Shipboard Characters

There are some characters you meet in real life that just have to go into a book. Last year my wife and I took a ten day Caribbean cruise. On this trip we met two of the loveliest people of our life. David and Jane, they sat at our dining table. Jane was a gorgeous fun loving gal of 92 and David was a smidgeon older. I cannot even begin to describe this couple. Jane couldn’t weigh much more then the dining chair she sat on, and David was upright and had a full head of hair.

Apparently Dave was a retired ship designer. We had several quite exciting and interesting conversations about the ships he’s designed. He has my full admiration. Jane on the other hand was a 92 year old play girl. Her favourite drink was Canadian Club Whisky. She was so delicate that the waiter had to cut her meals into tiny pieces for her.
On the island of St Kits they have a narrow gauge railway train that chugs something like half way round the island, fabulous view, magnificent scenery. Who did we meet on the train, of course David and Jane. It took three strong men to get frail little Jane off the train but she enjoyed every minute, and the attention.
Occasionally the pair would get lost on the ship and miss a meal. Sometimes we looked out for them and guided them to the huge dining room. It’s not that difficult to get lost. I found myself in the wrong dining room on one occasion. Our ship was over a thousand feet long and there were 2400 passengers. One day when I think I can do them justice I will model a pair of characters on those two lovely people.


One question I’m often asked is, “Do you base you characters on real people?” In reality it’s a silly question. Of course you have to base your characters on something real. Each invented personality must be believable and the most believable people are real people. Always when writing I imagine the character is here with me. I can hear them speak and see the silly faces they pull and of course they always look like someone I met, or know.
Real people are so much fun if you carefully observe them. One slightly humorous story I recall was my nephew. At the time he was only seven and I was visiting England. On this occasion I found him scooting down the street using a bicycle as a scooter. He had one foot on a pedal and was virtually riding beside the vehicle.
“Why don’t you ride properly?” I asked.
In his funny but sweet Fen accent he said, “I in’t big enough.”
“Can you ride a bike?”
“Oh yes, uncle Malcolm.”
Being the good uncle, I held the bike while he climbed aboard. A slight push and he was on his own. He certainly did know how to ride it. After a while he came back and I caught him and allowed him to climb off again.
“That’s great, in’t it, uncle Malcolm?”
“Yes it is. I’ll tell you what, I’ll show you how I used to get on a bicycle when I was little.”
I showed him how the bike could be leaned up against a wall or a lamppost and without difficulty a young lad could easily climb up using the crank as a step. Once balanced, just ease away frown the wall and off you go. With excitement and gusto David followed my instructions and in seconds was haring down the street on the slightly oversized bike.
Pleased with my afternoon’s work I walked to my brother’s house and continued my visit. About an hour passed when there came a loud banging on the outside door. Being the closest I got up and answered the frantic banging. Opening the door I saw David standing there with mud from head to foot, his shirt was torn and his trousers ripped. His glasses were lopsided and one lens broken.
“What the heck happened to you?” I asked.
With a beautiful smile and in his quaint accent he said. “Wull, you didn’t show me ‘ow to get off.”
When I wrote the story ‘Him’ I could imagine young David for in my mind’s eye this was the character. ‘Him’ is not yet published, but it most likely will be sometime next year. The real David was gentle and kind and had a deep interest in the Middle Ages, but unfortunately some years later he was killed by a drunk driver.