I realised how real my hero and heroine were to me when I sat down in front of a blank computer screen on Monday morning last week. I was dreading it, to be honest. Or at least I was dragging my feet.
I'd taken the summer off, refusing to think about book 3 of my Unbreakable Trilogy until The Silver Chain was launched onto an unsuspecting world and The Golden Locket was thoroughly edited. Then I had the York Festival of Writing to prepare for and deliver.
Now it was mid September and there was no excuse. I tried every type of procrastination. Food that needed buying. Shoes that needed ordering online. Morning television to be watched. Nigel Slater recipes to try. But now the house was empty, the kids were at school. The deadline was approaching, and I had to go back to New York where I left my characters.
Unlike The Golden Locket, which picks up the action a couple of weeks after the cliffhanger of the first book, I decided to start The Diamond Ring immediately after the cliffhanger of the previous book. So they were already in position, waiting for me, frozen on their marks since July like actors whose director has just shouted 'Cut!' One of them had to move. One of them had to speak. They both had to react. But it was up to me to wind them up. I had to re-draw their physicality, their clothes, their gestures, all while pressing home the subtle signals showing the intensity of their relationship.
I won't say what the shocking moment was where we had left them. But something happened which meant that they were forced to spring into action. Fast. And I think that's what helped, because once Serena had reacted in a way that made no immediate sense to Gustav - although if I've done my job right it should make sense to my readers - the questions and explanations started to flow, all in the context of an action sequence. So the drama made up of words and gestures, panic and urgency, discoveries and tension leading up to a volcanic confrontation, all started to fall naturally into place.
By the time I'd finished page 3 I sat back and realised that we were properly re-acquainted. The two of them had come back to me. I always have a cinematic view of my characters and their locations anyway, but Gustav and Serena really were inside my head and, even more of a relief, they were inhabiting my story. They may be facing their biggest, deadliest threat yet, but they are three dimensional and full of life. Eyes flashing, hair flying, shoes tapping - and of course lips and hands eventually finding their way back to each other, to remind us all of the passion that has burned so fiercely since the Halloween night when they met!
And now that I've finished chapter 1, I've got all those old writer-in-progress symptoms back again. A conversation that slips into my mind when I'm lying in the bath. A canny description of someone or something as I'm driving along to fetch the kids. Scrabbling for paper and pen when a new character's introductory phrase comes to me.
So hi, Gustav and Serena. I'll try to be gentle with you! Meanwhile, here's a gratuitous torso on a billboard in Manhattan, near the Meatpacking District where the action of Book 3 opens.