Round Robin – August 2022

This month’s topic is How do you create your characters–their quirks, habits, values, and what part they will play in the story, etc.? Do you have a process or do they come to you instinctively?

Dealing with the widening out questions first – Do you have a process or do they (characters) come to you insitnctively?

I suppose I do, or might, have a process in so far has I need to hear their voices. I often start a story or longer piece in dialogue and the character’s voice has to be clear in my head before I really know who they are.

In the beginning, I was told by my mentor, the late Margaret McKinlay, that all my characters sounded like me. This was backed up by others in the Edinburgh Writers’ Club. There was a huge shift in my writing when I realised that: No, the character would not resolve things the way I would and: Yes, as soon as the character refused to play ball with plot, they were real.

Most writers have been asked whether such and such a character is based on them/a mutual acquaintance/the newsreader and the answer must depress pretensions (or hopes) because ordinary people are too ordinary to make the cut. They need the application of quirks, habits and values and at that stage in their creation I can look to the needs of the plot.

It’s such a relief to get to that point. How does one get there?

Take Rosalie Garden in A Debt for Rosalie. She made her appearance as a young woman struggling with the loss of a promising business and the discovery that her fiancé was likely to blame. Her back story strengthened her resolve to not accept the solution offered by another man. Her emotional recovery allowed her to take the help the new man offered on terms that were good for them both.

The story opens with Rosalie getting off an ‘ageing man’s bicycle’ and instantly we know she’s a young woman of determination because she’s cycled for hours and miles on it. It becomes clear that she has no loose money – but she did have a bike; and she got on that bike.

I suppose, it’s a free-flow process. What I have to be careful over, is not getting carried away and allowing character to become caricature. Rosalie’s story may be available from a library near you.

Check out the posts from my fellow robins below, from the 27th, to discover how other writers find their characters.

Anne (who, like Melissa, has been dancing quadrilles! Ha!)

Regency Ball, Hopetoun House

Skye Taylor

Connie Vines

Fiona McGier

Dr. Bob Rich 

Anne Stenhouse

Robin Courtright

June Round Robin – Through a Glass darkly


Have you ever included current social, political, or environmental problems in any of your stories or thought about doing so? Why or why not?

This month’s question could cover a lot of ground and for guidance, contributors were offered a list of possible ways we might be including the issues mentioned. I write mainly historical novels and magazine serials and contemporary magazine short stories.

Hence my title, Through a Glass Darkly: from 1st Corinthians and meaning – to see an issue imperfectly.

Although I don’t regard myself as an ‘issues’ writer, I am very conscious of the things that anger me and hold my interest. Principally, that the discrimination meted out to the female of the species never disappears. It’s an issue that embraces politics, discrimination, wars, terrorism and economics.

The theme a regular reader of my work would identify is the entitlement to education. It was a central plank in my first historical novel, Mariah’s Marriage, and also in the Anniversary serial I wrote for People’s Friend magazine, City of Discoveries.

Once a person achieves the ability to read and write, their future changes dramatically. It was, therefore, a major objective among many to prevent women, in particular, and categories of men from learning these skills. After all, who was going to continue at home scrubbing floors and making the tea? Who was going to be content in dead-end work?

Having lost that battle, it became a major concern that no further ground – like secondary education or university education – should be ceded. This is the main theme of the serial I wrote for People’s Friend last year, In A Class of Their Own, about the struggle of women to become registered doctors.

How does this theme embrace ‘wars, terrorism and economics’? Scrolling the world news channels provides an all too recognisable answer. Women are not entitled to education in many countries. Wars are fought and much of the fall-out will be to remove the independence a previous culture allowed to its womenfolk. Some will be terrorised by the imposition of anti-female laws. Almost all will be economically discriminated against.

The work of fiction, in my opinion, is not only to entertain but to inspire thought. In many Western cultures women are educated, have worthwhile jobs, equal control of their children and the right to leave a poisoned marriage. In many cultures they have none of that. Writing in the world of the early nineteenth century enables me to entertain, but remind my reader – ‘It’s not that long since you were controlled by your father or husband and your children would go with your husband if you dared to leave him.’

