Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Constructing a hero, part 2: Luke Sharpe

This is a post that's much more speculative than the last. Partly because it's talking about a hero who's still being written, and partly because it's someone who has had much less direct influence than Harker.

Today I'm going to be talking about Luke Sharpe, who you may know as the some-time hero of the Sophie Green Mysteries. I'm currently working on rewrites for the fifth novel in the series, Run Rabbit Run, in which we get to see Luke's point of view for the first time (incidentally, for some really excellent posts on point of view, check out Julie Cohen's recent blog posts). In this book, without giving too much away, Luke and Sophie spend a lot of time apart, although I'll add that it's not willingly. With the book written entirely from Sophie's 1st person POV, Luke was just a voice on the end of the phone for most of the book, and apparently all he did was sit around waiting for her to call. No. That's not Luke at all.

But if that isn't Luke, what is? Who is he? Well, all right. You'll have to bear with me as I first started writing Luke seven years ago, so my initial influences might have faded a bit, and as I've continued to write him, more inspirations have popped up. He's gone from being a sexy love interest to being a very complex man.

I first wrote him as a love interest. Not as a romantic hero. I'd been reading a lot of Stephanie Plum, and I think my idea was to write a love interest for Sophie the way Morelli is for Stephanie, at least to begin with. In most of the Sophie books, there are other...shall we call them temptations, but Luke is always her number one guy. In my heart of hearts, I know they're meant for each other, but to ever actually give them a Happy Ever After is to kill the series stone dead.

Jason O'Mara, who'll be playing Morelli in the upcoming fim of One For The Money

So, what kind of love interest was he going to be? He was going to be a spy, and he was going to be the opposite of Sophie. As one of the characters tells her in the first book, "The British spy is suave, sophisticated and elegant. The British spy is not blonde, built, and confused." So, suave, sophisticated and elegant, eh?

I'm not sure I made a conscious decision to make Luke upper-class, although I knew he was going to be much posher than Sophie. He knows all the right people, has had an impeccable education, is never at a loss which knife or fork to use, and could give those Strictly stars a run for their money at a waltz. Bit by bit, throwaway lines about going to Eton or having a trust fund ("It's only for emergencies!") filled out his background. I wanted him to highlight all the deficiencies Sophie sees in herself, having come from a lower middle-class background, with only a state secondary education and whatever social graces she's managed to figure out for herself. Sophie is intended to be an everywoman, but she aspires to much more. Luke already has everything, but he aspires to make his own way.

James Bond is an obvious influence on this character. He's referenced all through the books (and if Richard Curtis hadn't already used the line "James Bond never has to put up with this shit," I'd so have given it to Sophie). Interestingly, at the original time of writing Pierce Brosnan was playing 007, but by the time I sold and edited the first four books, it was Daniel Craig. Now, while I may have borrowed some of Brosnan's sophisticated elegance for Luke, they don't have a lot in common. It's Craig's "blunt instrument" who Luke resembles much more. Yes, he's got the impeccable background, but he's also a thug in nice clothes.

Luke isn't a thug exactly, but deep down he knows he could be. He could kill a man coldly, if he was ordered to or if it was deserved. He's rather institutionalised--Eton, RAF, SAS--but fighting against it. He's been raised in a social class and environment where conspicuous emotionality is quietly despised, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have emotions. He'd just prefer not to.

From Casino Royale there's a telling moment when Bond is watching the body of his lover being carried away, and M asks, "I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached, but that's not your problem, is it, Bond?" and Bond gives her a look so devoid of emotion he might be made from stone. When he replies, "No," his voice has less expression than Stephen Hawking's.

This is the way Luke has been for years, how he wants to be, how he would like to continue being. He has elegant affairs with sophisticated women who aren't even looking for someone to wake up with in the morning, let alone a wedding ring. It suits them both. His colleague warns Sophie in the first book that the only thing Luke has an emotional attachment to is his gun. Luke, at the time, sees nothing wrong with this.

Of course, both Luke and Bond find their composure cracked by one woman. For Bond, it doesn't end well. For Luke...well, we're still seeing.

Fans of the series (there must be one or two, else it's just the same person emailing me. Scary thought) will know that Buffy is a common theme in the books, and that on one occasion Maria compares Spike to Luke. Well, both are blond, British and sarcastic, and they both have terrific bone structure, but Luke isn't as emotional as my favourite vampire.

