Brian’s Journey

Jensen Ackles in an episode of Supernatural where he gets pulled back to 1944 always reminds me of Brian.
Jensen Ackles in an episode of Supernatural where he gets pulled back to 1944 always reminds me of Brian.

This week I’m working at the Canadian Film Centre with some truly awesome screenwriters – Ellen Vanstone , Noelle Carbone @noelcarbs and Tara Armstrong.

One of the things that has come up at this stage of this pilot script is character layers. Now thankfully, everyone agrees that Portia has a lot of layers and a lot going on both on the page and hopefully, someday on the screen. We even agreed that Annie’s backstory with her twin brothers, travelling father, fighting for a foothold in the London press provided a strongly layered character.

The character that seemed to have less going on, literally, was Brian Dawes.

Brian is just the prototypical nice guy in my books. He doesn’t have a lot of conflict and he doesn’t change much between book one and book three. He supports Portia (because it’s right), he does his job well (because he’s good) and he loves his parents (because you should). I remember when I was writing him that I wanted there to be one character who was totally normal, but I think he might be TOO normal.
Like, uninterestingly so.

So, I’m going to spend the rest of January thinking about Brian’s layers and the journey he should make over the course of the books/series:

  • What motivates him?
  • What stymies him?
  • What is his ultimate goal?
  • What scares him?
  • Where does he see himself in 10 years? 20 years?

My next blog post will answer some of those questions and more and hopefully, feed into this script!

What if Dr. Watson’s other grandchild was a psychologist?

'Take the red pill...'
‘Take the red pill…’

Oh boy. I just had a really cool idea: with Portia Adams the consulting detective now operating from 221B Baker St, how cool would it be if her cousin, another grandchild of Dr. John Watson, was a criminal psychologist?

I like that idea. I’m trying to work out if this new addition to Portia’s life should be a man or a woman. Regardless, there are all kinds of opportunities here for conflict, tension, competition, emotion… the list goes on and on.

This is a story after all, and I personally LOVE it when a character links to another character from canon, it’s like an inside joke between the author and I.

I have to think about it some more, but I had to write it down cause I haven’t stopped smiling since I thought of it.

NB: Just a quick edit, I wanted to make sure it was feasible that a woman at this time could be a practicing psychologist, and yes, it seems the first woman to earn a Phd in Psychology was Margaret Washburn, and that was way back in 1894, a good 30 years earlier. Margaret Lowenfield could serve as a good model for such a character.

What’s in a name?

This is actually a funny blog post because I only discovered this by mistake while writing out the character profiles over the last month or so.
There are very few character names that I really really thought about before naming them: Portia Adams and Nerissa are two that spring to mind right away for example in that I walked around thinking about the best name for my protagonist for some time. I knew her last name had to be Adams based on the canon, but her first name is all mine, and led to the naming of her faithful bloodhound Nerissa.

BUT what is interesting is that the rest of the characters were named on instinct for the most part. Brian Dawes for example, was just the name that seemed to fit the character best, based on nothing but it seeming to fit. The same is true for Sergeant Michaels, Dr. Beans, Chief Inspector Archer and Annie Coleson.

I struggled with Dr. Gregory Charles (actually I still do) because it seemed to be a name that was too anonymous. But as the character is growing in my mind, more and more it seems to fit.

The funny thing is that while writing these character profiles I am discovering neat things about my seemingly random instinctive choices. Some really apt meanings of names have sprung out at me from Google that honestly make me feel like some higher power (the God of the Lexicon perhaps) was guiding my hand. It’s very weird, but also super cool.

This has led to planning the first names for Michaels and Archer (who up until now were only known by their titles and surnames) that I will not claim were random.

What about you guys? How do you decide on character names?

Character Profile: Brian Dawes

I’m starting a new category in this blog for character profiles (you can find them all here), and I think I’m going to start with Constable Brian Dawes, seeing as he is so central to the next casebook I am writing.

You might ask why I don’t start with the heroine of my series, Miss. Portia Adams, and the answer is that I did one for her when I first launched this blog, and you can find it in this post titled Keeping track of it all.

Using that post as a template, here is my character profile of Brian Dawes:

BrianFULL NAME: Brian Kevin Dawes, AKA Constable Dawes, Constable at Scotland Yard

AGE: in 1929 he is 24-years-old, therefore born in December 1905.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Brown eyes, 6’2″ tall, slim but athletic build, dark thick hair, dimples when he smiles, which is often, with a kind handsome face. In the latest casebook (8) he exhibits some minor form of claustrophobia while trapped in the bank vault. Over the course of The Detective and the Spy, he’s injured in the same explosion as Portia and becomes addicted to opium through the machinations of Gavin Whittaker.

LOCATION: London, lives in the lower apartment of 221 Baker St

EDUCATION: Basic schooling in London, joined Scotland Yard as a Constable in 1929.

PREFERENCES: Prefers beer over wine, favours pork over other meats, enjoys wide range of vegetables, but only really likes strawberries in the fruit category. He is also an Arsenal football fan.

SOCIALLY: Has both parents living in the downstairs apartment of 221A Baker Street with him, neither of who work, and whom he therefore supports. Dated Annie Coleson, in 1930, but they split amicably. He’s been exclusively dating Portia since  December, 1934.

On the road again….

