Gooseberry: August 2014

Week 5: August 1st, 2014

Photograph: Street Locksmith by John Thomson

Photograph: Street Locksmith by John Thomson

This week’s chapter reveals the identities of the two people depicted in the daguerreotype: Duleep Singh, the now deposed Maharajah of Lahore, and his East-India-Company-appointed guardian, Dr John Login. Both are real historical characters, and the extraordinary tale that Murthwaite relates is in fact a relatively historically accurate account of how the young Duleep came to power. I only cut out one major player—the wazir Dhian’s brother, Gulab, who took Chand Kaur’s side—in order to simplify what was already quite a convoluted story. Such a pity, for brother-versus-brother scenarios are so very primal! In a sense, it’s yet another tale of a family in turmoil, and, as readers of The Scarab Heart will know, this is one of my favourite subject matters. I should point out that, though nearly everything you’ve read about Duleep and Login is accurate so far, the rest of their involvement within the novel will be fictional.

Mr Murthwaite is, of course, one of The Moonstone’s original characters. I think I’ve done him justice in terms of his description, his characterization, and his speech patterns. I’ve also placed him at the Oriental Club, the gentleman’s club that he would have belonged to, if he had actually existed.

As far as Gooseberry himself goes, I am truly beginning to LOVE writing him. It’s such a pleasure seeing him try to negotiate his way through the world, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. With him as narrator, it’s a rather delicate balancing act to show what his peers actually think of him, but it’s worth the effort.

Till next week,
Michael


Week 6: August 8th, 2014

Photograph: John Day by John Thomson

Photograph: John Day by John Thomson

It’s a fairly short chapter this week, but it’s an important one. A certain amount of Gooseberry’s back story is revealed (yes, there is more in the pipeline), and with it come some strong hints as to why the eight-year-old Gooseberry chose Mr Bruff’s offer of employment over returning to his important and lucrative position in ‘The Life’.

Julius’s character starts to reveal itself, and we also learn a little more about Bertha. Though the chapter finishes on a relatively high note, the truth is, at the moment it’s a relatively fragile accord, and one which any of the characters can upset with a wrong word or a wrong gesture. I love it.

Although we haven’t met him yet, I now have a name picked out for the clerk at Mr Bruff’s law firm who gave Octavius the nickname Gooseberry. It’s Mr Grayling—first name, Christopher. Here’s the only mention of him so far, from the very first chapter:

I don’t object to Mr Bruff calling me Gooseberry, though I would have you know that it is not my real name. It’s a name that’s been given to me by one of Mr Bruff’s clerks on account of my eyes. They bulge. At least, that’s what this clerk delights in telling me almost every single day. Naturally I can’t help them bulging any more than I can help being blessed with brains, and blessed with brains I am—to a far greater degree than either of the Georges, or that fool of a clerk, come to that.

This is in response to author Kathy Lette’s call to fellow authors to use the name of the British Secretary of Justice for a villainous character in their books. Like Lette, I think the Justice Secretary’s ban on sending books to prison inmates is shameful. Prisoners should be encouraged to read and to improve their literacy skills, not discouraged. This ban is small-minded, shortsighted, and petty.

Till next week,
Michael


Week 7: August 15th, 2014

Jan and me

Jan and I, April 1964

I received the saddest news this week of the death of my lifelong friend, Jan Leary. ‘Friend’ really doesn’t do our relationship justice, for Jan, who was like a second mother to me, has been part of my family and my life for the past forty-five years. She taught me to drive when no one else could—or would, since I was so bad at it! She made my teenage years bearable. She nursed my stepfather through his final illness. She nursed my mother through hers. I loved her dearly.

It almost feels as if history is repeating itself, for whilst he was writing instalments of The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins lost his mother. He was bereft, but managed to keep on writing, as will I.

Janet Elaine Jewel Leary, you extraordinary person, thank you for always being there for me. I will miss you always. I already do.

Till next week,
Michael


Week 8: August 22nd, 2014

Photograph: Workers on the Silent Highway by John Thomson

Photograph: Workers on the Silent Highway by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

It feels very strange, but in order to release Gooseberry for the Christmas market, this week I had to assign it an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), and register it with Nielsen, Britain’s ISBN provider. Why did I need to do this? Because the book has to be in the system before I can post it in the October offer for LibraryThing Early Reviewers—the LibraryThing scheme whereby eager readers receive a free copy in return for an honest review. Why is this important? Simply because it will generate reviews I can use when the book is finally released around December 1st. And, trust me, reviews are important.

Of course, the really odd thing is, I’m not even halfway through the book yet, and I still don’t have an entire plot worked out. I have no idea if I can keep to my weekly quota. I have no idea whether I can finish the novel, let alone finish it in time.

Till next week,
Michael


Week 9: August 29th, 2014

Photograph: The Independent Shoe Black by John Thomson

Photograph: The Independent Shoe Black by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

I suppose it’s worthwhile pointing out that Dr Login—the real Dr Login of history—never ran an asylum, as far as I’m aware, and that Twickenham’s Cole Park Grange and the Jolly Boatman are figments of my imagination. In a sense they’re an homage to Francis Durbridge’s Paul Temple, which I avidly followed in its weekly radio instalments throughout my teenage years.

Practically every story included a doctor, who nearly always ran an asylum on the outskirts of London. At first, the doctor seemed benign, but then you quickly realized that he (or, occasionally, she) was mixed up in some very dodgy business, and in it well beyond his or her depth. If the doctor was a woman, she always had an exotic name and spoke with an undisclosed accent—Greek or Lebanese, perhaps; something middle-eastern. Male doctors, on the other hand, spoke with middle-European accents. They were either Austrian, Hungarian, or—at a pinch—Czech.

Some years ago the BBC released the surviving Paul Temple mysteries—and there are surprisingly few—as CD sets. By a stroke of luck, I discovered them in my local library. They were as fantastic as I remember them. They also launched new radio productions based on a couple of original scripts. Despite the loving care lavished on them by the actors, the director, and the sound team, they were only partially successful in recreating that extraordinary sound-world I remember from my childhood.

Fascinating Paul Temple trivia: Marjorie Westbury, the actress who played Paul Temple’s long-suffering wife Steve, had the most wonderful sultry voice, one that conjured up the pinnacle of a tall, elegant sophisticate. In reality she was a short (four foot ten), stout-ish woman, who, on account of her voice, received regular offers of marriage. She even received a legacy from a listener who died and left her a small fortune.

If Gooseberry develops into a set of books, I think I’ll call the series Send for Octavius Guy, after Durbridge’s first Paul Temple story, Send for Paul Temple.

Till next week,
Michael