I recently re-read Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone—which Collins originally wrote as a serial for Charles Dickens’s weekly magazine All the Year Round—for a Crime & Thrillers reading group I attend. I was particularly struck by one of the minor characters who pops up towards the end, the lawyer Mr Bruff’s office boy, Octavius Guy—better known as Gooseberry. Collins gives Gooseberry a small but extremely important role, and highlights his character by having the retired Sergeant Cuff (formerly of Scotland Yard) lavish praise on him:
“‘One of these days,’ said the Sergeant, pointing through the front window of the cab, ‘that boy will do great things in my late profession. He is the brightest and cleverest little chap I have met with, for many a long year past…’”
As I read I began to realize that Gooseberry would make a fantastic protagonist for a novel; in fact, it’s my belief that Collins was preparing the ground for exactly that. It occurred to me that here was the perfect project for my summer break—as I’m a teacher as well as an author—writing and publishing a serialized novel in weekly instalments, just as Collins did a hundred and fifty years ago.
I immediately started researching the period, hoping to find some hidden little nugget of history that might begin to suggest a plot—but I discovered zilch! 1852 was a very uneventful year. I also started writing to try to find Gooseberry’s narrative voice—again, nada! So at the point that this blog goes live, I’ve no plot and no narrator and only two weeks in which to find them. It could crash and burn so easily. It really could.
On the bright side, I have got a title (Gooseberry), a prototype cover, a charming protagonist who now has a fleshed-out back story, and I’ve inherited a number of The Moonstone’s other wonderful characters to play with. Oh, and I’m still hugely excited by the prospect of trying to write a serialization on the hoof!
One thing I’m very clear about: Gooseberry will never be a sequel to The Moonstone. The novel I envisage writing will be a detective story with an historical setting—and quite a comedic one at that. Think Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, and Colin Cotterell’s Siri Paiboun mysteries. The Moonstone, on the other hand, despite its flourishes of humour is essentially Gothic in style.
I’ll be publishing instalments of Gooseberry on my author blog at Goodreads. Please wish me luck. I’m going to need all the luck I can get.