A Fully Loaded Balloon of a Character


In the Futurelearn Start Writing Fiction course we’ve now moved on to Finding and Developing Fictional Characters, so I thought I would share with you some writing nuggets of wisdom.

We have been studying Josip Novakovitch’s methods of finding and developing fictional characters.

Of course there are numerous ways to develop characters. This is not rocket science, but the following gem of wisdom is.

Maya Angelou: “There is no greater agony than bearing an UNTOLD story INSIDE you.”

Maya Angelou is right. If there is a story inside of you, don’t keep it to yourself! Share it with the world, draw upon your own life as a starting point. Why not? Everybody has a story inside of them, reach in and you’ll find it.

Then look around you. What about your family and friends? Delicately mould these starting blocks into something new, but don’t just produce carbon copies of the originals. Blend and mix on tap resources of inspiration, use your observational skills, listen to the way people talk, and the way they interact with other people, refer to a wide range of readily available information, such as internet search engines, books, and don’t turn your nose up at strange sources of inspiration, embrace them all.

The key is to use your imagination. You need a tree load of inspiration.


Without this your characters may disappoint and burst like an overblown balloon. Or else they will fall flat onto deaf ears. Just make sure they aren’t full of hot air!

Let your imagination soar, and your characters will be fully rounded, developed and ready to lift off like a released balloon, or even a hot air balloon, soaring to the highest heights.



Allow your writing to evolve spontaneously.

Novakovich quotes Mel Brookes, Somerset Maugham, Erskine Caldwell, and Graham Greene.

Mel Brookes: “Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities, and have them relate to other characters living with him.”

Erskine Caldwell: “I have no influence over them. I’m only an observer, recording. The story is always being told by the characters themselves.”

Graham Greene, “One gets started and then, suddenly, one cannot remember what toothpaste they use…”

Graham Greene’s quote is spot on, when things just start to happen spontaneously and the story carries the author along, then you know that you’re on the right track.

Somerset Maugham: “People are hard to know. It is a slow business to induce them to tell you the particular thing about themselves that can be of use to you.”

That’s the key and that’s why imagination is so important.

Somerset Maugham, also gave us these humorous gems of wisdom:


I especially like this one, there’s hope for me yet! There’s no age bias in writing, as long as my mind stays fresh, what is there to stop me writing when I’m older?


Getting back to my own writing experiences. I didn’t set out to follow any particular method. To be honest I stumbled along, and discovered my characters in quite a haphazard way, but in general I used a variety of approaches, which seemed to work for me.

In fact when I finished my novel I was struck by the realisation that I could see my own anxieties interwoven into my plot. This was obvious to me but might not be quite so obvious to other people reading it. I don’t have a sister or a twin so I can’t say that I write about siblings. I do have a brother but I don’t think that he influenced my writing, certainly not in this novel. Maybe who knows, he might do in future projects to come. To a certain extent I do write about my experiences, I have two teenage daughters, so it’s not surprising that the main protagonist in my novel is a teenage girl. There are male characters too. I have re-invented the main love interest for a modern audience. Is he based on anyone I know? Maybe there are elements of him in men that I have met! I’m a Scorpio and I do like to be secretive, so I’m not saying anymore. I think that we draw on all sorts of influences and this shapes our writing and the characters that we discover along the way, some of these influences may be conscious and some may be less conscious, and more exciting!

Images – via google search.

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Hunger games: Cat’s play, Gym babe.


It’s coming to the end of my ten LA Fitness sessions, via Groupon. Has it made any difference? Yes I think I’ve noticed a few positive aspects, one I seem to be walking faster, two I have more energy, and three I do believe I may be losing a bit of weight. Hip Hip Hoorah. Though this could be due to my enforced diet, aka Gallbladder problem. Am I fit enough to survive in a Hunger Games scenario? No. Definitely not. But it’s a start, and a start is better than nothing. Anyway I don’t have the killer instinct to survive for more than a second in the Hunger Games. I’m a pussy cat, the best I could do would be a scratch, and a hiss, and a bit of feline stretching, that’s it.


