Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Kayleigh-Amanda Tarr

With this post, I am reviving the weekly Character Traits Series, which gives my fellow authors an opportunity to promote their books. The first is by Morwenna Blackwood, who has chosen Kayleigh-Amanda Tarr, a character in her Glasshouse series. A UK author with darkstroke books, Morwenna writes noir psychological thrillers. Here, I will let her tell you about the character she created.

How can I try explain Kayleigh without trying to explain everyone around her? People are inextricably linked, which is the reason I started the Glasshouse series! Still, I’ll have a go …

Kayleigh-Amanda Tarr first appeared in 2020, in The (D)Evolution of Us. She is twenty-one years old, heavily pregnant, and living alone in a flat in a Victorian terraced house in Eskwich, Devon.  She soon gives birth to a baby son, Liam.

Her best friend, Cath, recently died, and although the coroner declared the cause of death suicide, Kayleigh believes Cath’s boyfriend, Richard, murdered her.

Kayleigh was diagnosed with Bi-polar Disorder as a teenager, and despite the turmoil she is in at this point, she is ‘doing well’, having regular meetings with her psychiatrist, Dr. Whittle. She’s been teased and bullied about it throughout her life, and experiences discrimination; as she does for her religious beliefs: nature religions make more sense to Kayleigh than her Church of England upbringing, and she practices Wicca.

It’s the late 1990s in The (D)Evolution of Us — the era of the ‘ladette’ — and in spite of the hippy-style clothes she wears, Kayleigh certainly fits that nomination. She’s the life and soul of the party, seemingly wild and free, and her friend and landlord, Will, is deeply in love with her. Hating herself for it, but unable to stop, Kayleigh flirts with him, and occasionally they hook up. And that’s not the only complication in her love life. Richard, Cath’s boyfriend, insinuates himself into Kayleigh’s life after Cath’s death, helping her when she goes into labour and supporting her with Liam, while systematically abusing her. And all the time, Kayleigh is pining for Adam. Adam used to go out with Cath, but he and Kayleigh secretly fell in love — and then he disappeared. Kayleigh hates herself for that, too.

She tells everyone that Liam is the result of a one-night-stand, and no one is surprised.

Kayleigh’s choices have far-reaching effects that impact on everyone in The (D)Evolution of Us, Glasshouse, Underrated, and Skin and Bone, and with Liam in his twenties in the last book I wrote, her story never really ends …

The inspiration for Kayleigh, and other matters.

Kayleigh’s name came from the Marillion song! I loved the idea of having a character who said they were named after a song, even though their age belies it. Music is central to the Glasshouse series — evoking atmosphere and placing a story in time. The fact that Kayleigh lies about where her name came from speaks volumes about her character. She likes to stand out from the crowd, but it comes from a place of deep insecurity.

Kayleigh isn’t based on a real person, rather she is a blend several events I’ve experienced and born witness to. Her physical appearance and self-expression reflect her psychology.

Regarding the books she appears in, I’ll concentrate on The (D)Evolution of Us as it’s the first time I wrote about Kayleigh, and May is the novel’s birthday month. (TDofU was three on Star Wars Day!)

As I’ve said, Kayleigh and Cath are best friends. A cruel twist of Fate exacerbates their mental ill-health, and they both seek escape, solace and oblivion in alcohol. It’s the late 1990s, and given that they find themselves in a culture of indie music, rebellion and binge-drinking, the fact that they’re essentially self-medicating goes unnoticed; however, Cath’s death is — to everyone but Kayleigh — clearly suicide brought on by her depression.

Cath’s death hits Kayleigh hard, and she finds it unbearable that she gives birth around the time her best friend dies. With her parents having split up years ago — her mother back ‘Up North’ and her father remarried and living in France — Kayleigh relies heavily on her friends. The trouble is, being friends with someone doesn’t mean you know them inside-out …

All the Glasshouse novels are told in the present tense from a first-person narrative, so readers experience Kayleigh’s thought processes directly. As to the question of whether Kayleigh is likable or not, well, that’s entirely subjective!

It could be argued that she uses Will to keep a roof over her and Liam’s heads; as a sounding board; as a back-up. However, she really does like him, and feels terrible that she has a tendency to lead him on. And it’s the only way she can see of protecting her son, and surviving herself.

It could be argued that Kayleigh is despicable for betraying her best friend, continuing a clandestine relationship with the lad Cath loves. But again, Kayleigh hates herself for it, simultaneously believing that love is pure and holy, and that if Cath knew what she feels for Adam, she would understand.

