Now that I’ve written about the inspiration behind the story, time to discuss the main characters.
As I mentioned in my last post, my main characters stemmed from the question:
What if, of the two lead characters, one of them was mentally ill, or had a severe exceptionality.
Now, my wife was watching a lot of Criminal Minds at the time – we bought a boxed set she was binge watching – and one of the characters, Spencer Reid, *spoiler alert* starts to develop symptoms of a mental illness. Spencer Reid, filling the role of walking exposition and resident genius, was the inspiration behind Tybalt Guthrie.
Guthrie is something of an anomaly, even in the world I’ve created for them. Although highly intelligent, Guthrie is also highly troubled. We learn very little about his life before his assignment as a police detective from him, that information he keeps to himself. He is always smartly dressed – an immaculate three-piece suit, no less – always has a pen, and has the easy good looks of a Tom Hiddleston: a man who looks good in anything.
But where I wanted Guthrie to deviate from the resident genius formula, was to make him socially awkward. But not just awkward, not in a Sheldon Cooper way, but in a really hardcore, barely able to function kind of way. In a way that his coping strategies make him a complete stand out in the squad room. That he’s an island of logic, reason, and habits in the sea of masculine bravado that is the standard depiction of police squad rooms. Once I explored that part of his nature, it became apparent that for him to be that intelligent, and display all those coping strategies, Tybalt Guthrie should be somewhere on the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) spectrum, though perhaps not as high up as Raymond Babbitt.
Tybalt Guthrie is intelligent, highly capable, and sees the world in a unique way. Given the nature of the crimes that he investigates, this allows him greater insights than you would expect from your regular police detective. But with his ASD, comes an extreme set of coping strategies – borderline OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), reciting numbers when locked into fear, and habitually drawing in a notebook, or reading things at a short distance from his face. He’s also socially inept – almost never making eye contact – so despite his effortless good looks he lacks interest in anything romantic, sexual, and often misses sarcasm, and idioms – taking most of what is said literally.
Tybalt Guthrie, as a character, though, would be extremely difficult to write. I have some experience, working my day job as an educator, with students on the spectrum, and those with some form of compulsion or obsession, and those with some fairly extreme coping mechanisms – I have my own coping strategies that others find odd, and exhibit some behaviours that my colleagues struggle to understand. So, I needed someone for whom those readers without that experience could identify with, and through whom we could observe Guthrie.
Enter, Willem Braithwaite.
I started by thinking through all the buddy-cop clichés I could, and thanks to growing up in the late 80s/early 90s, I had a wealth of inspiration upon which to draw. The best, and funniest, match ups have been where the two partners have been opposites. Riggs and Murtagh. Nick Lang and John Moss. Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry. (Unsurprising that Shane Black gets two pairs in this list.) So to draw a diametrically opposite character to Guthrie, I needed someone who was as average as you could get. An average husband, human, baseball player, and detective.
Willem Braithwaite fitted that bill. A detective who, if not already at, is approaching middle age. His family life has lapsed into a dull hum behind work, his work is his life, and he loves a great cup of coffee but, at a pinch, will drink anything. He has his demons – don’t we all? – but he leaves them well enough alone to get on with the job of living his life. A man who doesn’t really pride himself on anything at all, but knows that he can do just about as good a job as anyone without having to expend much effort in the process.
Braithwaite and Guthrie are early in their working relationship when we meet them in All Heart, I didn’t want to have to spend a long time on their origin, or how they came to work together – though I do plan to explore that in a future story. I wanted them to already have some case time under their belt, and spent some time together so they fell into a rhythm and relationship that was credible, and believable.
Both of them are different expressions of my own personality, and though I spend most of my time in Braithwaite’s head – he’s the part of me that’s content just to skirt by on the minimum effort, the coffee lover, the person who absorbs himself into the task he’s working on, the person who has neglected relationships over the years – I do often stray into Guthrie’s rather scary headspace – he’s my anxious-depression, my logical-reasoning, my socially anxious, my literal, my intelligent, my coping strategies; all heightened.
I find myself constantly drawn back to these two, writing in a world that could be AnyCity, US or SomeCity, Canada. Their relationship keeps me coming back as I find new cases and new character moments. Over Christmas last year, I penned a flash short that I sent to Aunty Fox, without agenda, just because I wanted someone to read it; and that’s formed the core of a new story I’m working on between bouts of self-doubt, anxiety, stress, and self-care.
All Heart will be released as part of Fox Spirit‘s Fox Pockets anthology Reflections, which is due out soon. If you’re a reviewer looking for a copy, email me at ej_davies (at) me (dot) com and I’ll provide. And, as a bonus, if your review goes on Amazon shortly after release, you’ll receive a free copy of the audio book. Yup, that’s right, free.
Amazon purchase link: is right here.