I’m quite proud of my multi tasking. On the way to the gym, I read, and make notes on the bus. I must look like this nerdy book person. Well that’s ok because I suppose I fit that description quite well. Today I was reading Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I was so engrossed, Eleanor and Park is just cute, CUTE, C-U-T-E, C – U – T – E, and for that half an hour I felt I had been transported back to the late 1980’s. Yes I remember The Smiths, Joy Division, Miami Vice. It brought back a flood of memories. It was wonderful, so wonderful that I nearly missed my stop. Fortunately I looked up and had this panicky moment when you kind of don’t know where you are and think that you’re way beyond where you should be, but it was ok, I hadn’t missed my stop. If I had missed it that would have been a nuisance as the next stop is the hospital and I didn’t fancy going there. I went there last week for a scan, upper abdomen – yes gallbladder issue. So there’s no way I fancied ending up there again. No. Once was enough. It was messy, gel all over my tummy. While I was lying there I had a bit of a nostalgic moment. The last time I had gel over my tummy I was pregnant and that was a long time ago. Happy times, funny how these kind of things bring back all sorts of memories.

Anyway, getting back to my gym session, I did my workout, ended up in the pool. It was busy, very busy, not surprising really when you consider that today is a bank holiday. So I had to avoid the other swimmers. Tricky. There was definitely this ripple effect. Too many bodies, the water was getting out of control. I prefer it when it’s quiet. Though I like the sauna and steam room when they’re busy as it’s great for eavesdropping. Yes, I admit it, I’m a terrible eavesdropper. I think it is almost compulsory if you’re a writer. You just can’t help yourself. It’s amazing what people will say in such an enclosed space, especially considering that they know that there’s just no way that people aren’t listening in. So I think it’s fair dues to blog about it. One time I was in a sauna, and these two men were chatting, confessing. One of them was admitting that he used to go to the gym without paying – not LA Fitness – I hasten to add, but some other gym. He kept doing it until he found God. Then he stopped. From this point on the conversation changed. God was mentioned a lot. A heap of a lot. I almost felt like he was in there with us in the sauna, purifying our sins with the sauna heat. Well the heat got too much for me, so I had to go. I left those two guys praising God, in the sauna. It reminded me of a comedy sketch. It was just so bizarre. I hope this doesn’t offend anybody, I’m not religious myself, but I do believe in respect, respect for other people’s views. So if I’ve offended anyone, I apologise.

Let’s see, what was I talking about, oh yes, waves. The waves reminded me of a story my dad told me, another swimming pool tale. He used to go to Portobello baths when he was a young lad. I expect there might have been a sign like this one:


Does anyone pay attention to those signs. I doubt it! They had a wave machine. He loved it. The waves would bounce him around and he had an excuse to collide with all the pretty girls! The girls pretended they needed saving and well he was happy to oblige. He played the part of a life guard. He hasn’t changed much, he still appreciates the ladies, nowadays at the age of eighty-five he gets a kiss at the end of his golf matches! My mum knows, she indulges him. Good on him, I say, why not. Life is too short not to enjoy it. Believe me.


Photos – Google images.

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My Kyrosmagica Review of Harvest by Jim Crace


Goodreads Synopsis of Harvest:

On the morning after harvest, the inhabitants of a remote English village awaken looking forward to a hard-earned day of rest and feasting at their landowner’s table. But the sky is marred by two conspicuous columns of smoke, replacing pleasurable anticipation with alarm and suspicion.

One smoke column is the result of an overnight fire that has damaged the master’s outbuildings. The second column rises from the wooded edge of the village, sent up by newcomers to announce their presence. In the minds of the wary villagers a mere coincidence of events appears to be unlikely, with violent confrontation looming as the unavoidable outcome. Meanwhile, another newcomer has recently been spotted taking careful notes and making drawings of the land. It is his presence more than any other that will threaten the village’s entire way of life.

In effortless and tender prose, Jim Crace details the unravelling of a pastoral idyll in the wake of economic progress. His tale is timeless and unsettling, framed by a beautifully evoked world that will linger in your memory long after you finish reading.

