Solomon Creed is the first in a new series of epic thrillers that span the world, focusing on the enigmatic title character. But who is Solomon Creed and where did he come from? In his new column Simon Toyne discusses the genesis of his new series, focusing on ideas, characters, research and writing.

Part 2: Characters

Some writers start with their characters, or their main character at least, and let their story grow from there. I’m the other way round. I always know, roughly, what a book is going to be about then set about populating it. This is when I indulge in one of my favourite writerly pastimes of ‘casturbation’.

Casturbation, if you are unfamiliar with the term, means the imaginary casting of the movie of your book. I start by setting up a character document and write a list of the people I need to tell the story. This can start off with things as vague as ‘Corrupt Cop dude’, it doesn’t really matter at this stage, the detail will come gradually. Once I have my list of essential characters I write a one or two line description beneath each name and start trawling the internet for photographs, looking for faces. Inevitably a lot of my characters end up looking like actors in certain movies, but not always. Sometimes a photograph from a news story will grab my attention and I’ll cut it out and paste it into the document.

‘With my main character, Solomon Creed, I knew I wanted him to be ‘other’, not just a stranger but – ‘strange’ so he had to look extraordinary.’

This is quite a fluid process, the character descriptions growing as I write the book and the pictures often changing too. I see the document very much as a tool rather than a finished thing, a starting point and on-going reference. As an example of the fluidity of this process, while I was writing Solomon, Matt (at the Reader Dad blog) asked me to write something on ‘Carrie at 40’ and that experience ended up informing my main female character. You can spot the reference in the book.

With my main character, Solomon Creed, I knew I wanted him to be ‘other’, not just a stranger but – ‘strange’ so he had to look extraordinary. I also knew I wanted him walking out of the desert at the start. I’m very visual and have to see things before I can write them so I use all kinds of visual queues and references. For this opening scene I re-watched the opening scene of ‘Paris,Texas’ where Harry Dean Stanton is shuffling across a vast landscape and was struck by how odd it was that he was wearing a suit – so I put Solomon in a suit and took away his shoes to add an extra element of oddness. I also re-watched ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ and gave Solomon some of the elegant awkwardness and charisma of both Peter O’Toole and David Bowie. In fact pictures of both stood in for Solomon at various stages of the writing process, though that’s not what he ended up looking like.

Another major element of Solomon’s character is that he is a man with no personal memories, a man wiped clean of his past. I remember staring at a photo of Bowie in his Thin White Duke days – “well hung and snow white tan” (actually that’s Ziggy, but it’s a fluid process remember?) – and I realised Solomon should be the same, only even whiter – a blank sheet of paper of a man. And that’s how he became an albino, someone so white he’s almost uncanny. At one point in the book he is described by another character as looking like a beautiful marble statue that has come to life. This whiteness also makes him particularly vulnerable to the harsh Arizona sun, which adds to his character and his vulnerability within the story.

I always treat location as another character in the story but my approach to that is slightly different and I’ll talk about that and research in general in the next writing blog post.

Simon Toyne is the bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy: Sanctus, The Key and The Tower. He wrote Sanctus after quitting his job as a TV executive to focus on writing. It was the biggest selling debut thriller of 2011 in the UK and an international bestseller. His books have been translated into 27 languages and published in over 50 countries.

Solomon Creed is the first in a new series of epic thrillers that will span the world and centre around the enigmatic title character.