampshire village ever accept a gay priest? Trickier than that, how can he hide his attraction for one of his flock, Steve Dexter?
Encouraged by his ex-partner to seize the day, Dan determines to tell Steve how he feels, only to discover that Steve’s been getting poison pen letters and suspicion falls on his fellow parishioners. When compassion leads to passion, they have to conceal their budding relationship, but the arrival of more letters sends Dan scuttling back into the closet.
Can they run the letter writer to ground? More importantly, can they patch up their romance and will Steve ever get to kiss the vicar again?
Excerpt: “Vicar!” The shout, the almost friendly wave meant the decision to veer off was taken too late.
“Steve!” A cordial wave back as the distance between them narrowed. “Didn’t think you frequented this place.”
“Is that why you come here, then? To get away from the parishioners you like least?”
Dan tried to find an answer, but somehow the connection between his brain and mouth had become severed. Helpless, he could feel the flush rushing up his neck, and could see—without looking at the bloke—that Steve was less than amused. What the hell else was he going to think other than that he’d hit the nail on the head, and Dan was too dumb to cover the fact up?
“Rex!” A high pitched, agitated female voice broke the awkward moment, as did a huge Great Dane, about the size of a rhinoceros, which came haring out of the woods, onto the path and straight into Steve’s leg.
“Shit!” Steve staggered, arms flailing in a futile effort to keep himself upright. Dan’s attempt to reach out and catch him before he hit the stony path was equally ineffective, but at least he could keep the nasty, snarling brute at bay with the aid of the stick he habitually took when he walked. Jimmy had said it gave him gravitas, now it provided the ideal weapon.
“You should keep that thing under control,” he said, as the woman came up and made a lunge for the Great Dane. “What if it had gone for a child?”
“He’s just nervous,” she said, flustered. “Here, Rex. Here boy.” The dog stood off. “He’s a rescue dog. Doesn’t like men.”
“Then take him somewhere he won’t have to see them. Are you all right?” Dan tried to focus his anger into something useful, rummaging in his pocket for a clean hankie. “You need something on that hand.”
“I’m fine,” Steve said, trying to hide the bleeding while keeping a nervous eye on the dog. “Can somebody not take that bloody thing away?”
“There’s no need for that sort of language,” the woman said, at last managing to get a lead onto the dog’s collar.
“I think there’s every need for it. And worse,” Dan said. “You’d better take him off if you don’t want the air turning blue.”
“Well, really! Come on boy.” She hauled the dog away at last.
“Right. Show me that hand.”
“I’m fine.” Steve got to his feet, brushing the dirt off his trousers and managing to get blood on them.
“That hand’s a mess.” Dan grabbed it, none too gently, which made Steve wince, but it served him right for faffing. “This cut’s full of crap. You need to have it cleaned out and a steri-strip put on. Might even need a stitch or two.”
“I’ve had worse,” Steve said, trying to free his paw.
Yes, you have. There’s that intriguing scar on the back of your hand and the one above your left eyebrow. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. Don’t think I don’t imagine tasting them.
Dan became aware of the strange look he was getting and ploughed on. “So have I. Come on, the vicarage is closer than your house. We can dress this there.”
“Oh, for fu…goodness sake. I can sort it out myself. I’m not a child.” Steve tugged his hand away, clearly avoiding Dan’s gaze.
“Will you not let somebody help you? Must you always be so bloody stubborn?”
Author Bio and Links: As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries.
She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, and International Thriller Writers Inc., with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes Books, MLR, and Riptide.