The hope is that the reader will recognise and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, use their vote. It was hard to come by.

A large part of Melissa’s story in Courting the Countess is about her struggle to avoid a second marriage where her new husband would be hoping for control of her fortune.

Maybe you’d like to find out how others view the use of contemporary life and some fellow Robiners have contributed below.


Skye Taylor

A.J. Maguire

Diane Bator

Connie Vines

Marci Baun

Anne Stenhouse

Dr. Bob Rich 

Rhobin Courtright

Judith Copek

A Second Life

City of Discoveries

Re-running on the People’s Friend website is my anniversary serial set in Dundee and Australia. Jennet Marshall is the subject of unwanted attention from the foreman, Fleming. However, an unsuspected champion is on her side.

ROUND ROBIN – February

Describe a flawed character you might use as a heroine or hero in a story. How did they become so flawed? How might their flaws affect the story and what will happen to them?

Hullo from a snowy overcast Edinburgh. I know that some of you wouldn’t regard what I see out of the window this morning as being snow – or anything approaching it – but as it hardly ever snows in Edinburgh, I stand by my view.

A Retreating Writer

The pic above was taken in Assynt when the DH and I made a winter trip there and saw it under snow for the first time. Our normal visits having been during the summer months.

What has the weather to do with using flawed characters in one’s writing? What if my brain conflates the image above with the dusting of white on the front path this morning? Because I am not a cold weather person and, matter of fact, dislike snow a lot, any snow triggers a disproportionate reaction in my brain. That’s a flaw in my character which might affect my behaviour and that of others.

It’s a flaw, or warp, that might cause me to stay at home missing an important event, a treat, a funeral, the opportunity to secure a job… the list is endless.

Moving on to the other types of flaws. Supposing a person has been brought up in a family group that believes ALL of the people in another family are EVIL. They live in circumstances where it’s difficult or impossible to avoid the other clan entirely. But at a crucial moment in their development, they are being taught, and influenced, by a teacher from outside the area. That person doesn’t know which family is aligned with which or, if they do, ignores the implications of such a feud. The teacher is either wholly rational (not everyone in any family can be evil) or their own irrationalities are different.

In due course, our flawed character finds themselves in danger together with one of the hated clan. They must work in harmony to save themselves/the local hospital/the barn storing the winter grain/ something IMPORTANT. They do.

Having discovered that at least one member of the other family is not a bad person, a conflict has been set up. How does the character settle back into the old life? The story is likely to be the struggle they have to climb out of hatred into rationality.

This character flaw – accepting as gospel what Mum, Dad and the other relatives say without question – is the basis of much great literature. The tragedy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, for example. The hero and heroine move rapidly to a place of acceptance, but the families do not.

A lot of the work of one of my favourite writers, Georgette Heyer, is based on the flawed character, but is to comic effect. In Friday’s Child, for example, Sherry, Viscount Sheringham, is told within the first few pages of the book why his chosen bride won’t have him. The flaws of his character are laid out for the reader and the rest of the book is the tale of how he is made to face up to and overcome them before achieving his true life’s partner (not, by the way, the one of the opening).

And in my writing?

I’m currently tackling the planning of a serial and I have a flawed character who will in due course influence events. It’s a she and her character flaws relate to the problems of insularity and are the product of upbringing. I’m using her to encapsulate much of what is wrong in the society she inhabits. Will there be hope arising from her eventual story arc? I’m very keen to find out. Will she be affected by her ‘journey’ – oh yes!

My fellow robins, listed below, all have something to say on this subject. Do drop in on their blogs, too, and please, if you find our pieces of interest would you consider sharing through your facebook or Twitter channels? Warm thanks in advance.






Skye Taylor

Dr. Bob Rich

Marci Baun

Connie Vines

Fiona McGier

Diane Bator

Rhobin L Courtright

Diary of a Writer – Coping Mechanisms 4

Visits to the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh have become an important part of the ‘coping mechanisms’ mentality here in the Writer’s Study. Nature carries on carrying on and yesterday there were many lovely rhodies to be seen.

