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Getting to know your characters.


When I was writing ‘Murder in the School’ I had to create the characters. Each character has a purpose in the story. Some
are the main characters and others have only ‘walk on parts’.

The reader needs to identify with the characters before he/she can sympathise with them or dislike them etc.

Here are some of the characters and their reasons for being there:

Mrs. Smithers – to create mystery

Mr. Singh – to provide romance

Althea Gardner – to provide someone to dislike, hate even.

Alex Simmons– to provide a reason for Althea to be disliked.

Gerald – to provide grounding.

Nick Blunt – a figure of power, at the top of his profession, but ready to take a tumble.

Geoff Padstow – a figure of glamour and power who has been wronged and wants revenge.

Gina Blunt – a figure to be pitied. She is neglected by her husband and so finds love with another, creating a web so
tangled that it has become impossible to unravel.
Miranda – provides a situation where the reader can learn of Gina’s secrets.

Mrs. Catchpole and Mrs. manipulator – both spread gossip and cause events to take unexpected turns.

Mrs. Phillips – provides the reader with details about the other staff.

Marie Padstow – Geoff Padstow’s long suffering wife – knows Gina as a friend.

Martin Tennant – Chief Education Officer – a figure of authority.

Murder in the School’ is available in the Kindle Store as a Kindle e-book under my pseudonym Amanda Marigold
‘Justice Will Prevail’ is the follow-up, not available yet.

+++ After working with the characters for a while, the writer gets to know them really well. They pop into his/her mind
every day as new events are created in the writer’s mind.

Dianne Gray wrote an interesting post about her own characters. You can read it here.

Sometimes the characters create themselves.

For example Mrs. A goes into a shop to buy a newspaper. This act is important to the storyline, but to buy the paper she
has to engage with the shopkeeper. This is where the writer’s creative mind comes into play. Maybe it’s a quick exchange.
Mrs. A asks for a newpaper, pays for it, takes it and leaves the shop. Or more interestingly, Mrs. A asks the newsagent for
a newspaper but he/she engages her in conversation, a conversation which could add to the plot of the story. Now the writer
has to decide whether to create a character for the newsagent or to let it pass.

If you are the sort of writer who likes to write a character driven story, then you will most likely be tempted to create
that new character. If on the other hand you are the sort of writer who likes a plot driven story, you may be less tempted
or scenario 3, you may be even more tempted because now you are adding to the plot as well as the characters.

This is where you need to exercise caution. Don’t let your characters run away with your story… keep them in a cupboard and
only let them out when they’re needed, like actors in a play.

Interesting to contemplate, isn’t it!

ps I’m trying to get the formatting right on this post. Please bear with me while I fiddle with it! Thanks.
Oma

Balloons! – Life Should be Fun!



What is a young man to do when it keeps on raining outside and he can’t go in the garden to play?

Why, play with a balloon, of course!

He can have lots and lots of fun and forget all about the nasty weather…

If only it would keep still for a moment…

He could make a grab for it!

But then, all of a sudden…

There was a loud BANG and the balloon was no more…

In my book, ‘Murder in the School’ under my pseudonym Amanda Marigold, there is a chapter on balloons. The book is available for purchase in the Kindle Store at Amazon.com

‘Chapter 6

Balloons!

It took a long time for Miss Pink, the teacher in charge of the Nursery Unit, to get all the Nursery children back across to the Nursery after the fiasco in the hall that day.  Once they were settled she went into the Nursery kitchen to make a cup of tea and calm herself down.  While she was waiting for the kettle to boil she heard the telephone in her office ringing.  Quickly she went to answer it.

“Can I speak to the Head teacher please?” said a cheerful voice.

Miss Pink explained without going into too much detail that the Head teacher was unable to come to the phone just now and asked if she could take a message or get the Head to ring  back?

“Yes, please.  My name is Alex and she knows the number”.

Miss Pink’s heart skipped a beat.  She touched the drawer of her desk.  Inside was a letter from someone called Alex to the Headteacher, Ms. Gardner.  Miss Pink had found the letter on the floor of the Nursery on the fateful day at the start of term when Ms. Gardner had observed the Nursery.  So far Miss Pink had not had the courage to return the letter to Ms. Gardner.  You see she knew what was in the letter.  Curiosity had encouraged Miss Pink to read the letter and now that she had she was unable to give it back.  Now that she knew what the words said she would have to be very careful.  The future of the school depended on it.

