Nailing the Character - easy-peasy.

Jane Woodham, Dunedin, October 2017 

A golden rule of writing is that dialogue must either reveal character or move the story forward. I came across a wonderful example of this while watching the BBC drama series The Unforgotten, written by Chris Lang.

The story line focuses on the murder of Jimmy Sullivan, a student who disappeared in 1976. Thirty years later those involved try to rewrite history to cover the truth. Trevor Eve plays a self-made business man in his late 50's, the government's recently appointed entrepreneurial tzar; basically poor boy made good. He looks the part, silver fox, Savile Row suit, but when he opens his mouth he is pure barrow-boy. 

The scene that gave me so much pleasure is where Eve, at work in his flash chrome and glass penthouse with sweeping views of the city, takes a call from his wife, checking he'll be home for dinner; a strangely domestic scene for a crime drama. We hear only his side of the conversation, which goes something like this:

Eve: 'Whose coming? What time? Oh, okay.  No, I'll be there. Umm ... What are we having?' Then .... muttered down the mouthpiece ...  'Can we have peas?'


Never had a character's age and class been summed up so succinctly. Let me explain.

In 70's Britain, vegetables came from the grocer, from dad's allotment, or from tins.  Mainly from tins. Especially peas. Peas of my childhood were grey, sour cannonballs. Coated in marrow-fat, they sat on the side of the plate like a colony of lethargic slugs.

But then supermarkets introduced frozen vegetables. And by vegetables, I mean peas. How we craved those brilliantly green, tiny, juicy and sweet mouth-fulls of bliss! The ice box at the top of refrigerator, the closest thing working-class families in the UK ever got to owning a freezer, and was just big enough to hold a packet of peas. Every weekend we'd plead with Mum to buy frozen peas, but at three times the price of a can of grey slugs, our pleas for peas often went unanswered.

Lang had already nailed Eve's character, so this extra was perhaps something he couldn't resist including. Looking him up later, it was no shock to discover Lang was my age and raised in working-class Peckham.

P.S. The photo is a cushion-cover made by a hook-rugger, made after asking me to name my favourite vegetable...