Over to you, Mike:~
Brief Physical Description
This is a very interesting question because my main character, Ches Cholmondeley (pronounced Chum-ly), goes through a dramatic physical change over the course of two books. In the first book, The Blue Umbrella, Ches is not yet the protagonist but a strong supporting character. When we first meet him he is described as “a boy who looked a little like Frankenstein: big, stocky, square-headed, square-shouldered, everything square down to the rims of his tortoiseshell glasses.” When he walks he is “flat-footed, thumping along with his arms straight at his sides, palms facing back, his whole body stiff as if to keep any part of it from touching any other part.” What we don’t know about Ches is that he is in the power of an evil magician. By book two, The Violet Flash, when Ches takes over as the protagonist, the evil spell over him has been broken. Now on page one he is described as “a lithe, darkly handsome boy of twelve”—yet still shadowed by a hint of double identity.
Actor Who Resembles Ches
Though I never thought of this as I wrote my books, I think Daniel Radcliffe, especially in his role as Harry Potter, resembles Ches. Think of my description: “a lithe, darkly handsome boy.” And those horn-rimmed glasses. And that look of intensity and preoccupation. And the suggestion (though his own heart is good) of a deep acquaintance with darkness and evil that has left him scarred. Like Daniel/Harry, my Ches is called on to fight against a wickedness that has touched his very body and soul, and this struggle has a definite impact on his looks, bearing, behavior.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Ches is a very strong person, but in all the wrong ways: he is confident to the point of insecurity; resolute to the point of stubbornness; independent to the point of alienation; introspective to the point of selfishness; intelligent to the point of ignorance of all that is most important in life. In short, his very strengths, because misdirected, make him fundamentally weak. This is what drew me to him as a character who needed to be explored, who needed to go on a long journey of self-discovery. Only as Ches learns to trust other people, and ultimately to love, are his weaknesses transformed into strengths. This is the power of healthy, loving relationship.
The very first sentence of The Violet Flash describes a quirk that goes to the root of Ches’s character: “He poked the bridge of his tortoiseshell glasses with one finger, a gesture he performed a few hundred times a day.” Throughout the book we see him performing this gesture with various degrees of force, depending upon how troubled he is, how hard he is thinking, how hard he is trying to “see” through those thick glasses of his. The glasses are a symbol of his quest for true vision, true knowledge, and they also suggest that he moves slowly (like a tortoise) and needs to come out of his “shell.” Another quirk is that he never laughs; he just tonelessly says “Ha, ha.” But by the end of the book he is laughing!
My Inspiration for Ches
Mainly, myself. While Ches is not me, I do identify with him strongly: his self-centeredness, introspection, abstraction, pride—all those things that can keep a person locked in a lonely fortress rather than joining the human race. Like Ches, I’ve come a long way, but I don’t think you ever really get over your weaknesses. It’s a lifelong struggle to emerge fully into the light. By writing about a character who has a lot of personal work to do, I’ve made progress myself. And come to think of it, I did have a childhood friend who was a lot like Ches: a big, lumbering, brilliant disaster of a kid. Probably I chose him as a friend for the way he mirrored my own inner flaws.
Background to the Story
When I was a little boy, I lived at the top of a hill, and at the bottom of the hill was a very special store. As a man nearing 50, one night I woke up and realized that once again, though many years had passed and I was many miles away, I lived at the top of a hill, and at the bottom was a special old general store with a lot of character. With this insight, the whole geography for series of children’s fantasy novels came into focus. So my story is very much inspired by the landscapes, both inner and outer, of my own childhood.
Many thanks, Mike, for this detailed look at Ches
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