Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like musings of the author.
The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez; oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. This week it’s Agarkka D’Souza.
In 2011 my wife and I took a holiday in Sri Lanka, driving in a rough clockwise circle that began and ended with the capital Colombo. We stopped off in Negombo, a small city few miles northward up the coasts from Colombo. Negombo comprises a coastal strip of beach, from which a looping, crooked finger of spit languidly curls out into the Indian Ocean, creating a beautiful lagoon peppered with fishermen’s huts on stilts poking up from the waterline like rustic HG Wells War Machines that have decided to hang up their heat rays and retire by the sea.
It’s a seaside town with the sort of languorous pace of life typical of most of Lanka. One evening we were walking to a restaurant by the sea and on the opposite side of the street I saw a sight so incongruous it’ll never leave me. There walked a gang of youths that looked like they’d escaped from the set of Back To The Future 2. Despite the sun pumping down temperatures of thirty degrees and the rest, they wore leather coats, showed off Mohawk haircuts, twirled motorcycle chains and boisterously laughed and joshed with each other. Their leader was taller than the rest, sported a huge, Lasith Malinga-style kinky ‘fro, chiselled cheekbones, and wore what must have been a sweltering, full length leather trench coat. He had big, wild eyes and a crazed grin, like he had business to attend to, and business he intended on enjoying.
When it came to writing my London gangster character for Man O’War, the initial knee-jerk idea was to create a Ray Winstone character to take the reader through the underworld, but something kept telling me to avoid the clich, and at some point the vision of this odd character from Lanka came back to me. Who knows whether he was really a gangster or hoodlum or just had a most unlike Lanka-like aversion to sunshine, but I’d already created one British-Asian character, and the unique look and aura this guy had just seemed to fit perfectly. Plus it meant I could bring a whole other strand of interesting and different cultural characteristics to the character, rather than yet another “Shooters, fags and Granadas” character that I might otherwise have propagated. D’Souza practices a Sri Lanka martial art called Angampura, and fights using an edged weapon called an ethunu kadawa. Thus, D’Souza is the only character who is based on a real life person, even though I’ve no idea who that person was, or what he was like.
D’Souza exists in a kind of no-man’s land, constantly teetering on the brink of several identities. He lives in London and is unquestionably a Londoner, yet constantly thinks about returning his Sri Lankan homeland, a kind of one-man diaspora; he is bisexual; he exists outside the boundaries of civil and legal society, preferring to ply his trade in the black market robotic sex trade; and physically… well, perhaps that facet of his story is best left to be read organically. I felt quite strongly towards D’Souza; he is not a pleasant character and one wouldn’t necessarily want to be caught in his company, or his crosshairs, but I hope he comes across as more than simply a violent thug. Of all the main POV characters, his story was the most satisfying to write.
The flashpoint in D’Souza’s story that marks the change in him is due to the actions of Salazar Gomez, the black market engineer trying to improve his lot. We’ll take a look at Salazar next week.