Gillian Ampleforth - created by Tess Makovesky
Gillian Ampleforth is one of seven main characters in ‘Raise the Blade’, a psychological noir novella in which a serial killer and six separate victims are trapped in a web of violence. All seven characters are very different, ranging from the serial killer himself to an ageing woman with dementia via do-gooders, blackmailers and even a groupie of life-term prisoners. But Gillian is the one who stayed with me the longest once I’d finished writing the book.
She’s based, at least in part, on a near neighbour of my parents, when they were still alive. That particular woman had some of Gillian’s domineering, perhaps even unlikeable personality, drive, and need for control and order, but unlike Gillian she also had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone. However, Gillian was also influenced by a friend of a friend I met many years ago, who had incredibly strong religious beliefs and told me, having only just met me, that I was wrong to believe that all religions are ‟paths up the same mountain”. It’s a trait I had some fun lobbing into Gillian’s mix, although I have to say she takes it considerably further than the person I met ever did.
I tend not to describe my characters’ physical appearance in any great detail as I prefer to picture people myself when reading books and always imagine my readers will want to do the same. However, I do have a general idea what Gillian would look like and it’s summed up best by the phrase ‘back end of a bus’! In other words, rather large and rectangular. Her hair is scraped back into an unflattering bun or ponytail. She’s also ‘mannish’, in a way that has everything to do with appearance and nothing to do with gender identity. And I imagine her with a particularly deep and strident voice.
Do I like Gillian? Hmm, I’m not sure I really like any of my characters all that much, mostly because they tend to be such an unlikeable bunch! Losers, criminals, people who make silly decisions or run away from responsibility: those are the characters who enliven the pages of most noir books, and mine are no exception. If I ever met Gillian face to face I would dislike her bigotry, her arrogance, and her absolute sense of righteousness. But I might have a soft spot for her love of dogs.
That arrogance and sense of always being right is both a strength and a weakness, of course. It brings tremendous purpose to her life, giving her the energy and drive to get involved with all sorts of causes. The trouble is, it also blinds her to the suitability of those very same causes - causes that treat prostitutes as ‘fallen women’ rather than victims of crime, for instance - and ultimately it drives her into making the worst decision of her life.
Unlike some of my characters Gillian sprang more or less fully-formed onto the page and didn’t need changing part way through the book. But she was one of the hardest to write - I had several attempts at that particular section - and one of the hardest to get right. Perhaps that’s why she’s haunted me ever since.
In the book, by the way, Gillian doesn’t have a surname. But I needed one for the crime board display at my book launch, and Ampleforth (a village in Yorkshire) just seemed to fit.
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