And now I come to Atti, the Fatal Child herself. ‘She’s the real heroine’ our artist said after reading the novel. Maybe he’s right. She is central, she is brave. She has moments of humanity and compassion even when things are at their very worst for her. Much of what goes wrong around her is actually the fault of others, who love her too much and whose love she is unable to return because of her inner nightmare. It is this nightmare, this terror, that is her defining flaw.
How do you invent a character, particularly one who is so complex and important to the story? I know where I first saw her, in the image that came to me of a young woman standing quite still in a garden while a massacre went on not far away. And I knew what I wanted from her. She was to bring the series of three books full circle. She would share many things with Phaedra, the heroine of The Cup of the World (a dark beauty, a scarred and lonely childhood, a husband who courts her in her dreams). Yet now it would not be the man who would lead us down the path towards darkness, but the woman. Where Phaedra had fought her nightmares and won, Atti must fight them and lose. She would be the earthly embodiment of Beyah, the goddess who weeps forever. She was to play the role of Guenevere.
All that was the easy bit. I did not so much plan it as find it rising to the surface of my brain when I was working out the story. As always, the hard part is filling in the stuff that doesn’t come naturally. In this case it was harder still because one of the important things about Atti is that she doesn’t want you to get to know her. She turns away, doesn’t look at you, doesn’t let you see what she’s thinking. She has a coldness that is defensive. As the various redrafts went by I put in first one new chapter, then a second, at the start of Part Two, learning more about her through the eyes of the peasant girl Melissa. The final redraft, when I’d got just about everything else sorted to my satisfaction, was devoted pretty well entirely to Atti, to wake her up and round her off, and also to give her an exit that would balance her first entry, stepping out across a muddy, torchlit yard with single spots of rain hissing like arrows from the sky.