It could be argued that if Kayleigh just stopped drinking, and took responsibility for herself, she’d have fewer problems. But Kayleigh is lost. She uses drugs and alcohol as an escape from everything she’s dealing with; also, it’s imbedded in the culture she’s part of. 

It could be argued that Kayleigh is weak and brings everything on herself. But she’s been abandoned by all the people you’d expect to be the ‘rocks’ of your life — parents, family, lover, best friend – and she suffers heinous discrimination and prejudice because of her illness and her spirituality.

Personally, my heart goes out to Kayleigh. She seeks justice for her friend, while raising a child, and being psychologically and physically abused. She’s trying to do her best, and I empathise. However, she’s not infallible. But then, who is …?  


When she was six years old, Morwenna wrote an endless story about a frog, and hasn’t stopped writing since. She’s the author of bestselling noir psychological thrillers, The (D)Evolution of Us, Glasshouse, Underrated and Skin and Bone; has an MA in Creative Writing, and can usually be found down by the sea. Morwenna has several works in progress, and she often thinks about that frog.


 Find Section 17, Morwenna’s newly released collection of poetry at

Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Getting Oh So Closer to the End

Specifically, I mean Missing the Deadline, the next Isabel Long Mystery, number seven in the series. I began this book late last fall and kept at it despite distractions such as working with my editor on The Sacred Dog, holidays, family visits, and personal stuff. You know real life.

My head these days has been filled with what-ifs as I come to the story’s conclusion.

What is Missing the Deadline about? Cyrus Nilsson, aka the Big Shot Poet who first appeared in Checking the Traps, hires Isabel to investigate the shooting of his former literary agent. Gerald Danielson survived what the police ruled an attempted suicide, but he has serious cognitive issues. After overhearing what somebody said at a party though, Cyrus questions whether someone else could be responsible.

Gerald lives with his devoted sister, Wendy, who now runs the literary agency, in a village called Meadows Falls. He has an aide, Miguel. As Isabel delves into this case, she looks for people who might have a reason to shoot Gerald Danielson, and there are definitely suspects, including an ex-wife who writes smutty romance novels and a sci-fi writer who is bold-faced liar. For those following the series, many of my notable characters, like Jack, Isabel’s mother, Annette, the Beaumont brothers, the Old Farts, Dave Baxter, even Lisa, have roles in this one. Of course, I’ve created new characters.

People often ask how I plot my book, and I will admit I don’t. I start with an idea for a mystery and create a lot of possibilities about who could have dunnit as I write. Isabel Long and I solve the case together. At this point, she and I have finally figured it out.

My aim is to make the climax true to the book and hopefully fool readers until the end. 

On Friday, I was fortunate to give a reading at the Arms Library in my village of Shelburne Falls. (Thanks Arms Library.) I was delighted that fans of the series showed up. They were pleased the seventh book is so close to the end. Well, so am I.

When I read a scene from Following the Lead about the Old Farts, those nosy old men who gather in the backroom of the Conwell General Store to gossip, I asked if there could be a similar situation around here. Ah, yes, I got several locations. Ha. I also got two great suggestions: to consider audiobooks and to approach another mystery writer about doing a collaboration. My lips are sealed about who that might be but I do plan to reach out. Another person also suggested having Isabel work on an active case. That’s something to consider.

I have perhaps a thousand words to go in Missing the Deadline. Then, I will print it and give the book a good hard look for holes or where a part needs tightening. I will listen to the book via the mechanical voice in the Read Aloud function of Word. I call him Frank, by the way. Then I will send it to my publisher to see if it meets their approval. I will certainly let you know about that.

By the way, I already have an idea for number eight.

LINK TO MY BOOKS: Here they are on Amazon —

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s a lovely chandelier at the Millicent Library in my hometown of Fairhaven Mass., which I visited recently. The library does carry my books.


Anger on the Menu

While in my hometown recently, I settled for a fast food place when the restaurant I wanted wasn’t open. It was a favorite of my mother, who I was visiting at a convalescent home, and I thought it would make this meal a tribute of sorts. But I wasn’t prepared for what else was on the menu.

As I stood looking at the menu on the wall to find something I would want to eat, I overheard an exchange several feet away between a customer and the young woman behind the counter. The man, middle-aged with a long bushy beard, was complaining loudly. It concerned points he had accumulated and a burger with cheese and bacon he felt he was entitled to get. He wanted the problem fixed right then and there.

