I’m something of a visual writer–I like to know what my characters look like when I start work on a story! Sometimes they’re just an image in my mind. Sometimes, like what we chatted about last week with Rufus Sewell as ‘my’ hero Marc in A Notorious Woman, they look like an actor or celebrity, in which case I cut out pics of them and post them around my computer (these are some of the photos I had while I was writing ANW, hence the atrocious scanning quality!).
(My heroine, Julietta, BTW, looks like Isabelle Adjani in the movie Queen Margot, though not as fancily dressed as in this pic! )

I feel the same about setting. It’s especially fun when a book has a dramatic setting to reflect its action, like Venice, or, in my current WIP, 1818 Sicily. The island’s rugged beauty and complex mythos are a significant part of the story. But even with less “flashy” settings, such as an English country house, an art museum, or Henry VIII’s palace at Greenwich (which now exists only in sketches), I want to know what it feels like to be there. So, I also put pics of landscapes and buildings up around the computer. My desk gets pretty cluttered, what with all the photos and good-luck charms.

Right now, I’m trying to get a vision for that Sicilian book (the second of the “Muses of Mayfair” series–Clio’s story!). I’m not too sure yet about the hero. I think he looks a bit like the actor from that uber-cheesy Barbara Cartland TV movie Duel of Hearts. The one where that blond Nazi woman from the Indiana Jones movie plays a duchess or something who pretends to be a lady’s companion (while still wearing her jewels and silk gowns) to get close to the hero and warn him his eeeeevil cousin is trying to kill him, which he is too stupid to see for himself even though the villain practically twirls his mustache in every scene. There’s a circus, a crazy woman in the attic, phaeton races, and a big costume ball, plus a sweet secondary romance. If you haven’t seen it, it’s fabulous in a totally cornball way. Anyway, the point is my new hero, the Duke of Averton, looks sort of like him, but is a much better actor, and would have dispatched that cousin immediately because he is not a complete numbskull like the Cartland hero.

My heroine stubbornly wants to look like Keira Knightley. Tall, lanky, beautiful but sort of tomboyish (she goes off alone a lot, digging for antiquities). Since Clio is rather willful (but not, I hasten to add, the dreaded feisty), I let her have her way. “Fine,” I say. “Be Keira Knightley. But no pigs in the house.”
And speaking of Keira Knightley, I read this week that she is set to star in a movie called The Duchess, where she’ll play Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I can’t find any info about who might play the other parts, or if they will actually film at Chatsworth or anything. I always get very excited about big costume films, and certainly Georgiana’s turbulent life has “Exciting Movie” written all over it. I’m just not sure Knightley is exactly what I picture Georgiana looking like (not that they asked me). Not sure what I would picture, though. But I guess really there is no getting away from Keira Knightley. She seems to pop up in so many projects I find interesting (the remake of Dr. Zhivago, where I thought that actress who played Tonya totally overshadowed her; the film of Ian McEwan’s excellent Atonement; Pride and Prejudice, of course). Can’t wait to see what happens in The Duchess.
Do you “picture” your characters, or the characters of books you read, as real people? Are there any favorites who crop up a lot (Diane+Gerard, for example. Or Amanda+Orlando, and Megan+Clive!)? And if you were to make a movie of a favorite historical figure, who would you cast? (I find this especially fascinating right now, as I’m hoping to see Becoming Jane this afternoon!)
p.s. Since I wrote this, I found out Becoming Jane is not yet playing anywhere near me! So that will have to wait. I might go see No Reservations instead…