Finding Your Characters by Cynthia Murphy | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Character
Cynthia Murphy

Cynthia Murphy

Meet sixteen-year-old Niamh Hughes. She’s in London for the summer but unfortunately for her, so is a killer…

When I think about how the character of Niamh in Last One to Die developed, it starts to become clear that a lot of her is actually me. Not completely, but there are definite elements of her upbringing and personality that are reflected in my own.

Niamh started life as a small-town girl who wanted to live a big-city life. Even though I grew up in a city, I craved the excitement of London or New York in my teens, mostly fueled by the books that I read growing up. But I also spent every summer in Ireland, getting lost in Connemara or getting dirt on my shoes walking the Ring of Kerry, wandering the green near my cousins’ house or sneaking into the pub. I started to think that if I could create a character who only knew what it was like to live in a rural area, and move her to London, I’d be able to show the wonder of the city through her starstruck eyes.

So, Niamh was moving to London. I already had the villain of my story after hearing the legend of Spring Heeled Jack, so now I just needed a legitimate reason for her to go there. Initially she was going to work in a coffee shop, but it all felt a bit…blah. So, I started to think back to what I thought my world was when I was sixteen – drama. I was obsessed. I wanted to go to drama school and used to travel for auditions, though I never pursued it later in life. But I thought I would, and so would a sixteen-year-old Niamh. She was going to be a gutsy, quietly confident girl who worked hard for her place in the world.

So: origin story – check. Legit reason to be in London – check. I racked my brain for what else I wanted when I was sixteen and it was all to embarrassingly clear. I wanted a best friend, the kind of person I could share everything with, who had my back no matter what.

And I wanted a boyfriend. Oh, my, did I want a boyfriend.

Once these parts of Niamh’s character became clear, she started to come to life quickly. There did have to be aspects of her that would stop her from solving the mystery though, so I had to create other characters, ones that Niamh could learn from and investigate with. She hates horror films, even though her younger sister, Meghan, makes her watch them all the time. She has no real interest in or knowledge of history, something which would be important in the unfolding of the story, so I introduced Geoffrey from the Victorian Street Museum. She needed to do some research so enter Jess, the librarian’s daughter, who ends up also being the best friend she needs in London. As a writer, I feel like each of these characters have a little aspect of me in them and I guess that makes sense when you look at the book as a whole – each theme in it has come from something that has interested me. They’re almost like little author horcruxes.

I know it sounds cliched, but once I had all of these in place, the characters started to write themselves and I particularly found that Niamh’s voice flowed beautifully, which is why I chose to write the book in first person present tense. Different parts of her personality started to shine through as the scenes built up; she was a dreamer with a no-nonsense streak. She had a high tolerance for danger and a cool head in a tricky situation. She was caring and trusting and constantly hungry. (Seriously, I had to cut a lot of lines where her stomach grumbled…)

Once I had Niamh in place, I constantly had to question what she was doing. What did she want? Why would she stay? What was so important to her that she wouldn’t just flee straight back to Ireland? How would she find out who the villain was? You have to be so careful that your main character is actually driving the story forwards, rather than relying on the rest of the cast, and that could easily have happened with Niamh’s friends. I knew that to avoid this she would need a sense of agency at the climax and she would have to face the villain alone at the end. Niamh was going to be the one to save the day, become the heroine of her story. Yes, she would rely on the horror movie rules that Meghan had forced her to learn, or the folklore that Jess had researched with her, but when it came down to it, I wanted Niamh to be certain of her own strength and save the day; but you’ll have to read the book to see if that is actually what happens…

(c) Cynthia Murphy

About Last One to Die:

ONE OF US IS LYING meets THIS LIE WILL KILL YOU but with a chilling supernatural twist that will keep you guessing until the very end . . .

Young, brunette women are being attacked in the city of London.

16-year-old, Irish-born Niamh has just arrived for the summer, and quickly discovers that the girls being attacked look frighteningly similar to her.

Determined to make it through her Drama Course, Niamh is placed at the Victorian Museum to put her drama skills to the test, and there she meets Tommy: he’s kind, fun, attentive, and really hot! . . . Nonetheless, there’s something eerie about the museum.

As the two strands of present-day serial attacker and sinister Victorian history start to collide, Niamh realises that things are not as they seem. Will she be next?
Packed with voice-driven whodunit storytelling, and a retro slasher-movie feel reminiscent of cult classics SCREAM and URBAN LEGEND, this dark, pacy, and irresistibly-creepy debut really has something for everybody!

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Cynthia is a YA writer from the North-West of England, though her ‘real job’ is in education.She has always enjoyed writing (this is the girl who looked forward to her English Language GCSE) and when her English teacher accused her of plagiarism in Year 8, she thought she might actually be quite good at it. Thanks, Miss Q.

She has a long-standing love affair with all things scary, reading Point Horrors at primary school before graduating to Stephen King in her misguided teens. Classic 90s and 00s horror movies are definitely her pub quiz strong point and her first love may well have been Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Studying for a degree in Art History and Archaeology meant that she developed a thirst for anything old, beautiful and very often dead. She tries to combine this with contemporary settings in her writing to make unique and chilling modern stories.

Cynthia is married to her best friend and they share (are ruled by) a Romanian rescue dog called Loli, who loves to steal socks.

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