Two weeks into October and a consignment of blue balloons arrived at PrimrosePrimary School.  There were 500 all together; one for each child and one for each member of staff and a few spare.  They were to be blown up, messages tied on and launched into the sky to celebrate the official opening of the new amalgamated Primary School.  Reporters from the local newspaper were going  be present taking photographs to mark the event and the local MP would cut the ribbon to release the balloons.  The children were very excited.

Mrs. Smithers (the part-time School Secretary), had a special room upstairs in her cosy cottage at Wood End.  This is where she kept her ingredients and where she made her spells.  Shelves on the walls displayed rows of round glass fish bowls.  These were ideal for holding the ingredients because they could be seen at all times and she could find what she wanted quickly.  The glass fish bowls held such natural forms as shells, feathers, rose petals and pine cones.  Mrs. Smithers reached up and took down a blue balloon and some coloured stardust.  Next she reached up to the highest shelf and took down her hazel wand.  Mrs. Smithers’ three black cats watched her.  Their names were Sparkle, Little Mo and Bast.  Sparkle was a longhaired beauty, mostly black with a white tummy and white socks.  Little Mo was a small, pretty cat, shorthaired, also with white socks.  Sparkle is her mum.  Bast was a very large male cat, mostly black but with a white bow tie.  He was very greedy.  They each had their own basket in Mrs. Smithers’ upstairs room and helped her with her spells.  When Mrs. Smithers cast her magic circle she always made sure that the three adorable black cats were inside it so that they come to no harm.

Gerald was the caretaker at PrimrosePrimary School.  He wore a large bunch of keys at his belt and with these he could access every room in the building.  He had had a shady past and could always be relied upon to GET things.  He always knew the right person to ask when something unusual was needed and he could usually manage to GET things a bit cheaper.  He had purloined some canisters of gas to fill the balloons for the Grand Opening and these he put in the spare classroom with the balloons.  During the morning of the big day Mrs Wales, the General Assistant, together with some parent volunteers and a member of the Governing Body, set about filling the blue balloons with the gas.  The gas canisters were old stock and there was leakage occurring.  This caused the ladies to start giggling and when they spoke, lungs full of the laughing gas, their voices sounded just like Donald Duck.  Ms. Gardner, patrolling the corridors as was her wont in the mornings, stopped outside the spare classroom and peered in through the glass window.  What she saw were the ladies inside acting as if they were drunk; laughing and rolling about amongst a bright blue sea of balloons.  Ms. Gardner pushed the door open and stormed in “What is going on in here?” she demanded to know.

“Ah ha ha ha ah ha ha”, giggled Mrs. Wales.  “We’re blowing up balloonoohoonzzz, ahh ha ha ha.”  Try as she might she couldn’t stop laughing.

Balloons were whizzing about in all directions .

“Yes, Ms. Gardner, ha ha ha ha , we’ve nearly finished”, said a usually dignified Governor.  “only we can’t stop laughing, ha ha ha ha ha hee hee.”

Ms. Gardner, her face like thunder, exotic perfume from Marrakesh filling the air,  slammed her hand on the desk and insisted that they came to their senses.  Tears of laughter were streaming down the faces of the volunteers and then, miracle of  miracles, Ms Gardner started to smile herself.  Quickly she left the classroom, closing the door behind her and thought to herself “They’re all mad!”

That afternoon the Grand Opening of Primrose Primary School took place.  All the children were excited to see the filled balloons.  They were kept in the spare classroom until they were needed and then they were brought out carefully and secured under a net in the playground.  Four ribbons tied the net to four chairs and another ribbon was in place, ready to be cut by the MP.

Mrs. Morgan, the MP, one of the Governing Body and Ms. Gardner walked out of the staffroom and into the playground for the opening ceremony.  Parents clapped loudly.

“The children have been writing messages to send away with the balloons when we release them” said Ms Gardner.  “We are hoping that some of the balloons will travel a very long way and spread the news about our new school.”  She turned to the waiting crowd of children, reporters and parents.

“I would like to introduce you to Mrs. Morgan, our local MP, who is now going to cut the ribbon, declare the school officially open and allow the balloons to travel far and wide” said Ms. Gardner.

Mrs. Morgan stepped forward, made a short speech and used the scissors to cut the ribbon.  Ooo’s and ahh’s from the children sent the balloons on their way with lots of little message cards fluttering like butterflies underneath.

