When writing a story, some characters have louder voices than others. They have opinions and thoughts. Spirit. No matter how hard I force these characters to conform to my story’s shape they struggle and break free, hijack the plot and take it off in other directions. Claudette Duchamp from my Winter books is one such character.
In Winter’s Shadow, Claudette spends most of the story as an unseen presence locked in an attic. A terrible family secret. Claudette is dangerous, mad, psychotic, a murderer who can slip between shadows, driven to kill any woman that comes close to her brother, Blake. She is quite transparently an homage to poor mad Bertha from Jane Eyre.
This is all she was intended to be. An homage. Some narrative garnish. An opportunity to introduce a gothic flavour to my story of inter-dimensional travel and soul-sucking monsters. Claudette was never supposed to be a major figure, yet she ended up playing a pivotal role in the climax. She wouldn’t stay in the attic. Like mad Bertha, she escaped.
Her grip on me was so strong that Claudette even managed to intrude in the sequel, Winter’s Light, despite meeting a pretty definitive end in the previous book. I couldn’t let her go. Or, she wouldn’t let me go.
In late 2013, I was asked by my publisher if I wanted to contribute a short story to their fledging digital label, Momentum. I could write whatever I wanted. When I sat down at my keyboard, Claudette was waiting. She wanted her story told and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I started writing Claudette in the Shadows. The story is set in Amsterdam, more than a century before the events in Winter’s Shadow. It begins on the night of Claudette’s seventeenth birthday. The night she discovers the world on the other side of the shadows and her place in that world. I wrote about her relationship with Blake, her love for her brother and her resentment of his weakness. Or, what she perceived as his weakness. His humanity. I wrote about Madeleine, Claudette’s mother, and Ariman, her father, an immortal who passed on his gifts to his children. And, also his curse.
There is romance, there is murder, there are monsters both human and other. The story ballooned to 30,000 words or so – not quite a short story anymore and not quite a novel. A novella or novelette, perhaps.
As I wrote, I discovered something interesting. Claudette was always a killer. I don’t know what I’d expected to learn, but this surprised me. Claudette was never innocent. The monster was always there, lurking behind her emerald gaze. Like Blake and his aching romanticism, or Winter’s indomitable spirit, Claudette was born with a very specific world view. In her eyes, we are all lambs and she is a wolf.
She told me this and I wrote it down. The words were mine but the voice was hers. Insistent and seductive. Almost as though she was standing beside me as I typed, whispering in my ear, her cool palm on the nape of my neck. Claudette in the Shadows was intended as something of an elegy, a chance to explore the backstory of an interesting supporting character. I do not consider the story an elegy anymore. It’s a prologue. Some characters are not content to remain in the shadows, and some voices are too strong to ignore.