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Oddballs and eccentrics: why I write quirky characters
When I asked if I could guest blog at Boys in Our Books to celebrate the release of my latest novel, Stuff, Susan was kind enough to give me the following prompt:
Where do you get your inspiration for your characters? They are all so quirky in their own ways, none of those too-perfect-to-be-true types. And it takes some patience and growing in love with them, to be honest. But once the reader is hooked, they are HOOKED. So, can you tell us a little bit about where the ideas come from?
To be honest, the ideas come from everyone I’ve ever met, with the occasional much-loved fictional character’s trait thrown in for good measure. But I think I know why my characters are so quirky. After all, I’ve grown up surrounded by a cast of oddballs and eccentrics. And it all begins with family…
Like all children, I think I grew up just accepting my upbringing as normal. It’s only now I’m an adult I can really appreciate just how out of step with the rest of society my parents were. Not only did they belong to an evangelical fundamentalist Baptist church (very unusual in the UK), but they wholeheartedly embraced the philosophy of living simply and being good Samaritans. As a result we were always poor, but our house was always open to a ragtag assortment of waifs and strays. Church members with mental illness and learning difficulties were regular dinner guests, and the time my parents found a homeless man on the streets they brought him home, clothed him and gave him a temporary place to stay.
And it wasn’t just my immediate family who were a bit “different”. While my dad’s side of the family is made up of quite straight-laced, upper-middle class people, my mum’s side is a rogue’s gallery of bohemian eccentrics. I had a hippy uncle who was still smoking pot in his sixties (and who was also the black sheep of the family because of his time spent behind bars), along with a plethora of arty great aunts with extremely loose morals. My nan was no more respectable: she taught me to play blackjack for money when I was still very young, and her flat was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, what with her extensive collections of spirit miniatures and Spanish flamenco dolls, and her hobby of painting in oils.
With family like this, is it any wonder I’ve always been drawn to weird people?!
When I grew up I deliberately sought out jobs that would put me in the middle of all kinds of different people. I spent a while at an upmarket interior decorating shop and got to hang out with some of the media set in Islington during my staff training. I also worked with the homeless through volunteering with the Big Issue, and learnt a huge amount about addiction and mental illness as a result. But my two favourite jobs for meeting interesting people were as a wholefood co-operative member and a teacher in a further education college.
Working in a members co-op isn’t for the faint hearted. When there is no one in charge and everyone gets a vote in what happens, the ones who stick with it tend to be the feisty characters. Although we sold wholefoods, we weren’t really a bunch of hippies. We were more of a loose collective of aging punks and young anarchists. Our customers were always interesting too. There was the geeky bus driver who decked himself out in lights every December; the couple of elderly gay men with mental health problems who were ever so charming; there was a genuine titled Lady who sold us amazing hummus and who had a heap of scandalous tales to tell of her youth working as a model.
Working at the college also put me in the company of a group of radical lefties, although this time they came with elbow patches on their jumpers. I also worked in the culinary arts department supporting students with learning difficulties, and so had a window into the world of professional catering and the larger-than-life chefs. The one who’d worked in the Merchant Navy for most of his career had some wonderful tales to tell!
I know for a fact I’ve based a few tidbits of characters on some of the people I met through those two jobs. Stella in The Hot Floor was based on one of the wholefood customers as far as looks and the inside of her flat went, although the real life inspiration was a much calmer, more spiritual woman. And as for Perry in Stuff? Well, back at the wholefood co-op I worked with a bloke who was a tall thin redhead and who had made various steampunk-style artworks (one of them really was a stuffed fish with clockwork bits attached!). He wasn’t anything like Perry in terms of personality, though. I’m also fairly sure my original inspiration for Perry’s eccentric vintage wardrobe was my old boss at the college. He always wore a bow tie and in the summer months used to swan around in a pale linen suit and a straw boater.
But as I said, it’s not just the people I’ve met who inspire my characters. Other fictional characters have something to offer too. After falling in love with Eli in KA Mitchell’s Bad Boyfriend, I knew I wanted to write a character who had his kind of spark and courage. Mas was born out of that urge. However, he certainly isn’t a carbon copy of Eli because that would be dull to write. Characters come alive for me when I start to combine a number of different personality traits and quirks. If I need a bit of help I tend to use pop psychology books to give me additional pointers. Enneagrams and the Myers-Briggs type indicators are two of my favourite tools.
My characters might be a mish-mash of different inspirations but they are always born from the world around me, and I’m truly grateful to have had so many fascinating and unusual people in my life. Long may that continue!
Do you know many quirky people? And who is the most eccentric person you’ve ever met?
When Mr. Glad Rags meets Mr. Riches, the result is flaming fun.
Tobias “Mas” Maslin doesn’t need much. A place of his own, weekends of clubbing, a rich boyfriend for love and support. Too bad his latest sugar daddy candidate turns out to be married with kids. Mas wants to be special, not someone’s dirty little secret.
When he loses his job and his flat on the same day, his worlds starts unraveling…until he stumbles across a vintage clothing shop. Now to convince the reclusive, eccentric owner he’s in dire need of a salesman.
Perry Cavendish-Fiennes set up Cabbages and Kinks solely to annoy his controlling father. Truth be told, he’d rather spend every spare moment on his true passion, art. When Mas comes flaming into his life talking nineteen to the dozen, he finds himself offering him a job and a place to live.
He should have listened to his instincts. The shop is already financially on the brink, and Mas’s flirting makes him feel things he’s never felt for a man. Yet Mas seems convinced they can make a go of it—in the shop, and together.
Warning: Contains an eccentric, bumbling Englishman, a gobby drama queen, fantastic retro clothing, scary fairies, exes springing out of the woodwork, and a well-aimed glass of bubbly. Written in brilliantly British English.
English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. She blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She’s beginning to suspect he enjoys it.
Jo publishes regularly with Samhain, and has also been known to edit anthologies and self-publish, although she prefers to leave the “boring bits” of the book creation process to someone else.
Website and blog: http://josephinemyles.com/