The first time I met her, she called herself Helena Saratova.
She claimed to be a Russian aristocrat, and she managed a high-class brothel in Bubbling Well Road, in Shanghai.
She was in her forties, and had blue hair.
It was the summer of 1936, and Felice Sabatini was in a bind.
I was one-third into my first novel, The Ministry of Thunder, and I had painted myself – and my main character, Sabatini – in a corner. We both needed help, and fast, so I summoned a throwaway character, someone that could come in, help the hero, and be gone.
I got much more than I bargained for – Helena not only solved the problems in my plot, but she stayed on scene for most of the second third of the novel, stealing the scene from the leading lady and showing such an easy chemistry with the protagonist that when all was said and done, the novel finished, packaged, sold and read, most of the readers were quite happy,m yes, and wanted more of it.
More action, more adventure, more flying white apes and Chinese demons.
More of Felice Sabatini.
And oh, please, more Helena Saratova.
So I wrote the short Cynical Little Angels, a prequel of sorts to The Ministry of Thunder, that told the story of the first meeting between Felice and Helena.
The readers were once again happy.
Helena Saratova had become my first breakout character.