This week I’ve been revisiting an old character I love dearly, but who has really been through the wringer. He’s the guy that saw danger coming and couldn’t get anyone to listen to him. He’s lost a lot and as the world literally falls around him, he doggedly holds on to the only thing he has left – the truth. But his path is so lonely and wretched at times, even as I’m writing him, my heart breaks a little.
So because I’m really a big softie, I’ve been looking for little ways to bring him comfort on his journey. My character lives in a fantasy world, and our backgrounds and circumstances are seriously different – yet I was still able to look to my own experiences for inspiration.
When I was at University I spent a summer picking fruit (apricots and cherries) down in Central Otago (South Island of NZ). The landscape was quite different from the green pastural fields of my childhood home – everything was on a grander scale. The hills towered over sweeping, burnt plains; the river was mountain-fed, fast flowing and more dangerous than anything I’d encountered before; and I was living in an old shearers’ quarters with other seasonal workers.
It was also the time before cell phones and the shearers’ quarters (a very old rambling building with a big front porch – in very bad repair) had no telephone so in order to ring home I had to hike down (and often have to queue up) for the payphone. It felt like I was living in another world.
At that time the things I remembered being very precious were a few photographs, a silver cross necklace my mother bought me (that I tragically lost – but she, hearing how upset I was, sent me another exactly the same) and a few letters. One of my friends lived closer, and his Mum used to send him chocolate cakes which he used to share with me. Strangely, just knowing it was homemade was comforting. When you can’t get to your own family, it’s nice when someone else pulls you into their fold.
But the thing I remember most vividly was one night I’d been visiting friends who lived 10km out-of-town, and for some reason I decided to walk back home by myself. For the life of me I can’t think why I would’ve done it. Although summer down south means the light lasts a long time, I was a teenage girl out in the middle of nowhere – and it was totally dark when I got back to town. But I remember looking out over the great river plain as the sky blazed and faded to black and realising that the stars were the same as home. Although I’m not a big star-gazer the sky was comfortingly familiar. I was able to find the Southern Cross and it made me feel better when the road got darker and the night noises fired my overactive imagination.
My character might not have photographs, but he has a few precious family heirlooms he carries with him. In at least one situation he’s pulled into the bosom of a very big family, and he has the stars too.
Smells, tastes, music and familiar landscapes can all hold comforting memories. I can’t see nasturtiums without thinking of my grandmother. My other grandmother used to say well hung washing looked like a rainbow, I often think of her when I’m hanging my own out. So I’m looking for similar stories for my characters too.
What kinds of things bring you or your characters comfort?