Author Takeover - Character Spotlight
It’s Author Takeover day again and I am delighted to welcome back, Tony Forder who is introducing us to his main character …
Over to you Tony …
MEET DI JIMMY BLISS
Let’s start with the name. First, I wanted a single syllable name. I’m not at all certain why, only that I was adamant it should be so. Second, rather than use a tough-sounding name, like Steele or Flint or Stone, I wanted to soften it. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those names, for either a villain or a cop. I just wanted something that was, in some ways, the very opposite of those hard-boiled names. I’m not sure why I settled on Bliss. However, I did my research. First that such a surname existed. It did, originating in Normandy as Blois, and has since undergone many different spellings. There was even a Bliss who survived the sinking of the Titanic. The Bliss family motto is: Virtus sola felicitas, meaning ‘virtue is the only happiness’. I happen to think that Bliss feels virtuous in his professional life, and not so much in his personal one for reasons obvious to anyone who has read Bad to the Bone.
Once I had the name, I had to decide what kind of man he was going to be. To be human is to err, so of course he had to have flaws. I wanted him to like a drink but not to be a drunk; not to smoke, nor to gamble – I wanted to give the impression of someone who likes to dominate his own will-power. Loyalty was one of the first traits that came to mind. Stubborn – naturally. Music lover, film go-er, book reader. But flaws -they were giving me problems. There are some clichés it’s hard to avoid, and creating conflict is a prerequisite, so that often takes place inside the machine. Bliss is a man who does not suffer fools easily, and to him it doesn’t matter if that fool is a superior officer. He demands a lot of himself, and expects the same of others. Those who fall below those standards are subject to his scorn, even if they stand above him on the ladder. I felt he needed something more base, more human. I wanted him to be a likeable enough character, but with at least one skeleton in his cupboard. I chose his sexual proclivities, one of which led to the most tragic event in his life. I chose it knowing it would not please everybody. But that’s what a flaw is, so I stuck with it.
As if poor Jimmy didn’t have enough on his plate, I decided to give him a chronic illness – one he kept from those around him, including his bosses. To be fair, in his position on the case he knew he would be cast aside if he did let on, so his new diagnosis of Meniere’s disease remained a secret. I needed no research for this, as I was clever enough to be diagnosed with it in 2003 just so that I had insider-knowledge. Seriously, though, I felt it added to the weight of things he was carrying, and would go some way to explaining the turmoil of his life and the decisions he made. To act as a counter-balance I gave him the delightful Penny Chandler, plus Bonnie & Clyde of course. Little pockets of light amongst the shade, all three.
His physical description was of little or no concern to me. I had an idea of what he might look like, but I also wanted readers to create their own vision of Jimmy Bliss. Some writers imagine who would play their hero in a movie. I seldom thought of Bliss that way. Is there an English version of Titus Welliver, currently playing the role of Harry Bosch? If so, he’ll do for me. If I thought of anyone I guess I thought of a younger, slimmer version of Ray Winstone.
Is Bliss me? Am I him? Certainly he is the most autobiographical character I have written so far â€“ although I hasten to add those proclivities I mentioned earlier are purely his. That may also be why I thought of Winstone when writing Bliss, because there was a time, when caught at certain angles – especially in profile – and in a specific light from behind a wall with eyes closed, people have mentioned my likeness to the actor. That I speak a bit like him only adds weight to their argument. Me, I don’t see any similarities whatsoever, other than that damned profile.
I hope I have made Bliss a complex, but well-rounded character. Human, warts and all. A fairly ordinary man doing a less than ordinary job, working under the most extraordinary pressure. Is Jimmy too human? For fiction, that is? I guess time will tell. Other than a couple of comments, he seems to have created a favourable reaction. In general, people like him, and they especially like his relationship with Penny. How that develops remains to be seen – if indeed it develops at all.
As for the next step, I can’t say too much. I can say that I have brought them all up to date, setting this one in 2017. The intervening twelve years are, to my mind, explained away in a satisfactory way. It has a working title of Bad Moon Rising, but I suspect that won’t be its published title. Some of the characters from Bad to the Bone will return. And whilst most of it is set in Peterborough still, Bliss also spends time in both the USA and Ireland. It’s another complex case, and one I hope people enjoy. Moreover, I hope they enjoy spending time with DI Jimmy Bliss again.
He’s the sort of bloke I think I’d like to have a drink with. But watch out for when he throws his car keys into a bowl – then it may be time to head for the exit.
Thank you for joining me again Tony!