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

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:

Isabel Long Mystery Series

Two-Thirds of the Way There

Ah, progress. Missing the Deadline, no. 7 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, is past the two-thirds mark. Believe me I’m smiling.

I began this book last fall and kept at it despite distractions like holidays, going back and forth with my editor/publisher, Laurence Patterson on The Sacred Dog (not part of the series), family visits, other writing projects, and personal stuff. My aim is around 75,000 for the books in this series. So, if you do the math, I am past the 50,000-word mark. 

To note this accomplishment, I printed what I’ve written so far and got out a red flare pen to mark up what I want to add, change or subtract. I also note with big red stars a bit of information that needs to be brought up later in the book, or perhaps I’ve found a repetition of a certain phrase. Then there is the big, red FIX beside a paragraph that needs work.

My plan is to finish to today and begin making the edits before I go full-steam ahead to finish the book. As I’ve stated before, I aim for 500 words a day although lately I’ve been writing more. So, it will take me maybe six or seven more weeks. That should give Isabel and me time to solve this case.

So what is Missing the Deadline about? Cyrus Nilsson, who readers of the series will recall is the Big Shot Poet, hires Isabel to investigate the shooting of his former agent. Gerald Danielson survived the shooting, which the police ruled an attempted suicide, but he is not the same man. He is now seriously impaired. After overhearing what somebody said at a party, Cyrus questions whether Gerald actually shot himself or someone else did it.

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 want to kill Gerald Danielson, and there are definitely suspects, including an ex-wife who writes smutty romance novels.

Of course, I’ve carried over many of the characters who have become regulars, including Annette Waters and the Beaumont brothers. Yes, Isabel tends bar Friday nights at the Rooster with Jack. And her 93-year-old mother, Maria is still her helpful ‘Watson.’

I certainly will be telling you more about Missing the Deadline in the future.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already caught up, here’s the link to my Isabel Long Mystery Series on Amazon, in Kindle and paperback:

And if you have read them all, I sincerely thank you and hope you look forward to reading the next.

Isabel Long Mystery Series, The Sacred Dog

Voices in My Head

I don’t mean those kinds of voices, the ones that get you into trouble or treatment. I am writing about the voices of the characters in my books and the conversations they have with each other whether they are adults or children. As you can see from the stack of books in the photo above, I have been doing that for a while.

Right now, I am working on the seventh in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. This one is called Missing the Deadline. I don’t want to give away too much just yet, but I am way past the half-way mark. 

For those who haven’t read the series, it is written in first-person, present-tense so the primary voice in my head is Isabel telling the story. Of course, there are the conversations she has with other people and what she might overhear. There are a number of other characters in the series, many who appear throughout. 

Say Isabel is having a conversation with Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar and her love interest. Part of their thing is a good-natured back and forth, teasing, you might say. Maria, Isabel’s 93-year-old mother, is the level-headed observer who at times pulls parenting rank on her daughter. Annette Waters, who owns a junkyard and garage, lives up to her nickname the Tough Cookie. Gary Beaumont is always bossing around his brother, Larry.  Then, there are the Old Farts, those gossipy men who hold court in the backroom of the Conwell General Store.

I guess it all started when I was a kid living a sheltered life, which mean I only left our yard to go to school, church, watch my father’s softball team play, or to visit relatives. My siblings and I were big into pretending games. Plus I was a big reader. I loved getting lost in books.

Later in adulthood, when I no longer lived a sheltered life, I was a newspaper reporter. That experience, reporting on the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, enabled me to listen to how people of all walks of life talked and to write it down. It was great training. Plus it inspired making rural New England the setting for most of my books.

The Sacred Dog, which is not part of the series, is my most recently published novel. That one, a thriller set in rural New England, is written in third-person, past-tense. The Sacred Dog is a country bar where the locals drink and gab, so there is that barroom banter to get right. But I needed to capture what the book’s three main characters would say. Frank Hooker, the owner, hates Al Kitchen, who he wrongfully blames for his brother’s death. Their conversations are terse and tense at best. I “hear” how they relate when Al has the nerve to show up at the bar. The same goes into their dealings with other people, including Frank’s ex-wife Verona, who returns to town with a dark secret, and his young daughter. One of my favorite dialogues happens between Jenny Kitchen, Al’s scratchy grandma, and Frank. 

But back to Isabel Long, specifically Missing the Deadline, who has been inside my head lately? My favorites, of course, like Jack, the Old Farts, Annette, the Beaumont brothers, and of course her mother. But Cyrus Nilsson, aka the Big Shot Poet, plays a significant role in that he hires Isabel for her seventh case. Plus, as this case — my lips are sealed — takes Isabel to another place and people of interest, there are new characters to hear. I will be sharing more about Missing the Deadline in the future.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: Yes that’s the books I’ve published so far. Darkstroke books published the Isabel Long Mystery Series and The Sacred Dog. I self-published the rest. By the way, the second in the Twin Jinn Series will be published this year.

LINK: Here’s the way to find my books in Kindle and paperback on Amazon:

The paperback versions of most of my books are also available on Barnes and Noble:

Isabel Long Mystery Series, Uncategorized

Staying in Character

Great actors are famous for it. We the viewers forget the actor and only see the person they are playing on stage or screen. Some even take it a step further and stay in that role off camera.

But writers like myself have more than one character to consider. We get into their skin, so what they say and do are authentic to the stories we write.

My Isabel Long Mystery Series is written as a first-person present-tense narrative. Isabel is a smart, mature woman who is a bit of a wise ass. As a former journalist, she developed the ability to see through people and any bull they try to dish her. Just like reporting a new story, she’s methodical about her cases. I will admit there is a lot of me in Isabel although I am not a widow and I never worked as a private investigator. I don’t like that much danger.

It’s rather easy for me to figure out what Isabel will do in any given scene or situation whether it’s solving a mystery, pouring beer at the Rooster, being with its owner Jack or dealing with her family, including her mother, Maria, her partner in solving crime. 

In Following the Lead, she’s given a tough case. Her old boss, Lin was just a boy when his baby sister was stolen from the front yard and never found. That was nearly 50 years ago. So how should Isabel approach such a case? I channel Isabel and we figure it out together.

But, of course, Isabel isn’t the only character in this series. Some are one and done in a book. Many others have stuck around. As each one appears on a page, I channel that character so know how they should react to any situation I throw at them. 

Take Annette Waters aka the Tough Cookie. She wouldn’t be shy about anything. If someone dared to give her a hard time, she’d dish it back and twice as hard. But then again she runs a garage and junkyard. There’s her cousin, Marsha aka the Floozie who co-owns the Pit Stop convenience store. She’s another one who doesn’t take crap from anyone. Both are locals but they’ve grown fond of Isabel and her mother even though they are newcomers. 

It doesn’t matter the character’s gender. I know what will come out of Jack Smith’s mouth before he says it. Jack’s cousin Fred Lewis aka el Creepo typically says the wrong thing. He’s a bit of an idiot as demonstrated by what he does in Following the Lead

I believe the best training I received — like Isabel — was as a journalist. I had to listen carefully to what people said and observe how they behaved. It was a great experience that I believe has paid off with authentic characters. I hope my readers feel the same way.

LINK: Nov. 3, release date is getting oh so close. Here’s the link for Following the Lead:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Saw this along State Street in Shelburne Falls near Floodwater Brewing. Isabel Long would find it amusing.