Q: Do you think Roxy Parker chose to be a Ghostwriter so she could hide in the shadows of other people's lives?It was a throwaway question, posed to me by a longtime reader and fan, but it threw me for six. I was writing my third ghostwriter mystery when she emailed me from her home in Canada, and I laughed at first before blinking rapidly and having a mini 'Ah-ha' moment that quickly turned into an ''Oh my God!'
Yes. Absolutely. Of course! My reader had nailed it, and I hadn't even realised. Yet I have to confess, that hadn't been my original intention, at least not consciously, not at the start.
Conjuring up a ghost
Roxy Parker was just supposed to be a bit of fun, a bit of a lark. When I first conjured up the protagonist of my new Ghostwriter Mystery Series for the first book Killer Twist, I enjoyed turning her into a merlot-swilling, fast-talking, puzzle-loving amateur sleuth, who just happens to stumble upon corpses as she ghostwrites other people's 'autobiographies'.
Yet as I fleshed Roxy out, as I coloured her in and then drew in her supporting cast, I created something a lot deeper than that, and a hell of a lot more interesting. I'm not talking thesis-inspiring deep, or even something many readers would consciously notice, but it's there and I hadn't even realised it had happened, until one reader pointed it out.
While creating a ghostwriter, I had in effect created a ghost.
Behind the shadows
Roxy lives in the shadows of other people's lives. She's a journalist first and foremost, and most journalists, it has to be said, do exactly that—especially of the print variety. In fact, it's the reason I became a print journo. My communications lecturer had suggested I go into broadcast; I guess he figured I could pull off the voice and/or face for it, but I was aghast at the thought. I loved being behind the scenes, I loved pulling the real story out of other people and pushing them up and into the spotlight.
I wasn't the story, they were! Duh!
It's doubly so for ghostwriters. They don't even get a byline asI generally do, their voice is never heard. Ghostwritten books are usually always in first-person, in the subject's voice, not theirs. It is ALL about the other, and that's just the way young Roxy likes it.
It's also the reason she has set her life up the way she has. It explains everything about her, from her cosy little apartment, only big enough for one, to her motley crew of mates, all fiercely single, all living through others whether they realise it or not. Like her sweet slob of an agent, Oliver, whose whole career is set up to push other people's careers; and her Scottish pal Lockie, a budding artist who provides a cosy cafe where real arty types can congregate. And Gilda Maltin, of course, the tough-talking cop who is single, lives alone and investigates other people's lives.
Only one person breaks the mould.
Max Farrell is Roxy's best friend, a photographer, but he doesn't just snap other people, he creates his own artworks, is a minor celebrity in his own right. He lives in an over-sized warehouse and has plenty of room both there—and in his heart—for Ms Parker.
He's the one who tries to break into Roxy's heart, to bring her out of the shadows and put her in the spotlight. And she keeps pushing him back.
She likes her quiet little life, thank you very much! She likes her Thai takeaway, her local cafe and the newsagents who hold the paper for her so she can cut out the complex mystery and misery she finds inside. Maybe Roxy thinks by doing all of this she will avoid more mystery/misery in her own life?
She had a taste of it once, remember, when her beloved father died? She doesn't want to feel that pain again. She'd rather document other people's pain.
And so Roxy has made her life very small, very single, very closed down—just ask her disapproving mother! Perhaps Lorraine isn't as clueless or as cruel as Roxy likes to make out.
Perhaps the reason both Lorraine and Max want Roxy to stop interfering in other people's mysteries has less to do with her personal safety and more to do with Roxy living a life of her own.
None of this matters, of course, if you're just enjoying the ride. But if you like your characters deeper, if you're into psychoanalysis, well... may I introduce the real Roxy Parker. She's deeper than you may realise.
What do you think? Did you, like my Canadian reader, catch any of that? Are we both over-thinking it? Does it even matter? I'd love to hear your views, please don't hesitate to leave a comment below, or get in touch via email.
Happy (deeper) reading everyone!