Creating Characters

I believe a great deal of good fiction is based on fact. I have found that, when one is creating characters, you are drawing upon personal experiences, people you know, or have met. Some made positive impressions. Some negative.

For BEAR ANY BURDEN, I had a number of key characters, who were bound together by the impact of their World War II experiences. Sir Alex Campbell, Head of an International Drinks Company, was based on a number of people that I knew and worked with over 38 years in the Beverage Alcohol Industry, particularly in my 20 years experience of the Scotch Whisky Industry, before I moved to the U.S. In my story, Alex Campbell was a nineteen-year-old Lieutenant in the British Intelligence Corps in April 1945, at the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, with all its visual horrors of dead bodies, walking skeletons, and disease. He had also witnessed the suicide of a fanatical Nazi officer, who had attempted to kill him before taking his own life. These traumatic experiences stayed with him for forty years.

Jacob Kornmehl and the Kornmehl family were loosely based upon my own family members and stories about those that had gone before us.

When I first started out in business, the first employee that I hired was a secretary. As a young bachelor, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I had chosen a very pretty Polish girl with high cheek bones, bright blue eyes, and long blond hair. She had an aristocratic bearing and posture, and walked like a ballet dancer. Her English was far from perfect and her typing was awful, but then you can’t have everything!

I remember her telling me of her family history. She came from a land-owning family whose estates were overrun by the Germans at the beginning of the Second World War. Her father was in the Polish Army, and she never saw him again. She fled with her mother and brother and walked for well over 150 kilometers, eventually finding themselves in Russian occupied Poland. They were herded on to trains and shipped off to the Russian Steppes, where she spent the whole of the War in a labor camp on a collective farm. Just before the end of the War, they were released and spent five days and nights on a freight train, arriving in Baghdad more dead than alive. I remember her saying that, she was so weak after that journey, she couldn’t stand. They were then shipped off to a British camp in Uganda, eventually making their way as new immigrants to Australia, where she finished her education and became an airline stewardess.

She, her mother and brother moved to London at the end of the 1950s. I can’t remember why they made this move, but her story stuck in my mind, and forms the basis of the character, Anna Kaluza, in my book, who I described as the daughter of an aristocratic land-owning Polish family who had been born in a Russian labor camp in 1940. She spent the first five and a half years of her life in that camp, followed by two more years in a refugee camp in Uganda operated by the British before moving to Australia.

Anna’s mother, Maria Kaluza-Zyradowski, is a woman of strength, beauty, and elegance. I hope she epitomizes the Polish aristocratic, land-owning ruling classes, that existed before the Second World War. She was a charismatic leader, who was able to adapt to her dire circumstances in a Russian Labor Camp, a British refugee camp, and working as a house cleaner in Australia. She befriended and earned the respect of the Camp Commandant and her Australian employers alike.

Tim Bevans is the epitome of the British officer and gentleman – tall, slim, elegant, well-educated, polite, and intelligent. I’ve met many such people over the years who display considerable charm and understated British intelligence and wit. But as the head of the British Secret Intelligence Services, his charm hides a tough, political and calculating professional, dedicated to protecting Queen and Country, from all adversaries.

My father-in-law in London had a close friend who owned an appliance store. He was a wizard with anything electrical and like my father-in-law was a lover of gadgets. He was a Polish Refugee who’d come to England after the Second World War, having lost all his family in the Holocaust. He’d spent most of the War with various partisan groups operating under terrible conditions in the Polish Forests, sabotaging German lines and communications. He developed an expertise in wiring explosives. He was an effusive gentleman with close cropped gray hair, glasses, and bad teeth. I used some of these characteristics for my description of Erik Keller, who was fifteen when the Nazi forces marched into Tarnow in September 1939. Over the next three years, before escaping into the forest, to fight with local partisans, he witnessed the gradual abuse, starvation, and ultimate murder of half of the population.

Other characters in the Book are also based on people that I’ve met, done business with, or socialized with. If one is observant, it is not too difficult to call on your knowledge – past and present – of the people you’ve associated with, to create the fictional characters in your novel. Creating the characters whom you get to know as your novel develops, can be a very interesting and rewarding part of your writing experience.

And read much more about the history of spies at Spy Fiction History





Ellis M. Goodman was born in England and moved to the United States in 1982. He was educated at Brighton College Sussex, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and is the former Chairman and CEO of a major US Beverage Alcohol producer, importer and distributor. Ellis M. Goodman is the author of a number of magazine articles on the US Beverage Alcohol Industry, and the business book, Corona: The Inside Story of America's #1 Imported Beer.He serves on a number of civil, educational, and cultural boards in Chicago; and, in 1996, was invested as a Commander of the British Empire by HM Majesty Queen Elizabeth for services to British exports. He and his wife, Gillian, live in Glencoe, Illinois.




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