How do you tell the leading man of the wildly successful film adaptations of two of your novels that in the third novel his character is no more? If you’re Helen Fielding, you break it to him as gently as possible.
Fielding says she knew that Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, couldn’t survive to see another happy ending. “That was absolutely inherent from the start,” she says of her new book, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. In an interview with TIME in London, she talked about the need for pathos to drive the novel’s humor. “Pain and confusion and those sorts of things are where the jokes come from,” she says. “There has to be an integrity to what those jokes mean.”
Fans were horrified to learn of Mark’s death in an excerpt in the U.K.’s Sunday Times Magazine on Sept. 29. But it seemed only right that Firth should hear about his demise in advance from its author. “I did want to tell Colin in person but we were trying to have lunch, and I couldn’t really tell him why I was trying to meet him and he was in a different place,” Fielding says. “So I ended up telling him he died on the phone.” It was, as she recalls it, a very funny conversation. “I had to ask him if he had someone with him and if he was sitting down. It was like someone actually had died. We had to process it. And I was almost saying, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
The good news is that Bridget is left with two children, a girl and a boy, who is very like Mark. “His presence is very much there in the book and in the child,” Fielding says. Then she laughs. “As I told him, his memory will live on and he will rise from the dead rather like Jesus.”
Firth, though still alive, was unavailable for comment. You’ll find more on Fielding and the new Bridget Jones novel in TIME’s profile of Fielding, coming later this week. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy will be published Oct. 10 in the U.K. and Oct. 15 in the U.S.