Ms Garner had been standing amongst the balloons when the ribbon was cut and some of the cords had become caught around her arms.  This coupled with a sudden gust of wind of gigantic proportions and Ms. Gardner was hoisted into the air with the balloons.  Her legs dangled down beneath her as she was whisked right up into the air and dropped a few seconds later on to the roof of the boiler house.

“My God”, said Mrs. Van Gogh,(the art teacher), “Did you see that?”

Cameras were clicking away in gay abandon, taking full advantage of Ms. Gardner’s undignified landing, legs akimbo, either side of a chimney pot.

The smallest child in the Reception Class was the only one to see Mrs. Smithers clicking her fingers just before Ms. Gardner “took off” into the sky.

“How do you do that?”, she asked.

“I’ll show you tomorrow”, said Mrs. Smithers and the corners of her mouth turned ever so slightly upwards.

“She’ll be furious when she gets down”, said another voice, hiding her giggles behind her handkerchief.

“Fetch Gerald!” said someone else.  “Fetch the caretaker”, “Gerald, Gerald, Gerald.”

Two days later a blue balloon came to rest in a market in Marrakesh, which was the very place where Ms Gardner had purchased the exotic perfume, which gave her such a distinct aroma when she passed by.  Tied to the blue balloon was a small ticket which said “A. Gardner,  Langwitch, England.”’

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and just before you go, I want to bring you some real joy, although you might want a hankie close by! Please click here to watch a wonderful film called ‘The Red Balloon’, made in 1956.

I told you it was good, didn’t I.

I hope my post today has brought you much happiness.

Fingerprints


As a writer, it is necessary to do a lot of research. For my latest book, which is a murder story, I have been researching ‘Police Procedures’ and fingerprinting and clue finding in particular.  I am currently reading an excellent book by Lee Lofland, called ‘Howdunnit, Book of Police Procedures’.  Here is an excerpt from it on the subject of fingerprinting:

‘Fingerprinting is a valuable tool for law enforcement because no two people in the world have identical prints.  Even though identical twins have identical DNA, they have markedly different fingerprints.  The basics of fingerprinting are taught to all police officers, but a fingerprint technician practises her craft daily.  It take a delicate touch and a keen eye to be the best and a good fingerprint technician can sometimes make or break a criminal case.

A Brief History of Fingerprinting

The ridges that cover the surface of fingertips and palms first caught the eye of University of Bologna professor Marcello Malpighi in the late 1600’s.  The worth of those looping crests was of no importance to him at the time, however, so he conducted no further research and more than one hundred years passed before the subject of finger ridge patterns was addressed.

In the mid 1800’s, Sir William James Herschel served as a British chief administrative officer in Bengal, India.  His method of fingerprinting for the purpose of invoking honesty among the Indian natives, would eventually spark  the idea of using fingerprints for the purpose of identification.  Herschel thought that requiring someone to place a fingerprint beside his signature, would  reduce a person’s inclination for deceitfulness because of the intimacy associated with touching the paper.

Three years after Herschel began his quest to standardize a fingerprint honour system, Dr. Henry Faulds of Tokyo, Japan, realized the importance of using fingerprints, not only for identification purposes, but as a means of solving crimes.  He also introduced the use of printer’s ink as an excellent medium for transferring prints from fingers to paper.

The late 1800’s was a busy time for those who studied fingerprinting.  Mark Twain wrote of identifying a murderer by his fingerprints and Charles Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, wrote the book ‘Finger Prints’ in 1892.  Also in 1892, Argentina claimed the first use of a fingerprint to identify a murderer.  In 1893, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson thrilled readers with its accounts of murder, court trials and the use of fingerprint identification.

England and Wales began the first fingerprinting for criminal identification in the early 1900’s.  Shortly afterward, the New York Civil Service Commission adopted the fingerprinting process as a means of identification for job applicants.

Around the same time, the New York state prison system began using fingerprints for the identification of criminals and they officially adopted the first fingerprint system in 1903.  A year later, the U.S. penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, established its own fingerprint bureau.  The penitentiary in Leavenworth also began to exchange  fingerprint information with other law enforcement agencies and police officers.

Prior to 1903, the Leavenworth prison used an identification system designed by french anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon.  Bertillon’s system measured the bony parts of the body, inserted the measurements into a formula and calculated the results, which supposedly applied only to one person.’

+++

The picture in this post is my mother’s fingerprint, on the card she used during World War II when she was part of the Dutch Resistance Movement.