There’s currenty not a lot of writing taking place! Maybe the brain has had enough of keeping up and keeping cheering up. Instead, I’ve begun the process of finding surfaces. One bag of paper ready for the re-cycling (includes some MSS!) and several piles of books ready for the next opportunity to send to a sale or take to a shop.

Looking forward to the online conference of the Scottish Association of Writers this w/e. Stellar line-up of speakers and adjudicators so maybe that stimulus will kick-start something.

I find it very hard to describe people. I love showing their characters and actions but describing them remains a real problem. Yesterday I set myself the task of describing the heroine of a Scottish Regency I’m toying with. Achieved three sentences. What do we know so far? She’s short and blonde.


Mother’s Day last Sunday was a lovely boost with flowers and a delivered Afternoon Tea. It was so nice to talk to my children and really looking forward to seeing them in person. I feel for those of you who are separated by oceans.

Curious Find – From the tidying – up is that elastic bands dry out and crack.

How is it going in your study/kitchen/workroom?


ps Takeaway par Excellence from Hickory at Home is a big help. St Patrick’s Day coming up and we’re trying the Vegetarian option.

Round Robin – Where do you get your ideas for stories?

In February, Rhobin has chose an idea from fellow robin, Fiona. Where do you get your ideas from for stories?

It is the thing that fascinates non fiction writers the most. All of us are likely to have been held at cocktail-point by another guest who seems genuinely puzzled that anyone can take an event and turn it into something else. Their brains don’t operate on a What if? basis and that prevents them seeing the possibilities.

Of course real life throws up all sorts and a huge amount of it is feel-good, happy, moving. What I truly thank my story Gods for is the ability to witness the moment, to remember the feeling of revelation and to write it, often without reaiising until the work is completed. That is one huge privilege of being a writer.

The Laundry

I know a lot of my ideas come through visiting houses and through being close to houses. Some buildings cry out for attention.

My husband and I have life membership of The National Trust for Scotland and in more normal times make good and frequent use of it. We also visit privately owned big houses and have stayed in commercially let ones.

The picture above sparked an idea for a story I wrote years ago for a Writelink challenge. Most recently, I needed a house for a Hallowe’en story for a short anthology, Dark Stories, Capital Writers. The Cemetery House picks up a long fascination I’ve had with two houses on a nearby road. One is in a cemetery, one is just higgeldy-piggeldy.

Dark Stories by [Kate Blackadder, Jane Riddell, Anne Stenhouse, Jennifer Young]

A Debt for Rosalie was sparked by a long weekend spent in a big house in Angus (moved to Northumberland for the book) with friends. We spent a lot of time congregating in the kitchen which may be why Rosalie is a chef.

So, that’s my bag: observed and remembered moments of revelation and the aura of the stones. Do visit the blogs listed below where I’m confident other methods will appear.


Skye Taylor

Beverley Bateman

Connie Vines

Diane Bator

Dr. Bob Rich

Fiona McGier

Helena Fairfax

Marci Baun

Victoria Chatham

Judith Copek

Rhobin L Courtright

From the Igloo – Coping Mechanisms 3

Living in Edinburgh makes a heavy snowfall something of an event. I dislike snow and, although I can enjoy the beauty of pristine falls, simply long for it to melt.

Not an early chance of that if the BBC weather is to be believed.

Members of the extended family have been sledging and making snowmen. One or two might have had the Calcutta Cup added as an embellishment…

However, one or two have had to go out to work like the dedicated young lady who delivers our newspaper – warm thanks.

And the crew who brought our grocery delivery yesterday when it wasn’t warm but the snow wasn’t quite so thick. Again, many thanks.

So, the coping:

Grocery Delivery brought flowers. Daffs above, aloestramerias and a chrysanthemum pot plant. Cheered the house up considerably as the front garden, when you can see it, has 1 snowdrop and 1 aconite!

Looking for something else, I found a fresh cache of Georgette Heyer and one I may not have read before – or at least not for years.

Fellow inmate has had SPORT to watch. Cannot thank Channel Four enough. DH’s reaction when he discovered the cricket was on terestrial was like seeing the sun at the end of a very long tunnel.

