Before Homeland’s Carrie Mathison, there was Special Agent Ren Bryce of the FBI – created by bestselling author Alex Barclay. Like Carrie, Ren struggles with bi-polar disorder, and in this exclusive post, Alex explains why it was so important to her to create a successful, functioning bi-polar character, who is not the bad guy.
Every character starts out with a few short sharp details. In the opening sequence of a Bond movie in that one small circle, you get: man suit gun bang. When I first created my heroine I got: bipolar FBI agent bang. Because with that one adjective “bipolar”, everything kicked off. I’ve spent the last five years writing a heroine with a mood disorder and the surprises keep on coming.
Special Agent Ren Bryce was first launched – straight to missiles – in Blood Runs Cold. She’s lying on the bathroom floor after a wild drunken night that culminated in a spectacular fight with her boyfriend that continues through the opening scene. Not her finest moment. Special Agent Ren Bryce: never quite a saint, often a sinner.
My first two books, Darkhouse and The Caller featured a male hero – NYPD Detective Joe Lucchesi. I loved writing Joe and being in his world, so to devote years to someone new, I knew it would have to be someone special, someone different. And along came Ren. I knew that if my heroine was someone hardwired for conflict, it would intensify whatever external conflict she was part of. To put someone bipolar into a world of crime brings unlimited drama.
No one knows what to expect with Ren, but the more you get to know her, the more you can feel what she is feeling, and at least guess at the outcome. You won’t always like what she does, you won’t always understand what she does, but neither does she.
Ren is beautiful, intelligent, insightful, sharp-minded, funny, loyal, and loving. She can also be risk-taking, paranoid, and aggressive. But she is always determined. As a reader, you’re not always sure that what she is pursuing or whom she is pursuing – professionally or personally – is the right person. At times, the disorder will strip her of logic. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in her life, it doesn’t matter how important the investigation is, how closely her boss is watching her, or how much is at stake. Without warning, another force takes over the controls. It creates all kinds of unexpected twists.
I didn’t want to create a bipolar bad guy. They exist, of course, but through Ren, I wanted to shine a light on the gifts that come with being bipolar. It’s a misunderstood condition. For most, only the lunacy is seen – the celebrity meltdown that hits the headlines; the agonisingly public fallout of a mania that even the person themselves can’t comprehend. Yes, there can be spectacular fallouts, but no one, A-list celebrity or otherwise, seeks it out. Another force is at the controls.
I wanted to shift the focus, to show someone bipolar who performs brilliantly at work, who can have an uncommon clarity of vision, who has stable times in between the wilder ones. It’s not all errors of judgment, and drunken ramblings, and failed relationships.
To get thanks from bipolar readers or their family and friends for creating someone bipolar who is strong and accomplished, has been the best compliment I could ask for. To be told that I have helped even one person have hope has been a wonderful, unexpected twist.