Abby Corson: How I got into the mindset of a seventy-three-year-old man.
Tap one. Tap two. Tap three.
Sorry about that. I have to tap my head three times when I have a bad or intrusive thought. That time I was thinking about how much worse everything would have been if my father was still alive. You can delete that bit from the transcript, Helen. Actually, leave it in. I guess it adds to the authenticity of the tale.
I suppose it would be fitting to explain that I am talking into a dictaphone and the lovely Helen will be typing out my story for you to read. She will have a certain amount of creative control— sorting out moments when I get a bit tongue-tied or slightly muddled— but I have told her to leave in as much as possible, so as not to miss any of the important bits. This is my account of the Cavengreen Hotel murder, best we get that bit in early on.
Tap one. Tap two. Tap three.
That was me remembering the moment I found the body.
To put it simply, The Concierge is about a murder in a hotel, but it is the way the story is told that makes it so unique.
For my debut novel, I, a woman in her thirties, chose to write from the first-person perspective of a seventy-three-year-old man. Hector Harrow is an almost-retired hotel concierge from Yorkshire who likes to drink tea and do newspaper puzzles in his cosy cottage. For me, he was the perfect protagonist for my murder mystery.
It started with an idea; how do I write a book that can include someone’s most mundane, everyday thoughts like what they were going to defrost for dinner or how many pairs of socks and undies were on their washing line? From that starting point, I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to write a book that is a transcription of someone’s inner monologue. But why? And how? It had to be more than just someone reciting their lunch plans and daily grumbles into their mobile phone.
From there, I considered what sort of person would need to record their thoughts instead of type them into their computer. Perhaps an older gentleman who isn’t too keen on technology? That is how Hector came about; an endearing elderly main character telling his story into a dictaphone for a friend (ex-publisher, Helen) to turn into a book for him. The five-star hotel setting and murder mystery side of the novel fell into place after that.
There is this view that older people can get away with doing and saying whatever they want. And for me, that was such a fun place to write from. Hector spoke with freedom and honesty. As the author, that translated into being able to write so freely that Hector’s words came out with ease.
During the writing process, I got to know Hector so well that I just knew instinctively what he would do and how he would behave in certain situations, even when he was acting unpredictably like disrupting a courtroom or withholding evidence from the police.
When I created the character of Hector, I wanted people to finish the book forgetting that he isn’t a real person. I wanted the reader to feel like they knew him so well that he just had to be real. That is why those details, like his preference for a vanilla slice over a cheesecake, and how he likes his tea (English breakfast, no milk), are so important, because those are the sorts of things you might know about a close friend or relative.
When people ask if it was hard getting into the mindset of a man in his seventies, I say no. If I am being completely honest with myself, aside from the obvious age and gender differences, I am pretty much the same tea-drinking, crime-novel reading, homebody as him, and if he was real, I am absolutely certain we would get along very well.