Weight has dropped again and is now below a significant marker. This is good for morale and therefore ‘a positive’. Do hope the enforced loss of walks won’t be a problem. On advice of friend am watching Joe Wicks’s Absolute Beginners workout. I gather the intention is to join in, will consider that.

Am reading Cecilia Peartree’s Life and Death in the Woods, You can buy it here

Life and Death in the Woods by [Cecilia Peartree]

Writing? Serial is going well.

How is this added weather glitch affecting you?


Round Robin – January To Do List

Rhobin’s questions are as always pertinent. I’m guilty of seeing what comes along and whether I’d like to get into/onto that. It doesn’t an organised life make.
However, this year there are two projects in hand.
Firstly, I’m deeply into writing an historical serial for the People’s Friend magazine. It isn’t collaborative exactly, but the team of fiction editors do opine instalment by instalment. so that’s ongoing.

City of Discoveries

It’s taken me back to 1869 but to Edinburgh and not Dundee. One project I might add to 2021 is bringing out City of Discoveries as an e-book and POD. I know several of my author friends do this. Check out Kate Blackadder’s Family Stories Boxset here.
Secondly, I’m signed up to offer my thoughts on writing drama for the Edinburgh Writers’ Club in April. This will be a totally new experience as I’ve not done any online talks or workshops as a leader so far. In person evenings discussing the nuts and bolts of drama always leave me thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice to write a play?”
Moving on, though, what’s in my mind?
Having published two pocket novels with My Weekly last year, I’m keen to a) write a short story for the magazine and b) write another PN.
Christmas at Maldington is available here
A Debt for Rosalie is available here.
So there you have it. Modest goals but the way time slides along in our semi-permanent Lockdown (Couldn’t you do one post without mentioning it? Ed) I think Modest is good.
I’m a bit nervous to check out the other contributors as they’ll probably be so much more organised and energised. Ho hum. They are also always entertaining…

Coping Mechanisms 1

Day after interminable day stretches ahead of many of us. Key workers, on the other hand, may be finding day flashes past day.

The virus numbers make truly miserable reading and the optimism inspired by the rolling out of the vaccines is increasingly suppressed by them.

Chin up, though. Let’s share our Coping Mechanisms.

I’ve moved onto re-reading Jane Austen and am wondering why – where Northanger Abbey is concerned. Maybe all will become clear…

Seriously wondering whether the moment to launch back into Harry Potter might be on the horizon.

Am writing a serial for People’s Friend. That, at least, is going well. Our new Minister has arrived at Mayfield Salisbury Church. Welcome Sandy Forsyth. Zoom have allowed me a link to join the induction – wonder if they’d give me a reference for Eventbrite which is still refusing me tickets for anything.

If you’re on speaking terms with Eventbrite, Edinburgh Writers’ Club has its first meeting of 2021 tomorrow evening. Guests are welcome on payment of a small fee. Speaker is Tom Hodge of Typewronger Books. Situated in Haddigton Place, Typewronger books will post out or, locally, deliver your purchases in present times. Terms & Conditions apply – always wanted to join Claudia in using that phrase. Sorry not to have a celebrity on hand to add glamour – see post title.

Looking forward to walking out today as the pavements are now cleared of lingering ice.

Anyone else missing the buzz that Christmas generated? I’m missing the lovely pine smell of our tree.

Today’s online service from Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church is here.

Other coping mechanisms are available:

A Debt for Rosalie

Christmas at Maldington

Stay Home, folks, Stay Safe.


Christmas Stories Round Robin Advent Doors


ADVENT DOORS By Anne Stenhouse

Jamie sidled out of his room and crept along the landing to the bathroom door. Once in the bathroom, with the door closed behind him, he could pull the cord and enjoy the flood of light. Slumped against the side of the bath with legs and feet stretched in front of him, he was fiendishly uncomfortable, but it was a small price to pay for being able to carry on reading.

No one outside knew he was here.

Not even Mum.

