Characters – where do they come from?

For me getting to know your characters and seeing them develop into fully rounded, if at times eccentric, individuals is one of the great pleasures of writing.  They become friends (is that strange?).  This is especially the case with the three Inspector Kirby books (I’m now working on a fourth).  But where do those characters they come from?


Inspector Jonah Kirby started life in a couple of short stories written for a writing group I was a member of.  I liked the rough character I’d outlined so I carried on and coloured him in a bit.  I saw him in a tweed jacket and stout brogues (and yes I do sometimes wear a tweed jacket and own a couple of pairs of stouts brogues), which suggests a sort of traditional, solid nature.  I don’t have him down as a shorts and flip-flops man, but there again he hasn’t been on holiday yet and then there’s Connie’s (his significant other) influence so all that might change.

I guess in some ways Kirby is part an amalgamation of the those very British detectives like Jack Frost (as played by David Jason on TV), Morse (John Thaw) and others.  Then, if I’m honest the other big part of Kirby is me.  Apart from the dress code, he shares my sense of humour and sometimes side-ways view of life.  The best thing is he gets to say all those things you wish you’d said five minutes after you’d wished you’d said them, if you understand me.  Those witty put downs and comments that occur to you later.  Also, I suppose the more I write him, the more of me and my experiences become bound up in his makeup.

For other characters I’ve drawn on people I’ve known or even just met briefly.  As well, I know, as adding some stereotypes.  Constable Shirley Barker started as a simple foil to Kirby, someone he could play off.  But then the more her part in the stories grew the more I liked her and so her character expanded.  At university I knew a girl who seemed to speak her thoughts out loud, without thinking.  It was as if there was a direct link between those random thoughts and her vocal chords with no filter in between.  When I added that to Shirley she was perfect.

I first had Harold (Longcoat) as a simple corner-shop-keeper.  When I was a student in Newcastle they all seemed to wear ageing cardigans, so Harold’s grey cardigan was a must and gave rise to that side of his character, then the other side of his character (you’ll have to read the books) was the opposite of that vision.  Edna also has a grey cardigan, but the secret with her is giving her the boundless energy that only some elderly ladies seem to have.  Oh, and a twinkle in the eye that hints at the intelligence beneath the grey cardigan exterior.

As an author I always have an eye / ear open for those little things to weave into my characters.  I was skiing once with a group of, all male, fifty something, friends and in the same Chalet were two mid-twenties girls.  I’m sure they were thrilled at being in our company for the week, although they did ski with us and keep us company in a few bars.  Anyway, one described her ex as a “panic buy”, as in, you’re in a club, it’s late, all your friend have partners… well I’m sure you can picture the rest.  I thought it was great and if you read the second book you might find Shirley using that expression.

I also admit that friends occasionally make brief cameos in my books, although they might always realise it of course.  Oh, and I have had sweet revenge on a former boss.

So, as a writer I’m always on the look-out for people, or facets of people I can weave into my characters.  I also admit that various facets of me end up in them (some more than others).  They often express my views on life and give vent to my feelings.  But, I hope in many ways that’s what makes them more real, more three dimensional.

If you’re reading this blog on the 16th or 17th July 2019 you can sample my writing and my characters for free as the first Inspector Kirby book is free to download on Amazon.  Just follow the link:

If you’re reading the blog after those dates then it’s still only £0.99 / $0.99.

As always comments are welcome,

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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