Writing Frieda Klein

Nicci French is the hugely successful writing partnership created by married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Here they discuss what it’s been like to live and write with the characters in their thrilling Frieda Klein series.

One of the surprises of writing fiction is that when you finish your book, when it’s published and sent out into the world, it’s still not really finished. As people start to read the book, the characters develop and slip out of your control. We had become used to that. Sometimes it’s disconcerting. Readers may not love a character as much as you do. Even more strangely, you create a villain, a violent criminal, and you meet readers who wish you had let him end up with the heroine. But he was a murderer, we protested, uselessly.

It didn’t matter. He was out of our hands now and he belonged to readers as much as he did to us.

Even so, we weren’t prepared for the entirely different experience when we began writing about the psychoanalyst, Frieda Klein, in Blue Monday and then followed her dark course over eight books and almost a decade of our life and of hers.  Previously we had finished a book and sent the characters out into the world and we were done with them. Now we sent them out into the world, we talked to readers, we heard what they thought of them. And then they came back out of the world and we followed them in the next book and the next, as they changed and life changed them.

To take one example, in Blue Monday a Ukrainian builder called Josef Morozov literally falls through Frieda’s ceiling into her consulting room while she is conducting a session. Josef was invented to perform a specific role in this one book.

But he just wouldn’t go away. He refused. And readers were asking after him. They wanted to meet him again and we wanted to meet him again.

We came to discover that creating characters in a series of novels is like inviting people to a party. You invited friends, some family members, a couple of people from work, a few neighbours. Some of the people know each other, most of them don’t, but you never know who will get on with who. One of your best friends leaves early while two people you barely know and don’t know each other, get on uproariously and keep the party going until midnight.

Creating the characters for the series was rather like that, except if someone is sulking in the corner at your party, you can’t kill them off. Some characters appeared, did the job they were meant to do and then left. Or if they didn’t leave, they were killed. Others wouldn’t leave. Karlsson was a detective involved in the kidnapping case at the heart of Blue Monday. We weren’t sure how much he would be involved in later novels. But readers kept asking whether he was going to get together with Frieda. We had to keep him. Characters in the background – Chloe, her niece; Sasha, a one-time patient; Reuben, her mentor – gradually moved to the foreground as our solitary heroine gradually accumulated a family around her.

And all that attention still affects us. We’ve finished Frieda’s story but people still ask us about the characters. Where are they now? Where is she? We don’t know what to say. They’ve gone. She has gone. Out there somewhere, but beyond our control.

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