Here’s an Extract from ‘To Penshurst’ by Ben Jonson that brings to mind the pastural idyll, before the enclosure act was enforced:

Thy copse too, named of Gamage, thou hast there,
That never fails to serve thee seasoned deer,
When thou wouldst feast or exercise thy friends.
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies; and the tops
Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sidney’s copse,
To crown thy open table, doth provide
The purpled pheasant, with the speckled side:
The painted partridge lies in ev’ry field,
And for thy mess is willing to be killed
And if the high-swollen Medway fail thy dish
Thou hast thy ponds, that pay thee tribute fish,
Fat aged carps that run into thy net,
And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,
As loth the second draught or cast to stay,
Officiously at first themselves betray.
Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land,
Before the fisher, or into his hand.
Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,
Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours.
The early cherry, with the later plum,
Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come:
The blushing apricot, and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
And though thy walls be of the country stone,
They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan;
There’s none, that dwell about them, wish them down;
But all come in, the farmer and the clown;
And no one empty-handed, to salute
Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit.
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples; some that think they make
The better cheeses bring them, or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands, and whose baskets bear
An emblem of themselves in plum or pear.
But what can this (more than express their love)
Add to thy free provisions, far above
The need of such? […]

(Text reproduced from ‘To Penshurst’ by Ben Jonson, 1616)


This is a book which perhaps I wouldn’t have chosen to read, so I have to thank the book group that I belong to, for widening my appreciation and taste in books! I have to admit that I found the opening chapters a slow and heavy slog, almost like I myself was a member of this village community where the pace of life is dictated by the unrelenting demands of the harvest. I am glad that I persevered as without doubt this is a wonderfully evocative novel. Crace’s often poetic writing carries you along, every word, sentence and metaphor seems to be perfectly sculpted. His descriptive prose is without doubt his forte. I struggled to rate this novel, but in the end I decided to give it 4 stars, as I found the characters, while good, played second fiddle to the prose.

Crace evokes a long-lost village during the time period of the enclosure act somewhere between 1750 and 1860. He creates a sense of belonging, of families with long allegiances, and a deep-rooted suspicion of newcomers, and change. When the master’s dovecotes are burnt down, it is evident who the perpetrators are, yet it is a family of outsiders who are blamed. The main character in the novel, the narrator, Walter Thirsk, realises that the newcomers are innocent, but the community doesn’t want to blame their own, they’re are happy to accept these unwelcome outsiders as a scapegoat. From this duplicity, this harsh and unfair behaviour, a disastrous chain of events follow with terrible consequences for all of the community. This is a moral tale, a tale of the economic power of landowners over their subordinates, a tale in which change is coming, unwelcome change, that will strike at the core of the villagers’ life.

The narrator’s character left a lasting impression on me. He seems well-intentioned, but never has the courage of his convictions to stand up and speak for what is right. I can’t quite picture him, he seems a shadowy figure, living amongst the community but not accepted into the heart of it. This lack of detail has been judged by some reviewers to be a negative aspect of the novel. It is my impression that it was probably Crace’s intention to depict Thirsk in this way, as a man who lives amongst the villagers, but is never quite one of them. Quite a brave move, as this will distance the reader, but for me I think it works, because this is one of the central theme’s of the novel, a stranger is never really accepted into this community unless he has been born and bred into it. This lack of courage attributed to Thirsk is also true of Thirsk’s Master, Master Kent, a kind but weak man. Mr. Earle, a newcomer, invited into the community by Master Kent, shows more pluck and courage than the other characters. He is given several names by the local inhabitants of the village, and the newcomers blamed for the fire, are also given a name that is not their own, suggesting that all newcomers are viewed with suspicion. Superstitions abound, and suspicion and superstition go hand in hand, in this land of rituals, and harvests.

Humour and sexual innuendo are used to enliven the prose. Insight into life in rural England under the rule of unscrupulous landowners is characterised in the arrival of Master Kent’s cousin, a punitive, cold-hearted man. This is a novel of loss, human weakness, destruction of a way of life, and engrained ties to the land.


There is a heady mix of lightness in the rituals of the harvest, the crowning of the Gleaning Queen, followed by the darkness of all that happens thereafter.

Magic: My Conclusion


I would say that I found the second half of the novel more gripping, and magical, than the first half. Reviewers have used the terms “hallucinatory” and “hypnotic” to describe Harvest, I believe that Harvest is worthy of these two terms, depicting a bygone age, when time came and went by slowly with each harvest, and customs and rituals were held in great esteem. If this is indeed going to be Crace’s last book, he should be proud that he has ended his long-standing writing career on such a deserved note, with high acclaim, and a place on the Man Booker shortlist. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy the detail of thoughtful literary and historical fiction. Perhaps it will be a book I will return to, it seems worthy of a second reading.

