Ever wondered where an author gets his or her inspiration? How they come up with the interesting characters we then get to meet in their books? South African thriller writer Kurt Ellis tells us how his path crossed with that of Nick Creed, the brilliant but troubled investigator in In The Midst of Wolves.
There is a dark, seedy pub in my mind. The type with sticky floors and a dented juke box that plays only one song. It has wide walls and smoke hangs from the low ceiling like thick, grey clouds. In this room, Captain, Kyle and Jimmy are laughing as they play pool on one of the tables. On another, Eric Cass is lasciviously making out with Salome Vorster, not caring who is watching. At the bar, Cassie Kore is ordering a drink, trying to stop the horrific visions she sees whenever she closes her eyes. And in a corner booth, Gabriel Laucus, Skellie and Muzi are going over their scam to defraud an insurance company of millions of dollars, careful that no-one is eavesdropping. Every now and again, new people walk in like Thandi Ndlovu, Sindi Phillips and Lenin Nkosi that I can’t wait to meet.
But in the far corner of this room, sits Nicholas Creed. He is motionless; swallowed by shadow. If it wasn’t for the glow of his lit cigarette, I wouldn’t even know that he was there. But now that I do, I can’t take my eyes off of him.
This is how I first met Nick Creed, my protagonist from In the Midst of Wolves. I didn’t know who he was, nor had I ever heard his voice before. I just saw him. This still man who had two wolves fighting inside him. A wolf of anger and a wolf of depression, and the knowledge that whichever wolf wins, would probably end up killing him next. I first saw Creed while I was ‘talking’ to Captain, Kyle and Jimmy, and began to write their story. A story I would publish in 2014 as By Any Means. I couldn’t help but talk to him then and this is why he first appears briefly in that novel. I know the above scene may make you question my sanity, but this is genuinely how I see all the characters of my stories, published or yet to be written. They not only exist in the same world, but are as intimately entangled as people who are stuck in the same room.
I’ve always loved reading dark crime thrillers and Creed is the amalgamation of some of the traits of a few of my favourite characters, as well as traits that I wished those characters had. I don’t think I have, or ever will spend more time with a character, than I have with Nick Creed. I tend to work backwards when I’m developing characters. I ‘meet’ them fully formed, like meeting a new person at a bar. They already have their personalities, their eccentricities and their biasness. It is only after this encounter, do I begin to create their backstories to explain why they are, the way they are. Creed though, is different to my other characters, as often, he leaves the pub with me. I swear, I feel him sitting next to me while I’m driving. I have conversations with him, because I know how he will respond to questions, to situations and to events, like I’ve known him my whole life. Maybe I have, because who knows how long he’s been sitting in the corner of that room.