People ask me if Mike Travis is based on a real person. Well, I suppose he is in a way, or rather a composite of several people. Both my husband and I are ex-RAF, and so I do have a good insight into service life and the after-service life, which is handy when it comes to putting Mike in harm’s way and seeing how he deals with it all. There is possibly some of me in Beth, his wife, although I’m nowhere near as brave as she is. I don’t think I would have survived Crowsmoor!
It is interesting as an author to watch and listen to people, stopping short of blatant eavesdropping! Sometimes. And it is very difficult to resist putting someone you know directly into the story. But we all have very distinctive traits and characteristics which provide plenty of material for forthcoming characters. As they say, names and places have been changed to protect the innocent!
Mike had a whole lot of trouble recovering from serious injuries following his helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and to make it worse, something strange happened while he was clinically dead for several minutes. When he regained consciousness after extensive surgery, he discovered his problem. He could see spirits. And I don’t mean the kind that comes in a glass.
I can only imagine how such trauma would affect someone, and the terrifying possibility that you may be losing your mind. Thankfully, he gets his head around it and in true character decides to use the gift, rather than fear it. He’s big on duty and survival, which is an accurate assessment of most serving personnel.
As Mike’s investigations have progressed, and readers have come to know him and his family, I have introduced other issues that affect us in life. Some of the issues have been challenging to write, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a big problem for many of our servicemen and women returning from war zones.
I am currently writing the sixth full length novel in the series, The Sin Eater, and over that time I have come to know Mike and his family well. I know how he walks and talks, his likes and dislikes, his friends and family, and I was delighted to read a recent review from a reader who said that she was now invested in the welfare of him and his family. This kind of feedback makes an author very happy, because it means that the character is as real to the reader as he or she is to the author. I think I stop short of talking out loud to them, but can’t be too sure!
It’s true to say that Mike does often wake me up at night, especially when I’m coming towards the end of a book, and the only thing to do if I want to get any sleep, is to get up and just write. Many authors say that their characters take on a life of their own and that they insist on behaving in a way that is far from the intended plot. Mike is like that, but his friend Jack Carter is the more impulsive of the two and the more inclined to give me this kind of hassle!
So, if you’re out and about, minding your own business, and you see someone watching you carefully, and apparently listening to your conversations, it’s probably not MI5, more likely just an author that has seen a potential new character. Or they may just like your coat. It’s all in the detail.