I’m not panicking yet—well, maybe a little. The first instalment is due in two weeks and, as I still don’t have a plot, it rather looks as if I’ll be forced to make one up as I go along. Plots tend to suggest themselves to me when I’m knee-deep in research and, as it goes, I did find the makings of one while I was looking at 1851, year of the Great Exhibition. One of the biggest crowd-pullers on display was the Kohinoor diamond—the probable inspiration for the gem in Collins’s novel—which remained in Britain after the exhibition closed in October of that year. Too good to be true? Totally.
Gooseberry would fall flat on its face if I tried to write a sequel. Who would want to read a shorter, hack-written version of a great book? I heard the poet and novelist Andrew Motion, who has already written one sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and is currently working on another, talking on a BBC Radio 3 program recently. He said much the same thing but in a far more poetic way. He went on to cite examples of sequels/prequels that did work well—a case in point, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea—where authors take some of the original characters and make them their own.
So that’s what I’m concentrating on at the moment. Although I’m now officially on annual leave for the foreseeable future, the two weeks I have until I need to publish the first chapter seem like a very, very short time indeed.
Still no plot on the horizon, but I have managed to come up with a small but interesting mystery to get the ball rolling, one that ought to see me through to chapter three before I need to make some rather tough, far reaching decisions.
Gooseberry’s narrative voice and his direct speech both need work if I am to keep them consistent for an entire novel. At the moment they seem to go wrong when I lose sight of my vision of him. I see Gooseberry as a spiky-haired, blond, bug-eyed fourteen-year-old wearing a jacket that’s a couple of sizes too big (there’s a reason for this). Though naturally bright, he’s had little formal education. Much of his vocabulary has come to him from his employer, Mr Bruff. How does he handle situations where there’s conflict? As my prime investigator, he’s going to have to. I guess he must have dealt with such situations in his past, so I wonder what kinds of strategies he’s developed? Recently I’ve found myself wandering through my local supermarket pretending to be him, trying to feel how he moves and to see what he sees. If any of my fellow shoppers have noticed, they have tactfully refrained from commenting.
With regards to the characters I’ve inherited from Collins’s novel, I still can’t quite match Franklin Blake’s and Mr Bruff’s speech patterns (which is a huge worry—I’m going to need to get my copy of The Moonstone out and study them both very carefully), but I reckon I’ve cracked Miss Rachel’s, Mrs Merridew’s (the aunt that Rachel went to stay with in London), and (the fabulous and often inebriated family retainer) Gabriel Betteredge’s voices. Well, it’s a start.
So, one week to go and everything hangs in the balance. It’s scary, but it’s also oddly a real buzz.