Gooseberry: October 2014

Week 14: October 3rd, 2014

Photograph: “Hookey Alf” of Whitechapel by John Thomson

Photograph: “Hookey Alf” of Whitechapel by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

Much of Gooseberry’s and Johnny Knight’s back story (concerning their career path from mudlark to Ragged School student to thief) is taken from this account in Henry Mayhew’s seminal work London Labour and the London Poor of 1861:

The lad suffered much from the pieces of broken glass in the mud. Some little time before I met with him he had run a copper nail into his foot. This lamed him for months, and his mother was obliged to carry him on her back every morning to the doctor. As soon, however, as he could “hobble” (to use his mother’s own words) he went back to the river, and often returned (after many hours’ hard work in the mud) with only a few pieces of coal, not enough to sell even to get them a bit of bread. One evening, as he was warming his feet in the water that ran from a steam factory, he heard some boys talking about the Ragged School.

“They was saying what they used to learn there,” added the boy. “They asked me to come along with them for it was great fun. They told me that all the boys used to be laughing and making game of the master. They said they used to put out the gas and chuck the slates all about. They told me, too, that there was a good fire there, so I went to have a warm and see what it was like. When I got there the master was very kind to me. They used to give us tea-parties, and to keep us quiet they used to show us the magic lantern. I soon got to like going there, and went every night for six months. There was about 40 or 50 boys in the school. The most of them was thieves, and they used to go thieving the coals out of barges along shore, and cutting the ropes off ships, and going and selling it at the rag-shops. They used to get 3/4d. [three-quarters of a penny] a lb. for the rope when dry, and 1/2d. [a halfpenny] when wet. Some used to steal pudding out of shops and hand it to those outside, and the last boy it was handed to would go off with it. They used to steal bacon and bread sometimes as well. About half of the boys at the school was thieves. Some had work to do at ironmongers, lead-factories, engineers, soap-boilers, and so on, and some had no work to do and was good boys still. After we came out of school at nine o’clock at night, some of the bad boys would go a thieving, perhaps half-a-dozen and from that to eight would go out in a gang together. There was one big boy of the name of C—; he was 18 years old, and is in prison now for stealing bacon; I think he is in the House of Correction. This C— used to go out of school before any of us, and wait outside the door as the other boys came out. Then he would call the boys he wanted for his gangs on one side, and tell them where to go and steal. He used to look out in the daytime for shops where things could be ‘prigged,’ and at night he would tell the boys to go to them. He was called the captain of the gangs. He had about three gangs altogether with him, and there were from six to eight boys in each gang. The boys used to bring what they stole to C—, and he used to share it with them. I belonged to one of the gangs. There were six boys altogether in my gang; the biggest lad, that knowed all about the thieving, was the captain of the gang I was in, and C— was captain over him and over all of us.

“There was two brothers of them; you seed them, sir, the night you first met me. The other boys, as was in my gang, was B— B—, and B— L—, and W— B—, and a boy we used to call ‘Tim;’ these, with myself, used to make up one of the gangs, and we all of us used to go a thieving every night after school-hours. When the tide would be right up, and we had nothing to do along shore, we used to go thieving in the daytime as well. It was B— B—, and B— L—, as first put me up to go thieving; they took me with them, one night, up the lane [New Gravel-lane], and I see them take some bread out of a baker’s, and they wasn’t found out; and, after that, I used to go with them regular. Then I joined C—’s gang; and, after that, C— came and told us that his gang could do better than ourn [our one], and he asked us to join our gang to his’n [his one], and we did so. Sometimes we used to make 3s. or 4s. [three or four shillings] a day; or about 6d. apiece [sixpence each]. While waiting outside the school-doors, before they opened, we used to plan up where we would go thieving after school was over. I was taken up once for thieving coals myself, but I was let go again.”

Till next week,

Week 15: October 10th, 2014

Photograph: Cast Iron Billy by John Thomson

Photograph: Cast Iron Billy by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

Sergeant Cuff, one of the original characters from The Moonstone, makes his appearance this week. I had great fun writing him, and he just seemed to spring on to the page fully formed. As a writer, you know you’re on to a winner when characters immediately start talking and doing things for themselves.

