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  • Writer's picturecatherine@allaboutwriters

What a character!

This morning saw me in a classroom full of characters. It got me thinking once again about the character I have been working on in my own writing. So today's slice is all about him.

Cousins and siblings are friends you don't have to make. If you're lucky, they come as a part of your life as a kid. You don't choose them, they just are. A bit like the house you grow up in. Or your neighbours. For me, being the youngest of six and the only girl who often wasn't interested or allowed in the games of my brothers, my cousin was there. He was also the youngest of many, also looking for games that the others found too juvenile. And so it was.

Our mothers are sisters, but very different from each other. My mum was always home with us, Dad around too outside work hours. We went to church every Sunday. We didn't have a lot of shop-bought stuff, but plenty of the good stuff that money can't buy. His mum always worked, as did his Dad, so our grandma spent a lot of time with him during the week, and he came along with us a lot on camping holidays and weekends at the caravan down the coast. His Dad stopped at the club every night after work, likely during work too, and the luxury of never hearing your parents fight was not one that he enjoyed at home. At the time, I didn't realise how bad it was. He never told me, and I only remember being confused when he confided that he climbed out the window at night sometimes. He was loved, of that I have no doubt, but I now realise how different our lives were from each others.

My aunt still talks about how he used to follow me around, while I would bark orders and call the shots. (In my defence, I am the elder by nine months so the seniority rule applies.) She tells of how he adored me, this quiet little shadow. I don't remember this aspect with such clarity - the bossing him around bit, I mean - I just remember we were besties. We had countless adventures, roaming the streets in search of a place to make a cubby, or launching an attack on some other kids in the street. He was always up for a game of knock-and-run, or a frolic under the sprinkler. We also spent time doing nothing, just reading and lazing about, talking about nothing in particular. I do remember clearly how much I adored him too.

He was a pretty unassuming kid, most of the time. We were both getting around in hand-me-down or homemade clothes, scruffy from climbing and chasing. His face had a softness to it, his wide smile pushing his eyes into laughing crescents, his chuckle always deep for his age. He wasn't much of a talker, and responses were often grunts or muffled words, but I could always understand. And he was smart - though not too interested in school. It's funny that as I think about him the feature that stood out (quite literally at right angles from his head) isn't one that I recall immediately. He got a fair amount of grief for the trophy ears, and wore his hair a little longer around the sides to soften them...or at least try. His nickname was Scruff, or McDougal, or some other terrier-sounding iteration of the two, and it suited him.

There were other contradictory things about him. Like his brothers, he was coordinated and loved sports, but also one of the klutziest people I've ever come across. I could fill books with the tales of him suffering one or another (and another and another) unfortunate events. We would laugh and laugh and laugh, him and me always laughing, him also hurting half the time. He also hid a raging and fiery temper under his soft exterior. His siblings (and mine) knew exactly where to push to get him wild and he could go from placid to full-throttle faster than a Ferrari. And then he was observed, swinging and screaming, frothing and foaming, while all looked on and laughed some more. One year, during the annual Christmas cricket match he got out first ball, but as his Dad was the umpire he got a second go. Second delivery he faced didn't go any better for him, so he was called "out". As the steam began to rise from his beet-red face, his sister poured a bucket of water over him and told him to cool down. In an instant, the bat was launched across the pitch, almost taking out a nearby windscreen, and was after her like a shot. The stuff of our family anyway. Contrary to this, I also remember him making a speech at our grandmas 80th, bursting into tears before racing away, having told the party in muffled tones just how much he loved her.

When I think about him and my writing, more and more aspects of his character come to me, more and more dimensions of this wonderful character. And I'm realising just how much his back story matters in this real cousin becoming a character, with ideas, feelings and motivations of his own alongside the relationship that we shared as children. This writing is a starting point, may not go anywhere in the end, but at a minimum something I can share with the writers I meet in classrooms.

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Nov 20, 2018

I couldn't read the beginning of your post as it was blocked by a photo/blurb for another post. Not sure what's up with that, but it meant I didn't fully have the context for your piece. I'm not sure if this is a remembered cousin, or a created one. I do know, however, that you've written a compelling character portrait of a complex and interesting individual. Clearly there are stories to be told!


Nov 20, 2018

I know that when a character comes to mind this vividly, there's a reason. A story or stories is meant to be. It will be exciting to see where this one takes you and your writing. Enjoy the ride!

I had some unusual difficulty trying to leave a reply here; I had to create a log in. Thought I'd let you know, in case others also run into this.

-Fran Haley,

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