Or is he? The thing about Spike is that he's supposed to be a soulless killer. He gets his name from his habit of killing people with railroad spikes. The very nature of the demon inside him means he has no soul, and yet he demonstrates repeatedly that he's quite capable of love, grief, and loyalty. When he falls for a woman, he falls hard. Hard enough to nearly end the world for Drusilla, and hard enough to die for Buffy.

While Luke is fully in possession of his soul, it's not apparent to a lot of people around him (there's more than one reason I called the fourth book Still Waters). It wouldn't take much of a leap of imagination to assume that a demon, in the form of the Secret Intelligence Service, stole his soul a long time ago. It takes a strong, brave and reckless woman to beat that demon back. For Spike, the woman is Buffy; for Luke, it's Sophie.

One of my favourite things about writing this series has always been the continuing relationship between Luke and Sophie. They've never had a Happy Ever After, only a Happy For Now. Neither of them are fully emotionally formed enough to appreciate or deserve a Happy Ever After (when they get there, I reckon it's the end of the series).

A more recent comparison might be Lucas North from Spooks (a very recent comparison, since his character arc took place entirely after the book was written, and is only now influencing the rewrite). Lucas is (or seems to be) devoted body and soul to the British Service, but when he encounters the only woman he ever loved, everything goes to pieces and his loyalty to the Service is tested. For Lucas, it fails. For Luke...hmm, I'm not sure.

(yes! I can even get a picture of Richard Armitage in this post! It's like a bet or something!)

Luke is an elastic band, wound round and round a pencil. Wind him tight enough, and he'll snap. Take the pencil away, and he'll unravel.

(There, that's poetic, isn't it? Plus, Sophie just loves being compared to a pencil.)

Have you read any of the Sophie Green books? Who do you think Luke is like? Where do you think his character will go? Do you think he'll ever mature enough to get his Happy Ever After?


  1. I can see some similarities between Luke and Spike, but I think Spike hides his true self more than Luke. Spike hides his upper crust beginnings behind a facade of bad boy punk vamp. Luke doesn't do that.

    I've read all the books, by the way and I'm both happy and sad. Happy that I've found a new series I love, but sad that I've finished them all.

  2. I always read Luke as dark - don't know why since it is mentioned that he's blonde. I guess it's because blondes just don't do it for me (sorry guys, can't you just hear the groans of disappointment and the sound of 'hunk' cards being handed back?) This is one of the problems with you telling me who you based their heroes on - I will always read them differently! Apart from Little Davy T, we tend to differ on who we find attractive! (and that's the sound of Mr Armitage bursting into tears, sorry Richard, you're not my type either).

  3. Hi, Idiotdogbrain (great handle!).

    You're right, Luke doesn't hide his background, but neither does he shout about it. I'm really enjoying writing about how he perceives himself, and how he relates both to Sophie and to other people in his sphere.

    I've just given him a posh sexy assistant and wrote a scene where she admires his very expensive lighter. Luke agrees that it's very nice, but considers you can light a cigarette just as well with a box of matches.

    He appreciates the advantages of his background in a way Spike doesn't, but he can also see the disadvantages. Unlike Spike, he doesn't feel such a need to rebel--although in small ways, such as disdaining family gatherings and choosing a woman like Sophie, he is rebelling all the time.

  4. Jane, that's always a problem, isn't it, the gap between how the writer intends the character to look and how the reader perceives him. It's also one of the things I like about books, that I can make up my own mind and picture him the way I want to. When a book gets filmed, often I feel slightly cheated by someone imposing their idea of the character onto mine.

    Luke isn't the first character I've written blond and other people have read as dark. Striker in my Realms books has very pale blond hair, but people have told me he ought to be dark.

    I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree over Mr Armitage. Less competition that way.

    And you've forgotten Aidan Turner! How could you!

  5. I have not forgotten Aiden Turner - wash your mouth out, woman! In fact he's here, under my bed...I mean, he is rarely out of my thoughts. Okay, so that's two...

  6. Anonymous11:08 pm

    I agree with Jane Lovering when she says that she imagines Luke to be a brunette. And that when you compare book characters to movie characters, my imagination keeps going back to what I thought in the first place.
    I love the Sophie Green mystery books so much that if the series is going to end when Luke and Sophie finally have a solid relationship (if they do), then I don't want them too! But of course it would be nice for them to have a happy ending.
    Cannot wait for the next books in the series so I can get stuck into them!