Writing Character

It was the walking stick that caught my gaze. Its rubber tip worn down to a custom tilt; its handle polished by decades of grip and lean. To see such a dependable old friend abandoned to a jumble sale is a sad sight: it can mean only one thing.

She was 92 when she died. No-one begrudged her the time-off. What was her name? “That old lady who lived on top of the hill? Don’t know, love.” Nobody knew her anymore: her generation had gone, new people arrived; she became part of the landscape they passed through.

“These two harlequins were hers, too. Real porcelain – the hands and faces … amazing. From out East somewhere, I reckon.” They were on top of an old black and white television set when the house was cleared. They still smile, shyly, dusty and faded where a window must have stood behind them. Houses on hill tops have a lot of sun – and a lot of view. Perhaps she looked at that view more often than the television, and smiled at the harlequins’ generosity.

The stall holder rummaged through the bric-à-brac – seeing I was interested – and brought out a flower fashioned from purple, leaded glass. “I reckon she made that herself, a bit rough – pretty, though, eh?” Yes. I bought it all for a few dollars.

Not a lot to show for a life, but a treasure chest for a character …

That walking stick. With assurance of her own identity, a sense of humour and imagination, she made it unique. Those who didn’t know her knew whose walking stick it was.

And from what distant land had she brought the harlequins, wrapped with infinite care – inside tissue paper, inside a box, inside her suitcase? Or were they cushioned in a sweater in her rucksack, even further ago. Were they the Yin and Yang of a young girl’s hopes, the romance that begins with shy smiles and ends in side-by-side fidelity by a window with a view?

Or perhaps she travelled much later in life, after the twosome had become lonesome: the harlequins a bitter-sweet souvenir of a life and a love once known.

And the leaded glass flower – a bit bendy where it shouldn’t be – was it made of gritty determination with shaky hands and cataract-veiled eyes? With an irrepressible desire to make a thing of beauty that caught the light, a small, stained-glass epitaph? Or was it the expression of a young girl’s vision – unfaded, still smiling … shyly?

No-one here knows her name, but I like to think of her as, Beatrice, who preferred to be called Bea.


If you have read this far, I hope you have understood, now, why there is no introduction to this piece; no mention of useful techniques, advice, reasons. Quite simply: it is all in the seeing.


About ‘Writing Character’, Trish Nicholson says:

The wonderful thing about writing is that you can be inspired anywhere, anytime. I wrote, Writing Character, after a visit to our local market where I learnt something about drawing characters that I wanted to share by ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’.

Trish wandered far from her Manx roots to become an anthropologist, working on aid and development projects, travelling in a score of countries, before settling on a hillside in New Zealand. She lives in the Far North, where ‘winter’ means picking oranges between showers, and writes full-time. Last year, Trish signed up with Collca, a UK based e-publisher, to write a new series of BiteSize Travel books, which allows her to indulge her passion for photography. Masks of the Moryons: Easter in Mogpog, was released in December 2011; On a Flying Tiger: a journey in Bhutan, will be out on April 20th. Trish’s other passion is writing short-stories. Encouraged by a few wins and anthology publications, she is working on her storytelling skills which she believes are equally important for writing non-fiction. She applies this creed to her weekly blogs at Words in the Treehouse, which include stories, reviews, travel tales and photo-essays as well as posts on writing. And there really is a tree-house.