The woman behind the counter said he would need to speak with a manager who wasn’t available right then. But the man wouldn’t let it go. It was clear he thought he was being ripped off and was angry about it.

I realize this restaurant chain has its rules, but the common sense thing would have been to make amends with this unhappy customer by offering him something on the menu for free although that might not have satisfied him. But obviously the woman didn’t feel she could do anything like that on her own.

The exchange made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know this man and what he was capable of doing. I flashed on national events of recent weeks, in which acts of violence were committed in public places or on private property. Surely, you have read or heard about them.

I left the restaurant and stood outside. There’s no way I wanted to be a victim of this man’s rage. But I also didn’t want fear to rule my life.

So I went back inside.

The man was no longer at the counter. I spotted him eating in the far corner. I gave my order and when the wrap arrived, I found a seat on the opposite side. As I ate, the woman who worked behind the counter stopped after she had finished cleaning a table.

“How is your food?” she asked.

I told her it was good. Then I mentioned the exchange she had with the customer. She said she was waiting for the manager still.

I told her, “Considering what’s been happening, that made me a little nervous.”

Her face was serious as she nodded. “I know what you mean,” she said.

As I left, the man had finished his dinner and was back at the counter. I hope he and the manager were able to find a satisfying solution, a common ground. We surely need more of that these days.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: That’s one of three flowering bushes in our side yard we believe are azaleas.

books, libraries

Big Free Libraries

There are Little Free Libraries and then there are the Big Free Libraries. In the first, you give and take books found in public boxes along roadsides. Our village of Shelburne Falls has eight at last count. With Big Free Libraries, the concept is that you borrow a book, in whatever form, and return it within a certain amount of time so others can do the same. Basically, these libraries act like warehouses but, oh, so many of them are beautiful buildings, often donated by someone who lived there and wanted to give their town a special gift. That’s true about my village.

My love of libraries began as a child when our mother would take us to the Millicent Rogers Library in my hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. She brought us there often, especially during summer vacation when we would load up on books. Besides the books I borrowed — trying to read as many of L. Frank Baum’s 14 Oz books as possible — I marveled at the building’s beauty. I recall when I was old enough to explore the stacks in the adult section. 

I loved the library’s history, that Henry Huttleston Rogers, who grew up in our town and became vice-president of the Standard Oil Company, had it built as a memorial to his daughter, Millicent, who sadly died when she was 17. That was in 1893. (Later, when I lived in Taos, New Mexico, I would encounter another Millicent Rogers, Henry’s granddaughter, who has an art museum in her name.) The library, designed by the famous architect Charles Brigham, was built of granite in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. It was one of many buildings Rogers donated, including my magnificent high school.

Doing a little research, I found Benjamin Franklin had a hand in the development of the first lending library. In 1790, he donated a collection of books to the Massachusetts town of Franklin, which named itself after him. Townspeople voted to make those donated books freely available for town members, thus creating the nation’s first public library. Certainly, that idea has spread.

As an adult, wherever I lived, in cities or towns, I sought out the public library. I never found one that didn’t have one. What better way to discover an author and read everything that person wrote, especially since through interlibrary loan, I could get almost any book.

Some of the library buildings were modest, even located in parts of a large public building. Several have been as grand as the one in my hometown. And in each case, they were made possible because of generous benefactors. Two in neighboring towns, each with far less than 2,000 people, come to mind.

Joseph Griswold donated the Griswold Memorial Library, built in 1908, an elegant, neo-classical stone library in Colrain to honor his parents, Joseph and Louisa. His father had been the town’s biggest employer with his wood product and cotton mills. In Conway, Marshall Field, a native who built a highly successful department store in the 1800s, gave the Field Memorial Library also as memorial to his parents, John and Fidelia Nash Field. This classy building, finished in 1901, has a domed rotunda, Italian marble, and a spiral staircase.

That same generosity happened in the Shelburne Falls Village where I live. The Arms Library is named for Major Ira Arms, who got the ball rolling to establish a library. Francis and Lydia Taft donated the building, which was was dedicated in 1913. It’s a relatively short walk from my home to the library, which is open four days. Each time I enter, I marvel at its tiled floors, high ceilings, and impressive woodwork including the Corinthian columns. 

Now that I am an author, I am pleased when I find my books are available in libraries. I was especially excited that the Millicent Rogers Library carries my Isabel Long Mystery Series. I was tipped off by Facebook friends and I can’t help smile about that. I plan to stop by on my next visit to my hometown.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the circulation desk at the Arms Library.