In the current book I am writing, the murder victim’s car has been found at the bottom of a cliff in Cornwall, England and is currently being searched and dusted for clues. It is a sequel to ‘Murder in the School’, which is available for purchase in the Kindle Store at Amazon. I wrote it under my pseudonym, Amanda Marigold.

Hell found me….in the dentist’s chair!


Hell found Me. David and I sat on the plastic seats and looked around us. The dentists’ surgery was busy today, when wasn’t it? Here we sat for David’s six monthly check up and after that, my extraction. I couldn’t look nervous, could I? I had to be the strong one because David, at the age of eight, needed my support. I gave him a comic to read. His face was white. He always got that sweaty, white look when he was nervous.

I was lucky, lucky! Huh! I was lucky to be fitted in at such short notice. Lucky I was not, when I bit into that delicious piece of toast yesterday and heard my back tooth crack ominously. Spitting out the larger part of the tooth, I regarded it with contempt and wondered if I could use the super glue and stick it back in. No, I think not. The edges felt jagged. Soon my tongue was sore and yet I couldn’t leave it alone. Every spare minute my tongue sort out the roughness and returned to its usual position more red and more sore than before.

“Good morning. This is Mrs. Smith, I have an appointment tomorrow for my son David, for his six monthly check up and now I have broken one of my back teeth. Could I please see the dentist as well?”

“Which dentist do you see Mrs. Smith?”

“Mr. Suami.”

“He’s not in tomorrow. He’s on holiday. We have a stand in dentist. His name is Mr. Adam. I’ll put you in as an emergency, after David. Don’t eat anything for an hour or so before you come, just in case.”

“Thank you,” I grovelled, remembering the dentist’s receptionist as a grumpy, fat woman with a body odour problem.

Hell found me in the surgery on that glorious August morning.

The appointment was at 9.30 a.m and, since I had not enjoyed breakfast that morning, I began to feel my tummy rumbling and groaning in its emptiness.

“You can go in now, Mrs. Smith”

I gently touched David in the centre of his back to encourage him to move towards the dentist’s room. He looked up at me with his big blue eyes and I felt like a traitor.

“It’s o.k.” I told him. “You’ll be all right.”

We walked towards the dentist’s chair but one look at the dentist in his white coat told David that here was a doctor and doctors were for kicking. He sat in the chair when told to do so but as soon as it started to move upwards, up came his right leg, kicking the dentist right where it hurts the most. Normally, David is a good little boy and gives me no trouble but when in the doctor’s surgery, he transforms into the child from hell and there is very little anyone can do with him.

The dentist glared at him and then looked across at me. “Does he always behave like this, Mrs. Smith?”

“No,” I lied. “He’s usually very good.”

“Well we shan’t get very far if he does that again,” Mr. Adam retorted.

David saw the look on my face and lay back but when Mr. Adam tried to look in his mouth, he refused to open it and that was that, we got no further.

“You’ll have to hold him still,” Mr. Adam commanded.

“I can’t do that. That is your job. You should have a bedside manner.”

As a mother, I felt defensive. I thought Mr. Adam had obviously not had very much to do with children. He had not done a thing to gain David’s confidence.

“You’ll have to take him home then.”

“I’m not doing that,” I answered. “I’ll never get him back here again, if I do that.”

“David,” I said with authority. “Sit still and open your mouth NOW.”

That worked. David opened his mouth for the dentist and the check up took place.

Then it was my turn. The nurse took David away into the waiting room to read his comic and I sat in the chair.

“What’s the trouble, Mrs. Smith.”?

“I’ve broken my back tooth,” I mumbled, with my finger in my mouth, pointing to the offending tooth but obliterating speech in so doing.

“Let’s have a look then.”

Mr. Adam leaned into me with his little mirror that looked like a toothbrush. Straight away I breathed on it and it steamed up. He wiped it. Then he tried again.

“Ah, yes, I see the trouble. You’ve broken it right down to the gum line, unfortunately. You have two choices, either “we” take it out or you can have a crown.”

“How much do the crowns cost?”

“They start at £100 and go up to £300, depending on the type of crown you have.”

I did some mental arithmetic concerning income and expenditure for the month and decided that the extraction was the best option.

“Take it out please.” I said, humbly, not feeling very brave.

“Are you taking any medication at the moment.”?

“No,” I replied.

“Right, well, let’s get on with it then. I’ll just give you a little injection.”

He leaned across and picked up a huge needle. It looked huge because he was holding it right in front of my face and it didn’t shrink when he moved a bit further away. Was it pleasure I saw on his face as he inserted the needle deep into my gum, three times in different places? The bitter cocaine filled my gums and a trickle of it ran down my jaw.

