In this post, I’m going to talk about the development of my main antagonist, Charles Gooch.
What makes a convincing villain? What is their motive? How do they set out to achieve it? Does the villain have to be scary in a physical sense or is it better if they appear to be normal but turn out to be frightening on a psychological level? These were the types of questions that I was pondering when I set out to create a plausible antagonist for my debut novel, Monkey Arkwright.
Creating some form of antagonist is vital for any plot; whilst their presence makes life complicated for the heroes, it wouldn’t be much fun for the reader if they waltzed their way to the objective with little or no resistance. A good (or is that bad?) antagonist gets in the faces of our heroes, confuses them, makes them feel uncomfortable and in general terms, stands in their way.
So, once I’d come up with the theme of my book and set up the heroes, I knew that I had to nail the primary antagonist. The genesis of Charles Gooch came about in a Paris hotel, shortly after I’d begun my planning for Monkey Arkwright. Disneyland Paris to be exact. I distinctly remember the moment that the idea of Charles Gooch came to me – I was with my two daughters in the Disneyland Hotel, and we were walking down one of the long corridors that led to the gallery just above the main reception area. In the distance, we saw a man waiting for the lift. Although we couldn’t see his face, we could see his attire – a brimmed hat and a raincoat, and he was holding a briefcase. Somebody said that he looked a bit dodgy (I can’t remember who said it), but I followed this up with a comment about him looking like a hotel inspector. In this moment, the character of Charles Gooch was born.
When I returned home and set about adding a bit more detail to my characters, I recalled Mr Bronson, the teacher from the TV series Grange Hill. From memory, he was often seen in a raincoat and carried a briefcase, and it was this similarity with the guy that we’d seen in Paris that solidified the look and feel of Charles Gooch in my mind. Mr Bronson was not your typical villain in that the worst he would do was give the pupils a withering stare, but nevertheless, his character provided the ideal template for my bad guy – the wire-rim glasses worn by Gooch are directly based on those worn by the frightening teacher. Incidentally, Mr Bronson was played by actor Michael Sheard, also known for his portrayal of the incompetent Admiral Ozzel, throttled by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. What better inspiration for my villain than an imperial admiral?
Charles Gooch’s name also owes a debt to television, but the 70s/80s American sitcom Diff’rent Strokes is probably not the first programme that you’d imagine would provide the inspiration. In that series, on many occasions Arnold and his friend Dudley would mention the notorious school bully “The Gooch”, Arnold going wide-eyed with fear at the mere mention of the name. But the funny thing was that “The Gooch” never appeared on screen, and that was always one of the best things about the show for me – the fact that the characters could talk about somebody that the viewers never saw, yet inspire a feeling of fear just by the sheer mention of his name.
Whilst the choice of my antagonist’s surname was in homage to this school bully, there’s also another link worth mentioning. In the film Stand By Me, when the boys flip their coins and all four land on tails, Vern is dismayed, saying that it’s a “goocher”. He goes on to explain that this is really bad luck. In a previous blog post, I’ve written about my love for this film (and The Body, the Stephen King novella that it is based on), but I had genuinely forgot about this scene until I re-watched the film about a year ago; this was long after I’d created the character of Charles Gooch. The fact that a “goocher” ties in with bad luck is an amazing co-incidence, given the plot and themes of my book. Or maybe it was something in my subconscious mind beavering away?
I’ve deliberately limited the number of appearances of Charles Gooch in my book, as I wanted to maximise his impact by using him more sparingly than many screen and book villains. He works more on a psychological level – most of the time he’s not overtly threatening, nor is he angry all the time like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, he works more like Hannibal Lecter, getting under people’s skin. Whilst Darth Vader carries his red light sabre, Charles Gooch is synonymous with his battered briefcase, but I wanted to keep a lot of his background hidden away. Lorna and Monkey find out bits and pieces as the story progresses, but there’s still a lot more to learn about the mysterious Charles Gooch. The concept of a villain who carries some kind of bag is not necessarily new, but I’m hoping that what Gooch carries in his briefcase will be a mystery worth pursuing for my readers.