“Jamie,” his mum’s voice carried upstairs and cut through the hum of the powerful bathroom fan over his head. Jamie dropped his book. What was she doing home? How could the supermarket spare their senior supervisor two days before Christmas?


Oops, no mistaking that tone. Scrambling onto his feet he stretched a hand to the edge of the sink and balanced. He pulled open the door and gazed down to where his mum waited.

“You are supposed to be across the road at Lynsey’s party. You were invited.”

Jamie shuffled. Was he invited because Lynsey wanted him there, though? Or was he invited because Lynsey’s dad felt sorry for him?

“Suppose,” he muttered. He saw the angry expression challenging him, but he also saw the quick flash of something else before his mum suppressed it.

“Suppose!” His mum started up the narrow stairs and grabbing him by the arm marched him along to his room.

She pointed at the new trousers and the Christmas themed jumper and waited while Jamie changed into them. His bad foot slowed him down as usual, but when he glanced at the long mirror on the wardrobe door, he realised everything suited him and the trousers were long enough to cover his gammy foot. He looked like anyone.

“Where’s the parcel?”

Jamie toyed briefly with the idea of saying he’d lost it. When he couldn’t come up with any notion of where in this tiny, tiny house, he might have lost it, he hauled it out from under his bed. It was a little less pristine than it had been. The big tinselly bow was crushed but the paper wasn’t torn. Or at least not much.

“For goodness sake. Do you know how hard it was to afford that?”

“I didn’t want to go, Mum. I told you I…”

“Yes,” his mum sounded defeated. “Yes, you just want to go on sitting in the dark reading a book.”

Jamie didn’t sit in the dark reading a book. You couldn’t read a book if it was dark, not really dark, not December dark. Could you?

“I like reading and if I’m in the bathroom that nosy woman at number twenty can’t report you for not being here, can she?”

“Oh, Jamie.” His mum shepherded him downstairs and stretched around him to unlatch the front door. “Mrs number twenty had a stroke last night. She’s in hospital.”

“Oh,” Jamie didn’t know what else to say. They knew about strokes. It was one of them that took his dad.

“Ralph,” his mum corrected herself, “Doctor Sime, told me when he phoned to find out where you were. I said,” she paused dramatically, and Jamie gazed at her, “I said you’d been held up because you missed your connection.”

“Right,” Jamie often said he’d missed his connection when he walked, very slowly, to the first stop on an alternative bus route. It meant he didn’t have to listen to the taunts from the cool guys about his foot.


They crossed the road and walked down towards the house Lynsey’s family occupied. It was her, her dad, twin sisters and an elderly auntie. Lynsey’s mum died when her baby brother was born. He died, too, but Lynsey said she didn’t miss him because she’d never known him. She did miss her mum.

“There’s a reindeer in the garden,” Jamie said. It was cold and his breath hung in the air as he spoke. “It’s real.” Jamie could smell the smell of an animal and when it moved the bells on its harness jingled. The handler raised a hand in salute.

Jamie looked towards the door where there was a big wreath of greenery and holly with berries. “Why aren’t they out looking at it?”

“It’s Lynsey’s big birthday surprise. That’s why Ralph phoned because he didn’t want you to miss it. Go on.” His mum gave him a sharp push between the shoulder blades towards the door. “Don’t let on.”

“Aren’t you coming in?”

“I’ve got to get back and finish my shift,” his mum said.

“Right,” Jamie felt the wobble. The one that attacked him in the tummy whenever he remembered that Dad wasn’t coming home again. Not ever. Mum had to work, or they’d go hungry.

He felt the weight of the parcel in his hand. Why had she spent money on this when they couldn’t afford more than a turkey dinner for two at her staff discount? What kind of Christmas was that in comparison with how it used to be?

“Jamie,” his mum’s voice cut into his rambling thoughts, but it was like a cake slice not a carving knife. “Jamie if you really don’t want to go in, I’ll phone Ralph and say you’re poorly.” She began to feel in her coat pocket for her mobile.

“Why are you calling him Ralph?”

“It’s his name. And, you know, maybe I’m a store supervisor and he’s a consultant surgeon, but he’s a gentleman.”