“There, now, just go and wait in the waiting room for a few minutes until that takes effect and then we’ll blow the little tooth away for you” he reassured me.

Ten minutes later the whole of the left side of my face was frozen and I found I couldn’t talk properly. The lips felt numb, large and fleshy. I touched them with my fingers to make sure they were still there. My cheek was numb too, so when I returned to the dentist’s chair, I felt fairly confident that I wouldn’t feel any pain. Leaning back in the chair I felt all my blood rushing towards my head, which was considerably lower that then rest of me. Shining into my eyes was a bright dentist’s lamp threatening to give me a migraine at any minute.

I looked towards the ceiling. Was God with me this morning or was he hiding behind a cloud? There was nothing, absolutely nothing to look at on the ceiling, no flies, no cracks, nothing, just a white nothingness. I looked again at the lamp, thinking maybe I would pass out and not know any more about this morning.

“Can you feel this, Mrs. Smith?” he asked me, banging my broken tooth with his drill.

“Yes,” I uttered.

“And this?” he asked again, as he prodded my lip with another sharp instrument.

“No,” but this time, I wasn’t sure. I thought I did feel a little sensation.

“I’ll give you a bit more anaesthaetic. You must have a very dense bony plate under that tooth.”

He gave me another injection, waited a little while. It felt more numb.

“First I’m going to press down into your gum, and then the tooth will move more easily.”

“Ughhh,”

Mr. Adam reached across to his little shelf and picked up one of his instruments. I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see it. Then he grasped my tooth with it and pressed down into the gum. Nothing moved. I looked up into his face anxiously. I could see right up into his nose. I could see little hairs in there, which were sticking out. I could see something else in there too but I looked away. I looked at his forehead. It looked sweaty. Realising he was nervous too, I felt more anxious. The mask he had over his mouth went in and out with his breathing.

He tried again, still no movement. Ten minutes went by. Then he announced: –

“The roots of this tooth are wrapped around your jaw. I will just have to free them for you.”

By this he meant that he would have to saw through them with a miniature saw, only it didn’t look miniature when he held it up to my mouth. He started to saw. I felt no pain, only anxiety. My heart began to pound. Blood filled my mouth. There was still no movement. My tooth was proving difficult and that is an understatement.

I had visions of tooth roots like snakes winding round and round my jaw bone. In my imagination the roots grew longer and longer…

Another five minutes went by. Mr. Adam scratched his head.

“I just want to pop downstairs a minute and speak with Mr. Johnson, the senior partner. I won’t be long.”

He left the room, leaving me in a panic. Tears sprang from my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. My whole face felt numb but I knew that the numbness wouldn’t last for long.

When Mr. Adam returned, he had Mr. Johnson with him. Mr. Johnson looked inside my mouth and frowned.

“Try cutting into the jaw to free the roots,” he suggested.

Mr. Adam looked reluctant to do that but Mr. Johnson remained where he was and once again Mr. Adam sat in his seat. He took out the saw and sawed again. I nearly passed out. At this point I started to pray.

“Please God, if I get out of here alive, I will promise to be a good citizen every day for the rest of my life, only please spare me, I beseech you.”

My back was running with sweat, the tears were running. I was terrified. Hell had found me in that dentist’s chair.

“Make haste,” said Mr. Johnson. “The anaesthetic will soon be wearing off.

At last the sawing stopped. The tooth came out. Mr. Adam packed it. That means he took from a sterile tray, a small hard lump of dressing about the size of a peanut and placed it in the hole where the tooth had been to staunch the blood.

I heard the tooth fall into a tray with a clink. It was the best sound I had heard in a long time.

“All done, Mrs. Smith. You’ve been very brave.”

I was speechless. Slowly my head was raised to the normal position as the chair moved downwards. I could feel the sensations returning.

“It might be an idea to have an aspirin when you get home,” suggested Mr. Adam.

Mr. Johnson left the room and returned to his own patients.

Fumbling in my pocket, I found a large white handkerchief, which I placed against my mouth. My legs felt weak and I doubted that I would be able to stand up.

Somehow, I managed to lift myself off the chair and walk to the waiting room, where a host of anxious people were waiting. I realised that I had held them all up and they would all be late. David was waiting for me, playing with some bricks, which had been provided for the children.

Together we walked out of the surgery, down the steps and up the road to our home.