Secondary Characters

Like a bad penny you turned up in the change

In any novel that we read or write there will most likely be a protagonist and an antagonist. You may end up with more than one protagonist, especially where there are different threads or stories throughout the novel. In Supply and Demand there are three clear protagonists.

Your antagonist may be a single person or entity. There might be one antagonist, or a group of some sort. Or your antagonist might indeed be ephemeral. In Supply and Demand it might be said that the entire human trafficking industry, or perhaps a section of it, acts as the protagonist in the story.

Then you have your secondary characters – those who act as facilitators and who add colour and context to the narrative. A question to the writers out there. What becomes of your secondary characters? Do they fade and disappear when their part in your story is done? Or do they resonate with you so strongly that they turn up later in your writing? Like a bad penny.Bad penny

Tess Reitzel née Picot was one of four main characters in A Jersey Midsummer Tale. During that long, hot day four became three, then two. But when the story was done Tess kept calling to me. ‘Tell my story,’ she called. And so I did in Tess of Portelet Manor.
Similarly in A West Cork Mystery one of my protagonists started off in a Darwin (Australia) bar. There he was given a helping hand by a hard-bitten, blonde barmaid. Chantilly lasted for a chapter. But she deserved a bigger part as I pondered in this post. Finally she got what she deserved as one of my three protagonists in Supply and Demand.

platinum blonde

Chantilly maybe?

So, to the writers, have you ever – without pre-planning – found a future role for a secondary character who you previously threw away?

Some stormy nights your memory haunts me
You won’t go away
(Rory Gallagher)


Supply and Demand

‘Me and my mother and the babies, we live in a hut, in a room, next to the canal. We have nothing. We only wish for my father to come and live with us again. You see my foot?’ She pointed to her left foot. Startled, Dilawar now saw she had only four toes. ‘One night when I was small, a rat ate my little toe in the night. That is how we live. But it is OK. I am good at selling flowers.’

It was in 2011 that I watched the documentary The Day My God Died. I blogged about it shortly thereafter. Seven years later, after a number of false starts, my story inspired by the film sees the light of day.

dfw-rm-sad-cover-3dIt’s not a book that you may wish to read. It’s disturbing though not graphic. But, knowing that – as individuals – we are powerless to halt human trafficking, I felt impelled to write on the subject. If it helps to raise awareness then who knows, it might do some good.

Kindle e-book at the moment, paperback to follow shortly.
United Kingdom –
United States –
India (where much of the story is set) –

Meet the Author: Roy McCarthy

My perceptive and learned writing adviser Sue Ghosh was recently kind enough to interview me for her blog. Here’s how it went.

Sue's Space

Self at FOW 2015
I am super excited about introducing Roy to you all. He’s a Jersey boy, a novelist, a short story writer, a runner, and a coach of running and track and field too. Sometimes, he finds himself busy with finance management, so he’s good with numbers too. Roy and I met virtually through my blog a few years ago and he is the reason that I know about the Channel Islands and his beautiful home of Jersey – yes, not New Jersey in the US. In fact, Roy’s books are the reason that I learned quite a bit about Irish history and Cork.
Here’s more about Roy McCarthy.
Sue: Hi Roy. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Roy: Glad to be here, Sue.
Sue: So tell me; how did the writing bug hit you? Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Roy: I honestly had done little or no…

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I Hate This Bit

The story’s written. It’s been beta read. Edits and minor re-writes done. I’ve proofread it to death (and still finding the odd blooper on the fifth read-through). I could almost recite the 66,000 words if asked. Now to turn my Word document into a mobi file for Kindle. ‘Simple’ you cry.

DSCN0476DSCN0477So where did my page breaks go? What happened to my line spacing? I need chapters to begin on new pages. I need dialogue not to have spaces.

Yes I know. There are dozens of ‘how to’ articles out there. A child could fix it in minutes. The thing is, my brain shuts down at any onset of tricky technology. Reading ‘how to’ articles bewilders me more than ever.