“He wants to operate on my foot,” Jamie said the words and they were an accusation. Lynsey had heard his mum and her dad discussing a fairly straightforward tendon realignment.

“Yes, well, I haven’t agreed to anything, Jamie, but he is the best in the field and the science has moved on since your dad vetoed the op the last time.” His mum sighed. “Darling, I have to get back to the store. Are you going in or do I need to walk you to the library?”

Jamie thought about the library and the way its revolving door welcomed a person in. Even before you got into the building and could smell the books and the floor polish and sense the hush in the atmosphere, you were being drawn forward to its hidden secrets.

“Revolving doors do spit you out, though,” Jamie said, “At shutting time.”

“Of course, they let you out. It’s not a prison and I’ll be finished by six-thirty so I can meet you…”

“I didn’t mean that.” Jamie protested. “I love the library and anything’s better than after-school club.”

Supervision of Jamie, now eleven and tall for his age, was one of the things he and his mum argued about. They were teetering on the edge of a full-blown row. Christmas cheer was saved by the opening of the front door.

Mr Sime stood in the light, and the noise of a party well underway drowned their angry words.

“Hullo young man. Well, there’s been a lot of huffing in the doocots over your whereabouts, I don’t mind telling you. Nancy,” Mr Sime broke off and Jamie saw the delight, quickly followed by concern in Mr Sime’s eyes as he skipped down the front steps to grasp his mum’s hand. The doctor pulled her towards him and kissed her on the cheek.

Jaimie didn’t think his mum was surprised. He was surprised, though. He was very surprised.

“Ralph, you weren’t supposed to see me. Jamie’s here now. I’ll collect him at eight o’clock.”

Mr Sime kept his hand on his mum’s arm and that did make her surprised.

“I’ll bring him along and there might be a few left-overs,” Mr Sime said. “Auntie will see the girls get to bed okay.”

Jamie went into the house and handed his parcel to Lynsey. He hoped she wasn’t going to ask him what was in it because her auntie took it from her and added it to a pile of unopened parcels in a laundry basket beside the door.

“I hoped you’d come in time for the surprise,” Lynsey said.

“Yes,” Jamie said. “Sorry I’m late.”

“That’s all right. You’re worth waiting for.”

Over Lynsey’s head, Jamie shared a look with Mr Sime. The surgeon closed the door behind him. Jamie didn’t panic.


“The reindeer was great, Mr Sime,” Jamie said later as they walked along the road towards the end where the smaller houses sat. Mr Sime was carrying a cool bag, but Jamie didn’t know exactly what was in it. It seemed heavier than it should be if there was only a few sausage rolls and a bit of cake in there.

“Do you like animals?”

“Oh yes. Next to books.”

“Going to be a vet?”

“Don’t know.” Jamie thought about his foot. “I maybe couldn’t do much on a farm. I mean with big animals.”

“You think? Because of your balance?”

Jamie pondered this. Was there a door opening here, or closing? Should he say yes or no or maybe? Why was his dad’s face harder to remember this Christmas than it had been last?

Jamie’s mum was standing in their tiny hall when they came through the gate.

“I was looking out,” she said although everyone knew already. “Come in.” she backed into the front room and Jamie waited while Mr Sime followed her. He closed the front door.

Ahead of him their Advent calendar hung on a shoogly gold tack. Jamie opened the little door for the 23rd and found a picture of a donkey.

Wouldn’t it be good to run free, he thought. Surely his dad would have changed his mind when the science improved? Another thing that would be good, he knew after tonight, was learning to dance so he didn’t have to sit on one side and watch.

He pushed open the living-room door and wasn’t really surprised to see the bit of mistletoe Mr Sime was stuffing back into the cool bag or the bottle of red wine on the table.

“Can I have the operation during term-time?” he asked.


© Anne Stenhouse

A list of my fellow Christmassy Robins is below and there’s more free storytelling for you on their blogs.


Capital Christmas Stories

A Debt for Rosalie buy here

Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor
Diane Bator

Connie Vines

Fiona McGier
Dr. Bob Rich
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin L Courtright

Victoria Chatham

Helena Fairfax