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How Your Characters Help You Build Your Character: Meet Author Eileen Donovan

Brooklyn writer Eileen Donovan’s debut historical novel

Eileen Donovan was one of many marvelous writers who attended my workshop Grow Your Great Character and Plot! last week during the SavvyAuthorCon 2020. Despite being online and having a lot of attendees, who communicated by chat, I felt like we were all in the same room having a rowdy time together!

Throughout the 75 minutes of fast and furious exchanges, what became evident — what always becomes evident during these workshops — is the extent to which authors are willing to go to develop in-depth characters readers care about. There’s no room for ego, but instead, every effort is made to think more, then more and still more, about how their characters think and why they do what they do.

That dedication and willingness to learn while struggling through one difficulty after another builds our own character. We have to plumb the depths of our own lives to figure out how our characters feel. We have to dedicate time to learning everything our character know. And just as our characters face their obstacles, so they make us face our own, which can be so harrowing.

Diligence, persistent, an undying curiosity, a true humility: those are the qualities we writers have in spades, thanks to our characters, who most often teach us the journey is the reward.

Which brings me back to Eileen Donovan. When I asked people to share their successes with me, she sent me information about her debut historical novel, Promises. Then she was kind enough to explain the inspiration behind her story, meaning what touched the deepest part of her character.

As far as why I chose this topic for my book – I watched a documentary on PBS many years ago, The Lost Children of the Empire (I think that’s right), that told the story of British children being shipped to the colonies for a “better” life. Many of the children were orphaned, or given up by destitute families who were assured their children would be well taken care of. However, that was not the case. Many of them suffered terrible abuse by their host families, or the orphanages who took them in. The children were sent to Canada, Australia, South Africa, anywhere the British flag flew. The program was initiated by religious groups then taken over by the government. It started in the 1800’s and didn’t end until 1968. Aside from a “better” life, the children were meant to reignite colonists’ fidelity to Great Britain. So, that’s a long drawn out explanation. After watching this documentary, I couldn’t get it out of my mind for years. So, I finally decided I had to write about it. I decided to focus on the government sponsored program initiated during WWII to rescue children from the Blitz. Of course, many of those children also suffered terrible abuse, as had their predecessors.

“I couldn’t get it out of my mind…” That’s the kind of passion that causes us to create great characters who can tell important stories!

Thanks for sharing, Eileen. And for those reading this post, please consider reading and reviewing Eileen’s novel.

If you get the chance, let me know how the characters in your stories have helped you build your character!

Book Details


Author: Eileen Joyce Donovan

Format: Paperback, Hardcover, and Audiobook

ISBN for Hardcover 978-1-64633-176-5

Release date: July 1, 2019

Price $16.95

Publisher: Waldorf Publishing


In Promises, 13-year-old Lizzie and her 9-year-old brother Colin are on their way from England to Canada in 1940. Nightly German bombings convinced their mum to enroll them in a government evacuation program. They’re told this short holiday will be filled with trips to the Rocky Mountains, the chance to meet cowboys and Indians, and promises are made to return them to England when the war is over. When one of Colin’s friends is swept overboard, Lizzy’s doubts about this adventure begin. Arriving in Nova Scotia, they are placed with Mr. and Mrs. Harris, who work them like slaves – Colin as a hand on his lobster boat, and Lizzie as a servant victimized by Mrs. Harris’s abuses. When a telegram arrives saying their mum was killed in an air raid, Lizzie realizes there’s no reason to go home. Can she rescue Colin and herself from the Harrises? Will she keep her promise to her mum to protect him?


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