Admit it: we all love a stereotype

One criticism of my novel Package Deal that comes up now and again is that the characters are a bunch of stereotypes. My response to that: absolutely!

Indeed there are a lot of stereotypes in Package Deal. But where do stereotypes come from? They come from real people – people we’ve all met at some point, if not time and time again. And that’s what makes them amusing. Take some of these characters for example:

Ricky Gervais’s David Brent in The Office (top pic)
Harry Enfield’s and Kathy Burke’s Wayne and Waynetta Slob in Harry Enfield’s Television Programme (second pic)
John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers
Jennifer Saunders’ and Joanna Lumley’s Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous
David Jason’s Delboy in Only Fools and Horses

These characters are classics. Why? Because we’ve all met them. And when we come face to face with them in everyday life, we often find their behaviour cringeworthy/ridiculous/abhorrent/shocking – which is why they make such good characters to base comedies around.

Many of the characters in Package Deal are loosely based on real people. Bosom buddies Caz and Babs actually inspired the whole story: while on holiday in Kefalonia over 10 years ago, my husband and I stayed at the very apartment complex the story takes place in. It was lovely and quiet, with just the sound of goat bells in the distance. Then, on our second week, Caz and Babs arrived…without their husbands, without their kids, ready to relish a fortnight of freedom.

I’ve forgotten their real names, but they were loud. They disturbed the peace with their incessant cackling and annoying ring tones. You could almost sense everyone inwardly groaning when Caz and Babs padded out of their apartment and headed for the pool. But then, halfway through the week, Caz and Babs invited everyone along to Greek dancing night at a nearby hotel and to their credit, they got everyone to go along and get chatting to one another. They were sweet, likeable women who knew how to have fun.

I only chatted with them for an hour or so but in that short space of time I learned there was a lot more to them than just their loud, larger-than-life personas. As a writer, you start to invent the rest, little by little.

There was also a guy there who was on his own. I only became aware of him at Greek dancing night because Caz and Babs weren’t keen to invite him to join us. I don’t know why he was there alone, only that he seemed to have an air of neediness about him that sadly made people want to avoid him. When I was writing the story, this guy became Simon, the jilted honeymooner, and Simon soon morphed into a geeky guy I used to work with a long time ago.

Local adonis Dimitri is inspired by an old holiday romance of mine from when I was a teenager. I imagined what he would be like in his thirties and, using his goodlooking, outgoing, bubbly personality, I invented the rest of his background and circumstances. Beneath his happy-go-lucky smile, he was sad with a gaping void he didn’t know how to fill.

As for solo holidaymaker Mia, she was inspired by a woman I saw on a TV chat show. The topic of the show was people who’d been adopted or who had grown up in foster homes, people who wished their biological parents had shown some interest in them while they were growing up. It was a heated debate, with the woman I based Mia on actually confronting her birth mother there in the studio. There was a lot of anger and emotion on both sides. I’d heard an agent say once that you can have as many characters as you like in a story so long as one of them is the central character. Therefore Mia seemed the obvious choice for that role.

Lads-on-the-pull Steve and Craig were partly inspired by characters from TV soaps and partly inspired by various male members of my own family, who, back in our younger years, were never short of rude jokes and crude stories that I didn’t want to hear. (Ok, I did, but I always regretted it.)

So yes, there are a fair few stereotypes in Package Deal. But as with their real life counterparts, what’s interesting is what’s beneath the surface of these characters. No one is the ‘sum total’ of the two hours you spend in their company on the plane or in the queue for the check-in desk. Everyone has a story or an element to their character that might surprise you. And that’s what I hope comes through in Package Deal.

By the end of the story, the characters have each revealed a deeper layer to their seemingly predictable surfaces. You’ve seen an unexpected side to them. You’ve seen their struggles and vulnerabilities. Hopefully, you’ve finished the book thinking they’re not such a bad bunch after all.

My Twitterverse (a poem)

Move over gambling and alcohol,
Seductive sweets that soon turn bitter
There’s a new kid in town, who’s stolen your crown –
That social media site called Twitter

You vow you’ll never go near it,
It’s for celebrities, app geeks and fools
Then someone you trust says it’s a must
“Why darling, it’s a genius tool!”

Genius indeed for us writers,
Who always have something to say
Twitter lets you publish your every thought
A hundred or more times a day

Still it takes you a while to grasp it
There are different rules of thumb
Such as, plug yourself more than 5%
And you’ll be unfollowed by some

You tweet something and someone retweets you
It gives you a buzz and a glow
You tweet something and nobody notices
Answer me damn it! Hello?

You start to tweet before breakfast
On your i-phone while still in the buff
You burn the dinner while tweeting a winner
Your partner snaps, “I’ve had enough!”

Then one day a lightbulb goes ping
It’s time to climb out of the pit
The penny drops: real life has stopped
You’ve been acting like a Twit

Like medicine, Twitter has healing powers
Interaction and praise make you high
But too much leads to getting hooked
While real life passes you by…

That’s not to say that Twitter’s all bad
It has many a positive quality
But once in a while, have some goddamn style
Give yourself a good Twitter holiday.