Tag Archives: Characterization

Characters in the Box ~ Guest Author Karen Dahood talks about her inspiring mystery characters

KarenDahoodCharacters in the Box 

What decides the physical appearance of a mystery series character? Does it change?

Miss Marple, she is not. My American eldersleuth, Sophie George, is meant to be much more up to date than Agatha Christie’s revered observer of village life who is so good at upending unpleasant domestic affairs (including murders). Jane’s people have marital difficulties, mainly, or anxiety about inheritance, typical midlife worries of the 1930’s-1960’s. Sophie’s clients in the 2000’s suffer from the agonies of aging: financial woes, estrangements from children, loneliness, heartbreak, bad health, a lifelong desire for revenge. Like Jane Marple, my retired librarian has an ally in a local detective – who is also her steady date. But Sophie is not a spinster. She is a widow and has a son. She is financially independent while Jane, who never was employed, receives support from her nephew. Sophie, raised during the Great Depression, was not educated like Jane, who went to school in Rome, yet she is equally brainy, some would say “street smart.” Her Bridgewater Village is hardly St. Mary Mead; it’s a new Florida condo development around a synthetic (but not entirely safe) fishing pond.

In the most recent TV interpretation, Jane Marple has shed her rather ponderous first movie appearance (Margaret Rutherford) to become quite svelte (Geraldine McEwen). Likewise, my Sophie is slender, keeps up an exercise regimen, and cares about nutrition. That is much more in keeping with today’s expectations.

Still, when I captured this bulky woman in black heading into the walled garden at The Bishop’s Palace, London, I Fulham Palace May 4 2014 (22)wished I had seen her before I invented Sophie George. With her back to the camera, the commanding figure is going someplace. I followed her, so I know it was to see the first purple irises. She was probably a garden volunteer. Her long fingers look useful. Or maybe she is a benefactress, as she has elegant earrings, though they may be old ones her deceased husband gave her in 1950. (I extrapolate from the man accompanying her that she has a driver.) The coat and hat and clunky shoes seem to have been in her closet for a very long time. (My Sophie seldom wastes money on clothes.)

In WINDOW ON THE POND Sophie is recognized as a New England native by her housewifely cotton skirt. I don’t show her face. It’s not important. I want you to imagine it.

026Last year I looked for characters with my camera as I rode around on London buses. I like the messy hairdo under a felt hat on this younger woman in the seat in front of me. Now I am thinking if I imagined it dark it could be Sophie on a future investigative commute. And I am hoping to create a character who looks something like this barrister (probably) who was studying his briefs on a train.

Karen Dahood lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her posts can be found on www.moxiecosmos.com and her book reviews at www.bookpleasures.com (Norm Goldman).


Filed under Guest author, Planning a novel, Writing

Two contrasting heroines ~ Harriet and Sarah

Last week I received a lovely review from a reader of Ancasta via Facebook:

Yes I really loved it, I read the start and then took a break and read the bulk of the book quickly, but I need to reread the start I think. I thought it was great, so many characters so complex, must have been hard to choose which characters to not really delve into, like Anthony and Ernest’s wife.

Left me feeling I wanted more, it would make a great TV drama. It was a great read. Have you started work on the third book.”

….and it set me thinking about my characters. I was told by an earlier reader that I could write at a tangent with many of my characters because they are so strong….what about Jane for those of you who’ve read Riduna and Ancasta?…..her struggle to choose love or her vocation, nursing; her training; her service abroad and finally sharing her experience training other auxiliary nurses at The Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley…then a rekindling of love maybe….forever choices on her life…..yes she’d make a novel in herself.

But what of my two main heroines Harriet, the matriarch of the story and Sarah her headstrong daughter. Both were women of their times.

Harriet was a child of the Victorian Age, an age when her elders were respected and their rule was law on the island of Riduna. (Alderney) A bright young girl, (in Riduna) she showed potential at school and was given a wider education than many of her peers as she became a ‘teacher helper,’ but although a sensible lass, loyal to her family and Edward her childhood sweetheart, she chose marriage over vocation, although given two opportunities to do otherwise. She was meant to be a mother, unlike her best friend Jane above. By the time we see her in ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home,’ the second in the series, her family are grown up and flying the nest and although she never married Edward, he is still in the background of her life.

Sarah, her only daughter is a child of the early 20th century, influenced by the desire for more in life for women than bringing up a family and caring for the home. Marrying an officer in the army, she felt trapped by life in the barracks and, however complete she felt for a time at the birth of her son, she still deep down dreamed of more. It was not that she was fully aware of the suffragette movement until she moved back with her mother during The Great War, but that she had a strong-willed character from the start and was quite a handful for her husband Anthony. Sarah relished new opportunities, firstly working at Supermarine and then sharing her mother’s business.

You see, it was by now respectable for Harriet, a widow by this time, to own her own business. Both she and Sarah became ladies of independent means as they ran a boarding house together, utilizing their skills to the full. Harriet’s nurturing, caring nature and yet her education made her perfectly capable of dealing with financial matters. Sarah on the other hand was businesslike and professional and yet willing to turn her hand to the sewing her mother so detested.

My next post will be true stories of other women of their time which I discovered whilst researching, with some surprising findings.



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Filed under Ancasta, Riduna, Role of Women, The Great War, WW1