Safe is the highly anticipated sequel to Flight, where we met Kizzy and Jacob. As part of the blog tour, I am so pleased to share a guest post from Vanessa Harbour about her characters. It is a brilliant post- Enjoy!
Who is telling your story? By Vanessa Harbour
The main character in Flight is Jakob and though Kizzy is his best friend and features throughout, the narrative focuses on Jakob’s dreams. When I was writing Safe I wanted to highlight Kizzy because I felt she was an interesting character who had a lot to offer and has as many dreams, though others wanted to thwart them.
What is important in both stories is the fact that both Kizzy and Jakob are persecuted and their lives are in danger throughout. Kizzy comes from a Roma family and Jakob is Jewish, though I have consciously never set out to write a Holocaust story with either narrative. That is not my story to write. The fact they are Roma and Jewish is part of their character, it is the reason they are persecuted, but it is not the driving force of the stories. That is their need to save the horses and protect others, finding a new family. The stories highlight that family sometimes is not about blood relations. It can be about who’s there for you when it matters. This seems important in contemporary times.
Some believe they are doing the right thing but are trying to force Kizzy into a certain life. To make her conform and be the perfect type of young woman that they think will attract a man ready for marriage as they imagine that is the only alternative. By the end of the story, we see that it is not and Kizzy will be who she wants to be.
The idea of both these stories is to give the reader a chance to ask questions and consider these situations and how they might react. A perfect chance in a classroom to open it out for discussion. As a writer, this is what we want to do with the reader, make them feel like they can walk in the shoes of the characters and empathise with them. Even though it is historical they can still feel that sense of empathy as the emotions the characters are feeling they can recognise and relate to. It is this idea of windows and mirrors – a window on someone else’s life or a reflection of their life.
With Safe, I aimed to create more characters through the ‘lost children’, or ‘GerfundenKinder’, which means ‘found children’ and was what the children called themselves in the book, that potentially readers could empathise with. The ‘lost children’ were groups of displaced children at the end of the Second World War who were roaming around parts of Europe in packs having lost both parents. They were known as ‘lost children’ or sometimes ‘wolf children’ because they were in packs. This group of children gave me a chance to have different characters and relationships. I was particularly keen to foreground the relationship between Strom and his sisters including Zuzu who had suffered from Polio. Strom unfairly blames himself for her condition though there is nothing he could have done. He is very protective. Through the story, we see the relationships develop and intertwine. Highlighting how relationships are never straightforward and how they grow. These children need to learn to trust Kizzy and Jakob and then eventually Heinz so altogether they can form a family.
Obviously, I have to write some antagonists. Wilhelm Faber features in both Flight and Safe. In the latter, he has a much bigger role. When writing him, I always had to remember that he was the hero of his own story and he believes that he was justified in everything he did. Even if you, as the reader, disagree. They need to be equally fully rounded.
Creating characters is always one of my favourite things. The names are never random and I will create a bio so I know what they look like. This includes finding an image on the internet that looks how I imagine the characters would look. That image goes into the character bio so I can refer to it whenever I need to. I do this for all the main characters and many of the secondary characters. It can be useful later when working with an editor so you can show them as well.
The dream is always to create characters that stay with the reader, potentially almost feeling like friends. I am hoping Kizzy and Jakob find lots of new friends when readers get lost in Safe.