Betsy Gale: Image by Jason Yoder. Licensed from Unsplash
Luckily John Caul doesn’t have to save the world alone. He has three remarkable women joining the action: the mysterious painter Betsy Gale he meets on the SecreSea; the adventurous TV producer Coira Love, who has chased her story to the Russian tundra; and para-athletic circus star Beatrix Carrier, Rakehell’s most recent lover.
Let’s get it out of the way. The idea comes from the James Bond films. Yes, films, not books. In the Bond books only once does Bond have three trysts in one book (Goldfinger; Pussy Galore and the Masterton sisters), but the films are more profligate.
According to Wikipedia, so let’s assume it’s true, Roald Dahl said that when writing You Only Live Twice, he was advised to use three Bond girls: The first should die "preferably in Bond's arms" early, the second a villain whom Bond seduces before she dies in an unusual and gory way midway, and the third survives to the end of the film.
Coira Love: Image by Joyce Huis. Licensed from Unsplash
In the films there's a set of roles: the sidekick, the femme fatale, and the sacrificial lamb. Good luck guessing which archetype, if any each character might match. I wanted it to be fluid, that each might playfully move in and out of the roles, and hopefully transcend them by becoming characters we really care about and find sort of real. Especially so with Coira Love, who exists only because of a picture of the amazing BBC Producer/Director Eileen Inkson filming in the snowy remotes of Canada (write not just what you know, but who you know).
But rather than kill two off, or let them disappear between volumes as the Bond books do with most of their leading ladies, I knew from the start that what interested me was keeping them in the book(s), and seeing not just how they interacted with Caul but with each other.
Coira Love in Russia. Image by Nicolas Lafargue. Licensed from Unsplash.
And I’m so glad I did, because the ‘Caul’s Angel’s’ vibe of the later part of the book is one of the things that most surprised and pleased me about writing Rakehell. Surprised? Absolutely. You don’t think authors know what their characters are going to do next do you?
So. Where's the picture of Beatrix Carrier? I'm sorry to say that finding a suitable one on the image bank eluded me, but safe to say if there were a movie of the book she'd be played by Angel Giuffria.
Tima and Caul were assigned a tent large enough for four people, the same as Coira and her team were given for five. He could hear her arguing about that in broken Russian, and demanding a second tent for her gear too. He looked over, taking her in in a way that he hadn’t felt able to in the helicopter. She was five feet four or five inches tall with bobbed brunette hair and a stance like a dancer, forward on her toes like she was about to burst into movement. As he watched her, she stopped what she was doing and turned to look in his direction. She gave a short wave, which Caul returned with a salute.
At one time Caul would have had no trouble describing Betsy Gale. Very American, he would have said. Long limbs, six feet approx, swimmers build. Natural colouring, but she works at it; a little makeup and some time in the sun. Hair long enough she needs to tie it up when she works.
But that was when he barely knew her. Now he knew too much to believe he could describe her at all. What could he say? One of the bravest people he knew. Decisive to a fault. Funny even when she was dying inside. A fierce and determined, eyes-open lover.
Fine, but a bare sliver of who she was. They had put their lives in each other’s hands and he had not found her wanting; he would unhesitatingly do so again. Those were not things John Caul could say about anyone; he could not even tell her how he felt. Caul needed a layer of ice about him, a necessary protection from the reality of what he did. He could not admit she left him naked.
Gale walked back the way she’d come. The lights fell in the auditorium, and she stood in the shadows and watched. She wasn’t sure what to make of Beatrix Carrier. That exotic name was attached to a slight woman with what Gale took to be a southern accent, maybe New Orleans. The way she’d spoken, like the content of the words was filled with innuendo, even if none of it had been. She was playful, but in a way that seemed threatening to Gale who liked people simple and straight talking. She couldn’t understand women like that. Young and full of talent yet somehow enthralled to rich and tiresome men like Stefan Rakehell. Was it just the money? Or was there something else, some attraction to power than felt enough like love that they could fool themselves?