My favourite quotes from Harvest:

“Any hawk looking down on the orchard’s cloistered square, hoping for the titbit of a beetle or a mouse, would see a patterned canopy of trees, line on line, the orchard’s melancholy solitude, the jewellery of leaves. It would see the backs of horses, the russet, apple-dotted grass, the saltire of two crossing paths worn smooth by centuries of feet, and two grey heads, swirling in a lover’s dance, like blown seed husks caught up in an impish and exacting wind and with no telling when or where they’ll come to ground again.”

“On nights like this, when there is anxiety about, there is a glut of lovemaking. Then the moon is our dance master. He has us move in unison. He has us trill and carol in each other’s ears until the stars themselves have swollen and ripened to our cries. As ever here, we find our consolations sowing seed.”

Bye for now,


Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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Hooked by Lines and Images


This sounds like I’m going fishing and in a way I am. I’m searching for that illusive first line of a great story. In the Futurelearn Open University course we touched upon sources of inspiration: lines and images. I got hooked by the idea.

4.10 Hooked By Lines and Images.

When I first started writing fantasy, I’d say that visual images, were my starting point for inspiration. Fantasy and visual images just seem to be the perfect coupling. Having said that, my father’s first words, recorded into a voice recorder, were without doubt the perfect start to a new project, a travelogue of his life and adventures. He began by recalling, a humourous anecdote, one of his earliest memories. I’m not quoting him exactly but it goes something like this: At age two I was pushed out of the pram by the arrival of my sister Wendy. It was a cold winter’s day in February. My mother told me to go out with my big brother Stanley to play with the big boys in the snow. When I came home I told my mother that the big boys had looked after me well and they had said, “You’re a wee brother ain’t you?” When in fact they had called me a wee bugger!”


I just knew that these innocent words spoken by his two year old self were the right words, they were his essence if you like, a wonderful mix of his humour with his adventurous spirit. They were the very first words he recorded! He must have known too! They just sounded so perfect. This early release from the pram rather than disturbing him, or making him jealous of his sister, did neither, instead it just encouraged him to embark upon many travels, though the experience did have one other lasting effect, it left him with a life long hatred for cold weather! Which he still suffers from today living up in Bonnie, but chilly Scotland.

So whether you arrive at your first sentence by words or images, or a combination of both it doesn’t really matter, just make sure you get there.

4.11 Hunches that matter


If it matters then it should appear in your writing, but listing who you are, and what matters to you, before you begin writing, is not something that I have actively done before. In fact I would argue that all of who you are spills out into your writing without your even realising it. This process is scary, an unintentional disrobing, that propels you out there almost without you’re conscious consent. I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to make lists of who we are, somehow that seems a bit forced to me. Instead let that, who I am, warts and all, come out naturally in your writing. You may discover things about yourself along the way! It can be enlightening.

Writing about personal concerns


This is at the heart of good writing. If you don’t care about what you write about then your words will mean little or nothing, and your readers will feel cheated. So embed those personal concerns into your writing, let them seep into the bedrock of your words.

Extraordinary versus ordinary


We looked at the following quote from Raymond Carver:

“It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about common-place things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine – the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it.”

Raymond Carver, nailed it!

It sounds to me as if a writer’s job is to make the commonplace anything but commonplace. Today I went to the gym and finished off my attempt at a fitness routine with a session in the swimming pool. A commonplace type of activity, for regular gym users, but in my case I am somewhat handicapped, not just because of my general level of unfitness but also because I am very short sighted. I only have at best a hazy view of people in the pool. I can make out that they’re humans, and if I squint I can just about make out what sex they are. Today, I thought I saw a young woman extending her hand, at the side of the pool, in an odd salute, but in fact as I swam closer I saw that her hand was actually her leg extended up close and personal to her face! I concluded that she must be a dancer and this was confirmed by a closer inspection of her hair which was wound in a tight bun, a dancer’s trademark. Being short sighted can be awkward, and downright hazardous at times. Earlier on, I saw the blurry form of a young man sitting at the edge of the pool on the steps. He sat for ages just waiting. What was he waiting for? He wasn’t waiting for the bus. I had this feeling that he was watching me yet I had no way of telling whether this was a figment of my imagination. I just couldn’t see. He eventually began his swim, and probably thought I was staring at him. I don’t blame him, I probably was, at least my myopic self was!

Images courtesy of Google images.

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