One of the issues the sergeant’s appearance brought up for me was the realization that, apart from Cuff, young Gooseberry has no intellectual equal in this novel. He might respect his employer, Mr Bruff, but he knows he can run rings around him. It must have been incredibly frustrating for Gooseberry to have his genius go unrecognized for so long.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had to speed up the writing considerably—to the point where I am very nearly finished the rough draft of the whole book. This will need editing before I publish it on Goodreads, and when that’s done it will require a further editing and careful proofing so that it can be formatted in time for LibraryThing’s Early Reviwers giveaway. Winners expect their copies at the beginning of November.

Till next week,

Week 16: October 17th, 2014

Photograph: Covent Garden Labourers by John Thomson

Photograph: Covent Garden Labourers by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

The Kohinoor diamond, presented to Queen Victoria by the East India Company after they fought and won the Second Anglo-Sikh War, went on display to the public in The Great Exhibition of 1851. The reaction was less than enthusiastic, however, for although the stone was at that point the largest diamond in the world, it “didn’t catch the light,” as Sergeant Cuff explains in chapter fifteen. “No matter how they angled it in its glass display case, it simply didn’t sparkle the way that everyone imagined it should.” A contemporary report in The Times puts it this way:

For some hours yesterday there were never less than a couple of hundred persons waiting their turn of admission, and yet, after all, the diamond does not satisfy. Either from the imperfect cutting or the difficulty of placing the lights advantageously, or the immovability of the stone itself, which should be made to revolve on its axis, few catch any of the brilliant rays it reflects when viewed at a particular angle.

So plans were made to have the diamond re-cut. Prince Albert took charge of the project, and the work was started in 1852…but not in January, as I suggest in the book. Rather, work began in early July.

The Kohinoor has a fascinating history. It once belonged, in fact, to Ala’uddin Khalji, the Sultan of Dehli. He’s a fascinating character who I’ve written about before in my earliest novel, The Bridge of Dead Things. I was obliged to cut most of his story when it came to publishing the book because it distracted from the main drama of my central character. The chapter I cut, loosely based on the Rajput princess, Padmini of Chittaurgarh, and Ala’uddin Khalji’s fascination for her, can be found on this website as Padmini’s Tale. I hate to get rid of anything!

I had great fun writing this week’s chapter. I especially loved developing the prince’s character and the relationship he rapidly forms with young Gooseberry. I can definitely see him making appearances in future spin-offs.

Till next week,

Week 17: October 24th, 2014

Photograph: Old Furniture by John Thomson

Photograph: Old Furniture by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

Gooseberry is due to be published by Seventh Rainbow in just four weeks time on the 21st of October. I’m currently dealing with the gruelling editing and proofreading process to weed out as many typos as possible. Then comes the laborious task of formatting it in—not just one, but—four very different formats. A Kindle MOBI for LibraryThing, a PDF for LibraryThing, a filtered webpage for Amazon (thank god I’m conversant in html), and a rigorously (some might say slavishly) cleaned-up Word file for Smashwords, from which they make the ePub files they distribute to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. In conjunction with all this, publicity needs to be generated—and considering the deadline, timing becomes crucial (and just when I feel like I’ve run back-to-back marathons).

So I’ve set up a Gooseberry Facebook Page in time for the cover reveal on October 1st. [Please note: As this page is no longer active, this link will take you to my Facebook Author Page instead. You’ll find the video at the bottom.]

Till next week,

Week 18: October 31st, 2014

Photograph: Italian Street Musicians by John Thomson

Photograph: Italian Street Musicians by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

Tomorrow, October 1st, sees Gooseberry’s cover reveal. You can catch it on the recently launched Gooseberry Facebook Page. Do click on the link to have a look. If you’re loving John Thomson’s wonderful Victorian images that populate these posts, you’ll LOVE the video, I promise. [Please note: As this page is no longer active, this link will take you to my Facebook Author Page instead. You’ll find the video at the bottom.]

The final chapter goes up on Goodreads next week. It feels like it’s been a long, long haul, but in reality it’s only been four months.

Till next week,