Thursday, 15 April 2010
Characters from real life.
Where do you find your characters for stories?
Unable to fall asleep a few nights ago, I started thinking about some of the people who lived in our small town when I was a child in North West England. It was an old mill town, full of derelict factories and rows of stone houses, built during the Industrial Revolution and blackened long ago by smoke. Some of the streets were still cobbled and a few of the older people still wore clogs – wooden soled shoes that could be heard clattering along from a long way away. To live to 100 years old was quite common, mainly because everyone walked everywhere and it was impossible to go any distance without going “oop ‘t’brew” ie. up the hill.
Some characters from this place still stand out in my memory and I’m sure I’ll one day include one or more of them in a story. One who is very clear, is the man who sat every Sunday at the back of the church. He had dark hair, going grey, which stood up from his head in a stiff mop. I never knew his name, but my sisters and I used to refer to him as ‘Mr Sweep’, not because he was dirty, but because his hair reminded us of a sweep’s brush. If we turned around during church, he would catch our eye and give us a ‘Mr Spock’ greeting, which of course was very cool! My mother told us he was the Bank Manager, but we never believed her. Bank Managers just don’t look like that.
At the front of the church sat a lady I used to try to burn with hateful looks. It never worked. I’m sure she didn’t notice me. I never knew her name either, but I loathed her with a passion – just because of her fox skin stole. She wore it rain, hail or shine and I hated it. I think my mind is probably playing tricks with me, because I remember it with a fox’s head at one end, with big, glassy eyes, and I don’t think anyone would be so crass as to wear something like that, would they? But it definitely had three foxes’ tails and I mourned for them every time I saw them.
The local vicar was quite a character, too. I always thought of him as being old, because he was bald and slightly paunchy, but in hindsight he was probably only in his thirties. When he visited us, he always made himself comfortable in the seat by the fire, clasping his hands over his stomach, stretching out his legs and kicking off his shoes. I half expected him to say ‘Tiddly widdly widdly, Mrs Tittlemouse’ like a somewhat drier Mr Jackson. He’d wiggle his toes as he talked and we’d hold our breath. As soon as he’d gone, Mum would rush to open every window, no matter how cold it was outside. Then one day, he and his malodorous feet took off to work on an island in the middle of nowhere and we never saw him again.
Another man I remember, though I probably only ever saw him a couple of times was the man with no nose. My father explained that he’d lost it during the war. These days, of course, he’d not have to suffer the stares of morbidly fascinated kids like us, but in those days there was no choice beyond hiding away and never coming out. I remember he was extremely tall and thin and wore a rather threadbare brown suit. He greeted stares with a stare of his own and we quickly looked away.
How about you? Do you find characters from your life to use in stories? I didn’t know any of these people well, but they offer so many possibilities, if only as secondary characters or as a mine of traits and characteristics.