It’s about time I made a post about Pat Neil, the female lead in my novel, The Ministry of Thunder.
A while back I did a post on the other woman, and I’d like to do a short piece about each one of the characters in my book – and Pat is the obvious choice.
Other characters will be discussed in future posts1.
Incidentally – this post will not contain spoilers.
I don’t want to spoil the fun for future readers, you see.
So, off we go,
And as a start, how comes a Chinese girl’s called Pat Neil?
It’s all Tsui Hark‘s fault, really.
In his wonderful Peking Opera Blues, the character played by Sally Yeah is called Pat Neil.
Or at least, that’s her name in the English subtitles of the VCD version I own.
I always liked Pat Neil’s character in Peking Opera Blues, and I’ve been a long time fan of Sally Yeh – so when I was doing my first draft, I used that name.
Imagine my surprise when, after many views of the movie, and actually when I was starting the revision of my book, I discovered that the character’s actually called Bai Nui – and the subtitles are obviously… wrong? Misleading? A joke played on the unwitting viewer?
Now, this was not a true drama – “Pat Neil” was a placeholder name in my first draft, and I was supposed to find a new name anyway.
But you see – Bai Nui actually means “White Cow”.
The sort of name an emancipated, modern woman might not like to flaunt around.
That gave me an idea or two, really.
And so, I played on the Pat Neil/Bai Nui ambiguity, gave my character some more backstory: she stayed Pat Neil, and the thing actually helped me define her character2.
Also, it gave me the wonderful “You don’t look like an Irishman!” line.
All’s well that ends well, and all that, I guess.
Pat is presented as a new woman or a modern woman – this is not something I made up.
New or modern women in Shanghai were the hip new generation of women that were trying to find a place for themselves in an increasingly changing society. They were enterprising, aggressively attractive, socially and politically engaged, and soon became one of the trademarks of Shanghai – so much so that the modern Shanghai woman was used as a poster girl to sell… well, anything, from cosmetics to cigarettes to clothes and accessories.
Pat is therefore typical of her time by being not a typical, stereotyped Oriental beauty.
A trait that suited me nicely.
Finally, but only in terms of time, came the cover by Antonio de Luca, with a rather tight-lipped and unsmiling Pat backing Sabatini as he strikes a heroic pose.
She’s left handed.
She’s somewhat stiff, and her expression is critical.
Also, she’s impeccably dressed.
I can’t begin to explain how much that single image helped me define those elements of Pat that still escaped me as I revised my story.
I owe a great debt to Antonio – Pat was certainly the hardest character to define in my story3, and seeing her through another man’s eyes helped me enormously..
Can I reveal anything else without spoiling the novel?
Yes, there’s that strange story about her being a fox spirit, not a woman.
So far, she has denied the charge.
And let’s not forget music.
I used the following song as a model to define the voices of Pat and Sabatini as they bicker endlessly through the novel, in true Hawksian comedy style.
To learn more about Pat Neil and the rest of the crew, you’ll have to check out my novel, The Ministry of Thunder – and when you do, let me know if you liked it!
- I will save the main guy, Felice Sabatini, for last, obviously. ↩
- … and all this does not make The Ministry of Thunder a fanfiction of Peking Opera Blues, of course… I think of it as a hommage to one of the movies that have influenced my writing. ↩
- With a single possible exception we’ll discuss further on… ↩