Rachel McLean

– Thrillers That Make You Think

When a Sidekick Becomes Readers’ Favourite Character

Sidekicks. Gotta love ’em.

Whether it’s Donkey in Shrek, Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter books, or even (arguably) Han Solo in Star Wars. People often grow to love the sidekick just as much as the protagonist, if not more.

And I find them easier to write.

A House Divided started out written in the first person, with Jennifer the Point of View (or POV) character the whole way through. When I rewrote it in third person, I found it easier to ‘see’ Jennifer buy getting outside her head.

In that early draft. the story in Divide And Rule was told alongside the story in the first book, with the two timelines alternating. Both were told from Jennifer’s first person POV, but the ‘future’ story, i.e. Divide And Rule, included a sidekick: Rita Gurumurthy.

Rita was a minor character, someone to help Jennifer instigate her plots to escape and to act as a sounding board and foil. By comparing the two characters, we could better understand Jennifer and the mistakes she was making.

But then, at a writer’s event about three years ago, I decided I wanted to get to know Rita better.

I initially planned to completely rewrite the whole thing with Rita as the protagonist and Jennifer as a character she observed. Through Rita’s eyes we would see Jennifer’s mistakes, and via dialogue between them, we would witness the political events which had culminated in the two women being thrown together.

But then I released I wanted to hang on to the events at Westminster. And recounting them third-hand via dialogue was – well, it was just awful.

So the idea for a trilogy developed. By fleshing out Rita’s story, I had enough material for a full book set in the British Values Centre. And by revisiting Jennifer from a third person POV, I discovered more to tell about her story in the first book. And I already had the spark of the idea for a third book focused on Catherine’s treachery and Jennifer’s fight for justice.

Rita became a POV character in books 2 and 3, and I was surprised to find that readers loved her. In fact, she was the favourite character of my beta readers. And I grew to love her too.

So here’s a quick bio of Rita Gurumurthy.

Warning: mild spoilers ahead!

Rita Gurumurthy: teacher, rebel

At the start of Divide And Rule, Rita is a primary school teacher. We soon learn that she has a rebellious streak. She’s been omitting to recite some kind of oath with the children in her class, a requirement each morning. It’s not long before she’s arrested for her crime. But what exactly is it she’s done? And when will she get access to a lawyer, and a fair trial?

Rita’s defining characteristic is her refusal to bow down and do as she’s told when she thinks to do so would be wrong. She rebels against the system in the British Values Centre (BVC), leading to extremely unpleasant consequences, and she refuses to let the horrors of Divided We Stand make her give up.

I painted her attitude to the BVC, and her strategy on finding herself there, in direct contrast to Jennifer’s. Jennifer, despite being a political rebel, is a product of the system. She inherently believes that, when push comes to shove, it won’t harm her. She can’t bring herself to accept that the BVC is nothing like the system she worked to build and uphold as an MP.

Rita, by contrast, has no such loyalty to the system. Instead of trying to play by the rules (or at least pretending to, as Jennifer does) she openly defies them. Will it work? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Readers love Rita for her feistiness and her drive. Even when she finds herself homeless, on the run and close to starvation, she doesn’t give up. I think she’d make a great MP, although I know she would never, never want that job.

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