More About James Avalon? - extra articles by Peter Gray
I have been asked for some further information on both James Avalon and the other members of his team, in an effort to put more 'flesh' on their characters and to give some insights into them, I will place some short articles here now and then.
More About James Avalon
So who is James Avalon and is he based on anyone?
He's real of course, isn't he? If I had to put my hand on my heart and tell the truth I would have to admit that Detective James Avalon began life as something quite different. So, before I continue I should warn you that reading any further may alter the way you think of the main character.
I was working on another project and considering what I should look at next and being a writer who loves humour, I was working towards something of that nature. There was no name for the book and no name for the main character though several had been written down. Avalon wasn't one of them fortunately. The idea had been hanging around in my head for some time but I eventually abandoned the idea as I couldn't come to terms with any of the characters. Late in 2014 I began a short chapter to see how it worked but I still wasn't happy, so I shelved it but after reading it through late one evening, I found myself adding to it. Three days later I had a chapter completed but when I read through it I realised it was dark and moody rather than funny. I scrapped it and decided it wouldn't work.
Early in 2015 the subject raised its head again but this time after a conversation with my wife we decided to revisit the project but with a serious tone to it. Still nothing happened until one day I stumbled across his name in my head. It was an odd moment, as soon as I had the name the rest came too. I sat at the computer and wrote several thousand words without a break. I later utilised some of the text from the original document and before long there was a full chapter. It had something like ten edits before I started the second but it was there, James Avalon was real, once he was part of the story, it wrote itself.
The old Ford Mondeo, Avalon's choice of car for many years.
From that moment on, I didn't seem to have much say in Avalon's life, I had to be present at the keyboard but it was never hard work. The Mondeo, his ex-wife, the love of motorcycles, it was all very natural, well sort of. There were a few things that changed but nothing serious.
His history was more of a problem. I had to know what had brought him to this position and that had to be written down and though it isn't a long document, it took nearly as much writing as the whole book. Below is a section from that history.
"The young James Avalon never wanted to be a detective, from the age of five he had a passion for music and he collected records of many artists through a broad spectrum of styles. At the age of fourteen he managed to save enough money to purchase his first guitar and he knew he was going to be a great guitarist. The trouble was, there was something no one ever told him, 'you have to practice to be great'. He didn't like that idea and soon found that the guitar was too difficult for him to master. He then tried a keyboard and found it equally as difficult as the guitar and so when he eventually went to college he joined a club dedicated to furthering musical abilities and finding musicians to form bands. James considered this was what he wanted and soon joined where he tried most instruments including drums and even singing.
His mentor eventually took him aside and asked why he wanted to play something so strongly. The young James explained that he loved music so much that he knew it was the only way he would ever be fulfilled. The mentor explained that the reason he was not very successful was that he had no sense of rhythm and was probably tone deaf. He was also told that his singing voice was dreadful. This forced James's hand and though he had suspected it for sometime, having it confirmed saw him leave the music club and look elsewhere for fulfilment.
While he was studying, he noticed several of his contemporaries had motorbikes and after trying it out for himself he was hooked. He loved it and after passing his test bought a 600 Honda and rode it as much as he could, eventually finding work as a currier. If he had been disappointed in not becoming a rock star then the motorbike almost made up for it and he began to wonder how he had ever functioned without it.
He eventually obtained fairly regular work delivering blood and vital organs and during one of these deliveries he found he was being followed by a bike, traffic cop and though he had no reason to worry, he would have preferred it if the cop had gone past. Eventually the cop drew level and waved and then he shot off ahead with sirens blazing, he was obviously off to an emergency. That was it, James had found what he ought to be doing, little did he realise then that he would have to become a copper. But then again, if he hadn't, there would have been no Detective James Avalon."
1956 Truimph Thunderbird. (Blackbird) Similar to Avalon's treasured motorcyle.
So is he based on anyone in particular? No not really. He's a flawed character with a few things in
his past that still hurt. I suppose he's a bit of many people, parts of all of us. I get a mixed reaction from people, some love him, some hate him and I think that's why, we all see the good and the bad in ourselves, so much that Avalon brings a little part of all of us into his life. I didn't like him to begin with but he has grown on me, which is good because it feels like he is telling his own story, I'm just writing it down for him.
Inverness is described as one of Europe's fastest growing cities, with a quarter of the Highland population living in or around it. It is ranked fifth out of 189 British cities for its quality of life, the highest of any Scottish city. It is said that in the recent past, Inverness has experienced rapid economic growth and showed the largest growth of average economic productivity per person in Scotland and the second greatest growth in the United Kingdom as a whole, with an increase of 86%. No matter how we look at facts and figures however, you have to be there to understand what a special place it is. Firstly, it doesn't feel like a city and few of the people who know it regard it as such and consider it more akin to a town. This isn't due to its size or what it has to offer, in truth it has a staggering array of goods, services and industry to offer, there isn't much that is worth having that can't be found in Inverness, The 'big town' feel comes more from its people than anything else. There is a friendly aura to it and many of the populace seem to have a smile on their faces, much more than I have noticed in other parts of the UK.
So why set a crime novel in such a seemingly pleasant place?
Well probably just for that reason. No city can ever be considered utopia, even somewhere like Inverness and every population centre has its crime and its bad people. Indeed, some criminals will move to such places seeing them as easy pickings but the truth is, Inverness has its problems just like anywhere else. As it grows, it will need more and more real life 'Avalons' to keep its people safe too. I also think that Inverness deserves a more global recognition for what it and its people have achieved and what better way than to make its culture and its people come alive on paper so that those who don't know it can read about it. And now I can hear you asking, if that's so, why isn't Avalon Scottish?
To show the reader, (particularly those who don't know Scotland that well) the true nature of the place the main character needed to be not just from out of the area but out of the country. It allows me to play with the objectivity of Avalon and let him explore the culture for the reader. It also allows me to delve into the political and social differences between Scottish and English history.
Photograph courtesy Press & Journal
I also believe that Inverness and the Highlands are such a perfect backdrop for this kind of story, there is a mystery and dark side to Scotland's history which makes it slightly 'edgy' but magical. There is also a vast contradiction about the country and its people that make anyone who likes to tell a story see it as a superb place to start and from a personal perspective, I live some miles north of Inverness but when I visit, it always feels like I'm coming home.
That's why I haven't changed much of the real Inverness in the book, they are the one and the same and though it is always problematic writing about real places in real time, it's also rewarding when it all comes together.
Obviously, several other locations are used within the stories and some of them will probably be covered in further articles, but there are two circumstances where Avalon's world is slightly different to the real world. The first one is at the police station.
Though most of the principles of police work are included I have altered some procedures and the actual police station layout and logistics because I didn't want to have anything in the book which was too close to actual people. Over the past few years Police Scotland has changed greatly and if I was to keep the system that is employed at the moment, I'm sure the stories would suffer, so I altered a few things in a subtle way.
One other thing that I alter are specific addresses. This will be the case in the third book, 'The Brollachan', where an address will be used. For obvious reasons the address will be fictitious but hopefully that will not detract from the plot. In all these cases, even if I have an actual place in mind, the address will not be real, but everything else will be. Then again, some locations are exactly as in the real world, one such place is the pub that Avalon and Ross frequent
from the third book. The pub is real and it is well worth a visit, you never know, you may catch sight of Avalon in there.
To conclude, the Inverness and for that matter, the Scotland that you read about in the books is as real as I can make it without compromising anyone's privacy.