It's easy enough writing about a character who is obviously and deliberately 'bad' - like Carly in Where Have You Been?. This sort of character, determined to stir up trouble, having fun at others' expense, is fun to draw - a caricature of sorts, a necessary foil to the other more clearly sympathetic characters. But Jodie Garrow - the main protagonist of The Mistake - is something else altogether. She's ostensibly a good person - a good citizen, a good wife, a good mother. She's not malicious or angry or bent on revenge - or any of those things that makes for an enjoyably dislikeable character. It was very tricky trying to make her the type of woman I needed her to be - a little bit too buttoned up, socially ambitious, controlling, cool - while revealing just enough of her interior life to make her understandable, if not loveable.
While my agent was unfazed by the unsympathetic characterisation (but then she also sold Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin) the book was rejected a number of times for just that reason:
I'm sorry to also say that what I struggled with here was that I didn't really like any of the characters that much...;Luckily for me, my wonderful publisher, Belinda Byrne at Penguin, really 'got' Jodie, and though there's been some work done to deepen our understanding of the novel's characters, essentially they're all - including Jodie - still interestingly flawed.
There was something to her character that didn’t allow me to really feel sympathetic...;
Jodie (in particular) needs to be a more ... sympathetically drawn character to give the novel greater power...;
I worry that Jodie was just too unsympathetic a character to appeal to a commercial audience...
Far from being afraid of characters they dont want to hug, I think most readers remain unfazed, too. As a friend said at a school Christmas do yesterday ( yes, we really did talk about books, if briefly!): "I don't need characters that I like, or even identify with. If they're bad, and good, recognisably human - that's enough."