I can’t help it that anytime I think of that song, I hear it in Donkey’s (Eddie Murphy’s) voice from Shrek.
Anywhoo, we are off on another road trip my little family is, and we’re headed out to the East Coast of this lovely country we call Canada (don’t ask me why I am writing like this, I must be excited).

Google map
The road-trip!

I intend to FINISH writing the first draft of Principessa on this road trip, so wish me luck!
In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer my friends, and don’t worry, I’ll be following your blogs on the road, so leave a light on for me!

Someone who inspires you

Clint Eastwood

Like all of us, I sometimes forget just how lucky I am. Today is not one of those days. I got to spend a few moments with Ms. Eleanor Wachtel (name-dropping is only effective if you know she is the fabulous host of CBC Radio’s Writers & Company ; ) and even though we didn’t talk about books or writing at all, just being around her made me feel lucky.

I came home and sent out three new query letters (my query letters had dropped off in the last month because I was sad about the six I have already sent out and heard nothing from).

Ms. Wachtel has hosted Writers & Company since 1990, and I used to listen to her on the air as a kid when she was on The Arts Tonight and State of the Arts, so despite working in the same building as her for the past 13 years, there’s still a lot of hero-worship when I get to be around her.

Point is, I am lucky that I have that opportunity. And lucky I have the time and support to write here and in my little moleskin.

What do you feel lucky about?

The fine line between an homage and copying an idea

Formula for an effective homage

Thanks to Keith Sawyer over at the Creativity and Inspiration blog who chased down this quote from T.S. Eliot:

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal”

In other words, Good writers borrow, great writers steal.

This is one of those fine-line, grey area parts of writing I find, especially when you are writing a series that spins off  from another author’s work – in my case the great Arthur Conan Doyle.

So, when I decided it was time in Book 7 for Portia Adams to have a slightly more prominent client, I remembered of course The Adventure of the Illustrious Client from the original canon.

I reread it today because the only part of the story I was planning to emulate was Portia taking on a case with someone ‘illustrious,’ not the premise for the mystery or the solution of the crime — in fact I want to head in an opposite direction from that.

Holmes is hired in the Illustrious Client to convince young Violet not to marry a murderous Baron (who has not been successfully linked to his previous crimes) which he does with the help of the Baron’s former lover.

No problem, I’m planning for Book 7 to be about a client who is blackmailed for political information.

Hopefully, this formula (see image above) I just came up with holds true:

The original idea (an illustrious client)  +  my respect for Conan Doyle’s work + a new take (blackmail) = an effective homage.

Those tricksy ones and zeroes!

Yup, even the cat knows you screwed up
taken from

I KNEW there was a reason I wrote in long-hand and then transcribed – it’s for days exactly like yesterday!
It all started out well-planned, I was in the midst of transcribing Book 6 from the notebook to my laptop on Sunday, and, as sometimes happens, I expanded on a scene that I hadn’t really put enough detail into the first time I wrote it.


Dandy even!

That’s why they call it a first draft!

You’re sensing the calamity that is about to reveal itself — aren’t you friends?

So now we have a new scene that exists no where else in this dimension OTHER than my computer…

On Monday, my son requests a park venture (since its Easter Monday and the guy has the day off, so heck, why not) and I think “Sure, I can transcribe at the park, no problem, kid!” I pack him up, transfer my book onto a USB key and pack up the Macbook Air which is so much easier to haul around.

We get to the park where it is as windy as that scene in Twister with the cow flying through the air (I kid you not) and still I’m cool, I’m composed, I can do this.

Pull out the USB key, attach it to the MacBook Air, scroll to the end to start typing and … hey! Waitaminute! What happened to that scene I wrote!? It’s not there. Scroll up…Scroll down… search for a few keywords I knew to have written. Nothin’ ! Bubkas.

Ok, hyperventilating a bit here now, but I can’t drag the kid home… he just got here, and a little wind ain’t gonna stop this kid from swinging his little heart out or digging all the way to Australia in the sandbox.

Fine, I think to myself, typing a marker that says [insert extra scene when you get home] and then continuing my transcription from my always-reliable-never-let-me-down notebook.

You see where this ends right?

That’s right. I get home, and somehow (though it was in my head the WHOLE TIME I SWEAR) save the new copy from the USB onto the old copy on my computer and now… there is no old copy. The scene is gone. GONE I TELL YOU.

Sorry, I’m not usually this dramatic with a keyboard, but I know all of you understand.

Those of you who don’t are probably saying to yourself:  “What’s the big deal? You wrote the scene once, just write it again!”


Let me explain: no matter how close my writing is the second time, it will NOT be the same as the first time and EVEN WORSE: I will always suspect that the first lost scene was exceedingly better than the replacement scene.



I need a hug.

Phossy jaw and Phosphorus

question on quora
Share your answers to my question!

I’m doing some more research, this time on a condition known as Phossy Jaw (description of symptoms below are taken from the Wikipedia article here):

Phossy jaw, formally phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, is an occupational disease of those who work with white phosphorus, also known as yellow phosphorus, without proper safeguards. It was most commonly seen in workers in the match industry in the 19th and early 20th century. Modern occupational hygiene practices have eliminated the working conditions which caused this disease.

So if we assume our antagonist has Phossy Jaw (noted by our brilliant detective Portia Adams) and it was caused by handling white phosphorous, then we now need something that expels a great amount of oxygen for it to interact with.

I’ve got a question out there on Quora right now, trying to see if this is feasible.