Which is odd really. I was there at the dawn of office technology. A former employer proudly trumpeted that our accounts department was now computerised, as a selling point. No more Kalamazoo cards. I took to desktop computing as a duck to water, happily backing up each night onto floppy disks (when they were really floppy).floppy disk

With my colleagues I watched in awe as our Mark 1 facsimile machine sent its first document to New York. It took ten minutes, and we marvelled that the recipients were able to read it right away.

fax macine

It was a bit like this one.

I was there when the boss gave the secretary a thick, ribbon-bound document with instructions to email it to another office – he’d heard we’d installed this wondrous new invention that could do it.

I was there when the boss excitedly showed me something new called a spreadsheet which could add a row of figures in an instant. (Whatever happened to Supercalc?)Dilbert spreadsheet

See, I can cope to a degree having worked in offices and seen technologies come and go. (I mean, does anyone use a fax machine any more?) I’ve used Word, Excel etc. every day of my working life – at least since they became commonplace. But at a basic level. Anything beyond basic and my brain shuts down.

So I’ll battle on with the formatting. I’ll get there eventually, by trial and error. You can expect to see Supply & Demand available in a week or two. In Kindle anyway. Formatting for print will be a further battle.

Supply and Demand – cover reveal

Two young women from a remote Nepal village, full of happy hopes and dreams, are kidnapped and trafficked to work as sex slaves in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s notorious red-light district. One of them, Chameli, tells her story. Chameli’s younger brother sets off on a quixotic rescue mission only to find himself fighting to survive on the city’s streets. Meanwhile, an Australian student arrives in Kolkata with idealistic intent, determined to help young sex slaves if she can. Can there be a rare happy and life-affirming ending to this story of the world’s most inhumane trade?dfw-rm-sad-cover-3d

November Eve in Ireland

The pagan feast of Samhain – the last night of October – marked the end of the harvest and the arrival of winter. It was also understood to be a time when the boundary between the world we are familiar with, and the Otherworld, could most easily be crossed. The Otherworld is where the fairies/gentry/little people/good people of Old Ireland dwell. They were the ancient race, the Tuatha De Danann, who were banished underground many centuries ago having been defeated in battle.

Fairy mound

The poet and author WB Yeats says* ‘This night they (the fairies) dance with the ghosts, and the pooka is abroad, and witches make their spells, and girls set a table with food in the name of the devil, that the fetch (apparition) of their future lover may come through the window and eat of the food.’


Lady Jane Wilde - sheroesofhistory.wordpress.con

Lady Jane Wilde (

And Lady Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar** ‘It is esteemed a very wrong thing to be about on November Eve, minding any business, for the fairies have their flitting then, and do not like to be seen, or watched; and all the spirits come to meet them and help them. But mortal people should keep at home, or they will suffer for it; for the souls of the dead have power over all things on that one night of the year; and they hold a festival with the fairies, and drink red wine from the fairy cups, and dance to fairy music till the moon goes down’.

The only entrances to the Otherworld are via fairy forts, or raths. These abound in Ireland, in all parts of the country. They vary in size and prominence, are generally circular and are often covered with hawthorn. And, even to this modern day, it is considered most unwise by many Irish people to plough or disturb these raths in any way.

Farmers leave them undisturbed, the way they have been for centuries. Planners of roads and other developments take great care to avoid a rath wherever possible. It is said that extreme bad luck will befall anyone who disturbs a rath.

Cappeen Ringfort, Co Cork

Capeen Ringfort, Co Cork

Famously, one of Ireland’s richest businessmen, Sean Quinn, saw his empire collapse and he filed for bankruptcy in 2011. This after he had an ancient burial tomb moved to extend a quarry.

And in 1999 workers downed tools and refused to uproot a lone hawthorn bush. The Ennis by-pass was re-routed and the hawthorn bush remains.

Ardnamagh, Co Meath

Ardnamagh, Co Meath

I couldn’t, of course, resist writing about such a rath in A West Cork Mystery. Well, would you defy the fairies and disturb their home? You’re braver than I.

* Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry

** Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland. Read this online now.

Lilac Morning, on the nose

Don Bridge 1948

Don Bridge 1948 (credit Jerripedia)

Tess fished around and pulled out thruppence.. ‘What do I say?’ she asked.
‘Just tell him your horse’s name and the amount you want to bet.’
Taking a deep breath, Tess stepped up. ‘Lilac Morning please, thruppence.’
Smiling at her the bookie said ‘Thruppence. Lilac Morning, on the nose.’ He wrote in his book and she took the slip that he handed her. Together they made their way back to the seats to wait for the race. At 10/1 Tess calculated that she stood to win half a crown when Lilac Morning romped home. Plus her thruppence back. Maybe she liked horse racing after all!
From A Jersey Midsummer’s Tale

Don Bridge modern

The present day cycle track follows the lines of the old racecourse



Write What You Know?

The common advice to ‘Write What You Know’ really is lazy, negative and limiting. The whole idea of creative writing is to explore new ideas, learn new storytelling techniques and to engage the reader. But admittedly, one’s writing is coloured by life’s experiences. And occasionally I have unashamedly fallen back on the comfort blanket of that bad advice.
My debut novel Barry features an Irish character, Jimmy. Now Jimmy had a shady background – certain persons want him eliminated. Changing his appearance, he rocks up in Birmingham and ends up working as an assistant groundsman at Edgbaston, home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club. I watched plenty of cricket there in my younger days.

warwickshire crket1
So anyway, Jimmy got a job at Edgbaston. Here is a paragraph describing his days there.

warwickshire crket2
‘He continued to work at the County Ground and was enjoying the outdoor life. Still, he was the cod Irishman who was puzzled by everything about the game of cricket. Though he naturally sided with Warwickshire and now recognised most of the players, he relied on his work colleagues or the reaction of the few people in the seats to tell him when the team were doing well. He realised that it was a good thing if a local man whacked the ball to the boundary, thus earning four runs. And if a Warwickshire bowler managed to knock down the stumps with the ball that was good also. But for the rest he was lost, though quite content to remain so. He no longer worried why, if the match was a draw at the end of four days, there was no extra time or replay. He was happy to follow orders, to enjoy his work and the company of the other lads and then pick up his money.’

warwickshire crket3
Happy to hear your views on whether that common advice accords with mine.

Famous First Lines.

‘It was a cold, bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ Hartley, The Go-Between.
‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.
‘‘’Oh, sod this!’ Barry ground to a halt.’’ McCarthy, Barry.

You see? Work at it long and hard enough and pure talent will shine through. Just three words into my debut novel and there’s an exclamation mark which I now wish I’d left out. At a guess, I think I wrote that first line, that first chapter, in about 2007. It was to be several years before I embarked on Chapter 2, and started to enjoy the writing process.
That first chapter really summed up all that I wanted to say at the time. A middle-aged ex-runner gone to seed, attempting a comeback. It was at the end of that chapter that I began to realise that there was more to this writing malarkey than I might have imagined.Writer2
Then it began to dawn on me that I could write anything, that there were no boundaries. I could go off on tangents, introduce new elements, unrelated storylines which came together. New characters who were different from the somewhat one-dimensional Barry. For example, Barry’s daughters Lauren and Michelle. It was my first self-taught lesson in characterisation. Obvious now maybe, but here I found an opportunity to differentiate between two sisters. Chalk and cheese, but with common ground.
And with this gradual realisation of possibilities I began to enjoy writing, and that has continued ever since.Writer1
But a few more famous first lines:
‘Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.’ Lewis, Elmer Gantry.
‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’ Banks, The Crow Road.
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
‘He looked at his watch – 7.33am.’ McCarthy, A Jersey Midsummer Tale.
They just keep coming, don’t they? Have you got a favourite first line? What is one you’ve written yourself?

Choose a Title

OK, I need your help. I need a title for my new novel which is nearing completion.

It’s a novel based on what I know of human trafficking and modern slavery. A young woman and her friend are trafficked from a Nepal village to Kolkata, India. They are forced to do sex work in a brothel there. Her story is told through her own eyes. One of her frequent laments is ‘My god is dead.’




In the unfolding of the story I try to explain the reasons behind this ghastly trade, all of which are, of course, financial. The grim truth is basic economics.

I have narrowed it down to a choice of two, both of which would carry the sub-title along the lines ‘A story of the world’s most inhumane trade.’

Thank you for taking the time to vote.