Sailor’s Eyes

Nile FeluccaHis eyes were not the saintly grey-blue eyes of the Alexandrian Arab who greeted me at the airport in Cairo, wearing a humble turban above his toothless smile.

They were not the proud eyes of the ‘Chief of the Nile’, the water policeman in Luxor, whose pale skin and straight hair, navy slacks and suave grey sweater leant him an air of self-importance in this sea of dark-skinned, kaftan-wearing Arabs.

Abdulla had African features and the wild brown eyes of an experienced sailor, constantly scanned the river, seeking out the mysteries of wind and water and God.  Though he could easily be mistaken for a Bedouin from the hot desert sands, Abdulla was a man of the river.

Abdulrazig, the name his many cousins, uncles and countless friends affectionately called him, had kinky afro hair which he sometimes covered with a white Islamic scarf.  More often than not, it sprang upwards towards the heavens in dark spiralled peaks while the scarf flapped in the breeze around his shoulders.

When he hoisted the tall canvas sail of his wooden boat named ‘Baby’, the heavy cotton gallābīya he wore also billowed in the wind.  And each time he set out to cross the Nile, you could hear friendly shouts of greeting from the esplanade below the temple and see children running along the banks to wave after him.  After all, everyone knew and loved Abdulla, the young felucca captain.

©2013 S. K. Riley


Characters & Letter Writing

LettersSome of my characters have never used the internet.  They write in longhand, telling their stories in long-winded, ink-smudged letters.

Such letters add immeasurably to any author’s ability to flesh out characters.

This has inspired me to rekindle my own lapsed correspondence with elderly relatives. They too tell wonderful stories on special stationary in beautiful, if shaky, copperplate handwriting.

I’m grateful to the fictional personalities I’ve come to know and love this year, for reacquainting me, not only with my family elders and the new stories they’ve shared with me, but for restoring the gentile art of letter writing to my twenty first century lifestyle.

These hand written letters now live in a special box tied with satin ribbons, to be handed on to a generation who have never known such pleasures.

May 2013 be a year of gentle rediscovery for us all.

Characters – Digressions, Petrol, Sharks and Sparks

A novel worth reading cannot be written suddenly.

It requires focussed effort, and putting in long hours.

And so the writer will often digress into daydreams…

How lucky I was as a child to spend tropical summers on a deserted 10-mile beach, infested at one end with gargantuan saltwater crocodiles, patrolled by 3-metre sharks in the middle, and at the northern end, a writhing nest of the most poisonous snakes on the planet. To be allowed to thrive in Wild Nature’s heart-stopping beauty, punctuated by the palpable reality that ‘safety’ is a relative thing, a fact demonstrated in daily reminders that the thin veneer of what is called a ‘comfortable suburban life’ is brittle, that life must be lived fully in each moment… all of this became the fortunate gift of petrol poured onto the fire of my young writer’s imagination.

But even such frothy digressions are not wasted time for any writer (please take note my dear publisher).
Use them as threads to gently tug on, to pull yourself back into the heart of your story.

Your story lives and breathes in the same place that produces such daydreams.
Dance with your digressions as they lead you back to the spark.


So now that you’re all fired up, let’s get back to –

Character Sketching

Ask yourself:

• What does your main character truly believe?
• What are his/her weaknesses?
• What is your main character confused or unclear about?
• What does he/she have the wrong idea about, especially in the beginning?
• What secret(s) does your main character know/not know?
• What does he/she need to know?
• How are you going to show this to the reader?

• What does you main character really need?
• Who or what does she/he really care about?
• Is this something you as the author also care about? (If so, you are building on your theme.)

• What does your main character desire above all else?
• What does he/she want to do (even if he/she can’t or isn’t willing to do it)?
• Who is he/she hurting, and who is hurting her/him, and why?
• What motivates him/her? (This is what pours petrol on their desires.)
• What is the goal he/she is striving for? (As the result of their desire.)

• Now break this down into private/inner and public/outer goals. (Will these align in your story?)
• How and when will your main character achieve such goals?
• Do they have a deadline to achieve what they most desire? (They should.)
• What actions will you portray them taking to make all of this clear to your reader?

• Who or what is preventing them from achieving these desires/goals? (Conflict)
• How are you going to show your main character’s internal conflict?
• What other frustrations, obstacles or setbacks will your main character encounter?
• What does he/she learn in the end?
• How does your main character change in their journey towards either success or failure to achieve what they desire? (And how will you show this?)

Now ask yourself these same questions for all of your other characters.


They say 10,000 hours of practice makes perfect.
Remember to stir in a little daydreaming for balance.