READING: By the way I will be doing a reading Friday, May 12, 6:30 a.m. at the Arms Library. I will talk and read from my latest books: Following the Lead, from my mystery series, and The Sacred Dog, which is not but has a similar setting of the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. I will have books available at a discount.

The Sacred Dog

Don’t Mess with Jenny Kitchen

It’s time to give a little love to The Sacred Dog and to Jenny Kitchen, one of my favorite characters in this novel. She is the feisty grandmother of one the main characters.

To backtrack a little, this novel centers on a feud between two men in a small town. Frank Hooker owns The Sacred Dog, a bar where the locals gather to drink and gab. The only one not welcome is Al Kitchen because Frank unfairly blames him for the death of his brother. Throw in a dark secret involving Frank’s wife. You know nothing good is going to come from this situation.

Al didn’t have it easy as a kid. His parents died when he was young, so he came to live with his grandparents. His grandfather was an abusive drunk. The only good thing he did for Al was to teach him to hit a baseball.

But Al has a strong ally in his grandmother, who had to put up with her own share of abuse. Probably the best thing that happened to Jenny is when her husband died of a heart attack in the junkyard behind their house. “Kitchen men are the meanest men. Don’t you ever be that way. Treat the people you love better,” she told Al after one such experience.

Jenny is tough. She has to be, living on social security and what Al, who continues to live with her as an adult, contributes to their household expenses.

She keeps to herself although she does have a few women friends in town. Al is the main person in her life although she can be tough on him. She wants him to do better.

She’s also Al’s biggest defender. His grandmother might not always have protected Al from Pops, but she stuck up for him when his teachers or the principal said he misbehaved in school. “Not my boy. You must be mistaken.” 

Jenny is the one who got Frank Hooker to let her grandson back inside his bar. She may be short, but she looked up at Frank with defiant eyes while she negotiated a two drink maximum. 

Then there are her cats, lots and lots of them, although like Al, she always has a favorite tom she lets inside the house.

Here’s scene from The Sacred Dog. Al is sitting in his first car in the junkyard behind the house he shares with his grandmother.

Al finished the joint when he heard the brakes on his grandmother’s car squeal as she backed it to the barn. He felt good and rubbery as he watched Ma open the trunk of her car. She bought it new after Pops died with his life insurance money. Now the car’s paint wouldn’t even hold onto a shine. Cats circled Ma’s ankles as she shuffled through the tall grass toward the barn. He laughed when she accidentally stepped on one of the cats and the thing squawked in pain. After a while, Ma walked into the barn and back outside, carrying a pail in little jerking motions toward the woods, shooing the cats away.

He lifted the bottle for another swig.

Al swore his grandmother must be made of cast iron, the way she was able to outlive that son of a bitch husband of hers. He saw photos of her when she was young, not a wrinkle on her almost pretty face. Her large, crooked mouth marred it. She used to have hair the same color as Al, a red that looked as if the strands had rusted in the rain. His eyes traced her wander into the woods. He spotted her flowered housedress between the trees, and then she returned to the barn. She was hollering for him, and Al started to laugh when he saw her try to lift the bags of cat food from the trunk of the car. He never saw Ma wear anything new, but she spent a fortune feeding her cats.

He slipped from the Mustang.

“Need somethin’, Ma?” Al said as he approached his grandmother.

“Where you’ve been, Al? I’ve been callin’ and callin’ you.”

“Just out back.”

She gave him a sniff and frowned.

“Out back where? A barroom?” She pointed to the bags. “Pour those bags into the metal barrel in the barn.”

Al hoisted a bag over each shoulder and followed his grandmother to the barn. He began teasing her about her cats, which were now in hiding. They all hated him. He didn’t blame them. They knew what would happen if he caught up with any of them. Ma lifted the top of the trashcan for him. He breathed through his mouth as he poured the contents of the bag into the barrel because the barn stunk of cat spray.

“Hey, Ma, tell me. What were you doin’ in the woods with the pail?”

His grandmother worked her mouth.

“One of my cats lost her litter, Queenie, the calico. She rolled on the three kittens and smothered them. So, I took their bodies in the pail to dump them in the woods.” Her eyes closed in a catlike squint. She scratched the back of her head. “When I looked them over, they seemed okay. But I guess cat mothers know when there’s somethin’ wrong with their young.”


You can find The Sacred Dog, in Kindle and paperback, on Amazon:

It is available in paperback at Barnes and Noble: