• JT Bird

Meet The Characters - The City That Barks And Roars

It's been a great week - the hardback and paperback versions of my novel arrived in the post. There is no greater feeling than unwrapping your published story for the first time!! Both versions look and feel great. I always imagined that self-published books would be lacking in quality when it came to the jacket and paper etc, but Ingram Spark get top marks - the books are fab, and wouldn't look out of place in a high street bookstore. I was extremely relieved

I thought in todays blog I would introduce a few of the main characters from my book, and share a little background for each :D

Detective Frank Penguin

I came up with an idea for a penguin detective, when i was eight years old !! Nearly thirty years later i've finally brought him to life!! It was the image of this penguin character that gave me the idea for the book. I wanted to write a novel and it had to involve a penguin!!

Former soldier, turned sleuth. Loves coffee and mackerel for breakfast. Happily married. But he had to be grumpy - I pictured him as a grouchy Al Pacino, with a thick Italian-American accent. He speaks like a wise-guy but he's far from stupid - in fact he is one of the most experienced detectives on the force. He's a bit of a scruff - which I love about him - and there's a clear nod to Columbo; he wears a mac, his car is a piece of junk, he acts like a bit of a bozo - but he gets the job done.

He was easy to write as well. Sometimes I have real difficulty finding the voice for a character and bashing out their dialogue - but with Frank it was a piece of cake.

Detective Charlie 'Chico' Monkey

Originally this character was a stag. Again, as a child I had come up with a stag that was a super hero - and I thought I could incorporate that character into my book as a partner for Frank. But, for reasons that now escape me, I ditched the stag and opted for a red howler monkey. I suppose the character is young and cheeky - and a monkey made a better fit. I Googled monkeys and settled on the red howler as it had a cool beard!!

I struggled to find the voice for a while. I couldn't decide how immature he would behave, how naïve he would be etc. In the end I pictured Ryan Reynolds doing the voice - a teenage Ryan Reynolds - as a cocky youngster, but someone who was serious when it was necessary.

Originally I wrote a whole section about Chico's story in West Bay - and had him arresting a puma before being told by 'Chief Owl' that he was being transferred to Noah's Kingdom. Eventually I cut it out because it felt like I was dumping too much on the reader, so early into the book. But I liked the idea that he grew up with his Aunt - like the protagonists in a lot of middle grade tales!!

Detective Jake Bear

David Morse in The Green Mile - he plays a tough prison guard, but he has morals and his heart is in the right place. This is the guy I imagined when I created Jake Bear - a character that could handle himself, but only switched on that power when absolutely essential. A friendly giant really. Quietly spoken, quite serious. And I liked the idea that he was a boxer, touching distance from retirement - still a warrior but his best days were behind him.

In my first draft he was already retired - having had a traumatic experience with one of the books antagonists. Then he reluctantly comes out of retirement to help etc!!

Maybe that would have been cooler?! But never mind...

In one version he also had a loud mouthed hen as his partner, Maggie Hen, but my editor said I had too many characters so she got the chop!! :D

Detective Hudson Rhino

Every cop drama you watch there's always a slimebag within the department, a doughnut guzzling wise-ass with litte regard for their health and wellbeing. Hudson Rhinso - orignally called Ness Rhino - was my slimebag. I felt like a rhino fit quite well, though maybe a hippo or elephant would have been just as appropriate. I think there's a character in Ace Ventura Pet Detective - who I pictured as a similar character, and I would picture this guy everytime I wrote a line for Hudson.

Officer Ruben Rat

Ruben - named after Ruben Loftus Cheek - a fantastic footballer for Chelsea Football Club!! But his character is closer to Woody Allen, in Annie Hall mode. Rats are usually bad guys or sneaky but I liked the idea that mine was a coward instead. There's a lot of tough characters so I wanted someone a bit more shaky, but he also provided an opportunity for comedy - and a chance to poke fun at the madness of this peculiar animal kingdom. Like with Frank - he was easy to write, and the dialogue was whipped up without agony.

Officer Yuriko Wolf

I wanted a Japanese character. I don't know why. It just felt right!! Maybe i'd been watching a lot of Japanese movies at the time?! But I love Yuriko - she's cool as a cucumber. I knew from the beginning that I wanted some strong female characters in important roles - despite it being set in 1952. Ruben is the wimp and she is the polar opposite, which was enjoyable to write - all the bickering etc - and I think she's a character that the readers will respect.

Chief Vulture

Helen Mirren - straight away I had her in mind as my Chief. Just the voice mind you, she looks nothing like a vulture!! She's great at playing an ice cold boss, and I just had her in mind while I created the ruthless bird. She wears a lot of black which is a cliché, but I just thought - this is such a humourless, cold hearted leader - that she wouldn't dream of wearing bright colours!!

She smokes aswell. She smokes a lot. I was tangling with the age group that I would target with the book - so I nearly dropped any reference to smoking. Now ive realised that actually most of my readers are middle aged adults - so maybe I should have just included smoking and booze galore.

Ness Rangutan

Originally Hamish McRangutan - but that's wayyyyy too Scottish, that it sounds a bit pathetic. Ness is slightly more subtle. He doesn't play a huge role in the story but I adore orangutans and he was great fun to write. In fact if I do a sequel or prequel - there will certainly be more of Ness.

I kinda pictured a dorky weatherman in my head - bright outfits and a bow tie, which my father used to wear every Friday - yet stuck in this dreary lab. He's got a heart of gold, all round nice guy and happy to share advice. He also gets way too close when he talks to you - and this is based on a nutter I used to work with!!

Eliana Panther

Another strong woman. This time a feisty panther. I changed the name and creature numerous times. Eliana is my daughters name so I finally settled for that, and a panther felt perfect given her manner. I wasn't quite sure how she would act - but as soon as I began typing, she quickly became this strong Mary Poppins type character and I think it worked well. So often in noir stories - the women are meek, or background characters - so i wanted her to be quite gutsy, and not take any nonsense from the males around her.

Father Goat

One of my favourite actors was the great Max Von Sydow - and I immediately had him in mind when I pictured the goat. There is a speech from Father Goat, which takes place at the orphanage, and this is the first chunk that I wrote for the book. It's a speech which essentially explains how this world of animals came to - and was key to persuading me that this story might work/be intriguing.

Salvatore Bulldog

The book is essentially set in LA, it's set in the fifties - so you need a gangster. Mine is Salvatore Bulldog - but I was determined that he would differ from the usual Marlon Brandos you get in every other noir story. I thought it would be more interesting if actually my gang boss was reasonably intelligent, polite, and more concerned with his diet than dishing out anarchy. I think he's one of the most interesting characters in the book actually, and possibly I should have explored him a little deeper. Maybe something I could dabble with if I returned to this world in the future?!

Mason Gator

Jack Nicholson as an alligator - that's all I had written down. I had this image of a suave, golf playing gator with a perfect smile, but a shady history. I think he's a fun character - because he's very likeable, yet he's done some horrible things - so you're torn on whether to like him!!

I think in the end I tweaked the accent a bit, and made him really 'southern' - kinda like Woody Harrelson. I had too many characters talking like wise-guys - so decided that Mason could be a little different.

Omar Tiger

The smartest tiger in town. Benedict Cumberpatch with claws and fur, essentially. He's a gay character but I didn't feel the need to actually say it, or make a big deal out of it - because within the animal kingdom its actually just fairly common. Like Annabella he's also quite mysterious - and maybe I should have delved into this life a bit more. Maybe I could release another version of the book - adding more details about the peripheral characters?! But like with Salvatore, I liked the idea of twisting expectations on their head - he's a tiger so the reader assumes he will be monstrous like Shere Khan, where as in actual fact he is posh, cultured, and focused on his job.

Lioness Annabella

??? - I'm saying nothing about Annabella !!!

Fat Chinchilla

Every detective story also has a snitch, a grass, a fountain of knowledge. For some reason the chinchilla just seemed to me like the perfect creature to be a snitch. I liked the idea that actually he was doing pretty well, and living a fancy lifestyle - rather than living off scraps like similar characters in other books/films etc. I wanted my snitch to be a bit of a high-flyer/wheeler dealer - and of course had Danny DeVito in mind - who does a wonderful job as a scumbag in LA Confidential.

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