Creating Arnie Dolan … who is Arnie Dolan? I will explain shortly, or rather, Nick Rippington will tell us in his own words … and I have an exclusive cover reveal for you of Nick’s pending title release, Spark Out, second in the Boxer Boys series of novels.
I featured author and journalist Nick Rippington some time ago here in an author interview. I was interested in his book Crossing The Whitewash for a number of reasons. One, it was a gangland thriller set in the East End of London and Cardiff. Secondly, it contained a sporting theme. I decided to buy it then reviewed it here.
The characters fascinated me. None more so than Arnie Dolan. I asked Nick to write about this character. He gladly obliged and his article is to be found below the Mystery Thriller Week graphic.
CREATING ARNIE DOLAN: ANTI-HERO
OF CROSSING THE WHITEWASH
By Nick Rippington
A wise man once said: “We all know an Arnold Dolan.” Actually Steve, that was you – and it certainly applies in my case, with a bit of a twist.
Arnie, for those who haven’t met him yet, is a killer, a misogynist, a racist bigot and all-round bad boy – the anti-hero of my debut novel Crossing The Whitewash. He also has his good points. Really.
The truth is Arnie was loosely based on a couple of school pals who were cool in their different ways. One of them had all the looks of a Hollywood star, and girls saw him as a cheeky rogue. Spoilt for choice, he didn’t really treat them that well. The boys admired him because when there was a scrap he rarely took a backward step. He would do anything to win – bite, scratch, butt or hit someone over the head with a blunt object. The way he saw it, winning was everything and if you let the other person get up then you were inviting trouble.
Another friend deliberately confronted those with big reputations – people who were whispered about in hallowed tones in the playground. He chose his moment to strike, a plan finely honed in his head. The objective was to rise up the tough guy league table. It was a bit like that playground game Conkers; if you beat the top conker, you then took on his mantle. He also hated bullies, having been subjected to some at his previous school.
Both of these lads were intensely loyal to their friends and demanded loyalty in return. As part of this band of brothers, we all egged each other on to more daring deeds, and I remember overhearing my dad say once: “Oh yes, Nick’s easily led from the front.”
Small in stature, when I moved up to the big school I feared I might be a target for bullies, too, so acted with bravado, always determined to go that bit further than the rest. I acted fearless, but most of what I did was motivated by fear. It helped that I had friends prepared to back me – my ‘gang’. I use that term very loosely, though. We had no colours or weapons and we didn’t deal in drugs.
Crossing The Whitewash is a story about peer pressure in your teens and how it can still affect you in later life. In my case, it led to me teetering on the brink of a precipice – my new career at stake because I couldn’t distance myself from my mates.
These were three dimensional characters, their “back stories” explaining in part what motivated them to act the way they did. They had troubled backgrounds, though none quite as bad as Arnie and the book’s protagonist Gary Marshall.
My characters are key to my stories but in the case of Crossing The Whitewash, plot came first – a start, a middle and an end. I vaguely had an idea who my protagonist would be, basing Gary loosely on a bloke I’d worked with in London, and mapped out a story around him.
In the words of us writers, I am a bit of a pantser, developing the other characters as the story progresses.
It’s not completely random. I’ve met thousands of people through journalism and life in general, and many of my ‘inventions’ become an amalgamation, taking a bit from each. The important thing is to let them tell their own story, piece by piece.
I was lucky to get advice from one established and successful writer who told me that dialogue was the key to every story, and the more dialogue the better. Gary Marshall and Arnie Dolan tell their stories through their own words, and minor characters also have a part to play.
You shouldn’t confuse the reader by having too many, though. I’ve got away with it to a certain extent in Crossing, though my editor did suggest I amalgamate two characters into one, and it worked a treat. He also said he liked his bad guys to be painted completely black, but on this I disagree.
Some of the worst bad guys are banal in their way, and more frightening because of this. It’s worse if you recognise bits of yourself or your pals in their actions.
Take Arnie. All our lives contain some contradiction. In his case there are a few. For instance, when he explains his racist credo to Gary he does so while surrounded by posters of his boxing heroes – who are almost entirely black.
He’s a nasty, frightening character, but his love for his scary dog Stevo is unconditional and heart-warming. Arnie tells Gary how he rescued him from two men who were subjecting the animal to all manner of hardship in an effort to train him into a fighting dog. It’s part of his character that he can show such compassion to an animal while exhibiting no mercy to a former girlfriend or mate.
I knew I had struck the right chord with Arnie when a lady friend of mine said she actually felt sympathy for him, even though some of his violence was awful. When Crossing received an honourable mention in the Writers’ Digest self-published eBook awards, the judges said: “Arnie is terrifying, but never two dimensional.”
Mind you, if you think Arnie’s a bad guy you should meet the protagonist in my next novel; his father Maurice ‘Big Mo’ Dolan. The book, titled Spark Out, is due for release later this year.
A wonderful piece! Most enlightening, Nick and a big thank you for giving me the “scoop.”
About Nick Rippington
AWARD-WINNING author Nick Rippington wrote his debut novel, the Urban gangland thriller Crossing The Whitewash, in response to becoming a silent victim of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. As the paper’s Welsh Sports Editor he was informed at 48-hours notice that it was closing, and had to collect the contents of his desk from a colleague in a Wapping car park.
Publishing the book in August 2015, it was recently given an honourable mention in an EBook Awards competition run by prestigious American magazine Writer’s Digest.
The judges described it as “evocative, unique, unfailingly precise and often humorous”. Nick lives with wife Liz in London and has two daughters, Olivia and Jemma.
Social Media Links
Check out this full YouTube Allie Morgan review of Crossing The Whitewash:
The exclusive cover reveal of Nick’s new novel Spark Out is here. It will be on sale soon at Amazon. I look forward to reading it and catching up with Nick’s wonderful characters!
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