Gooseberry: September 2014

Week 10: September 5th, 2014

Photograph: Clapham Common Industries by John Thomson

Photograph: Clapham Common Industries by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

I lost the plot this week. Literally. Things started well, and I was able to write considerably more than my allotted 500 words per day. But as soon as Gooseberry “gets ears” on Miss Penelope and James, I realized I had no idea where the story was going. The writing dried up instantly.

Worse, when I managed to get writing again, I noticed that the back story I’d constructed (involving Mallard, Hook, Treech, the real maharajah and the impostor, and James’s brother Thomas) was so full of holes, it might have been a sieve. I’d patch up one glaring discrepancy only to find another. I’m not even sure that I found them all.

I now have a ridiculously complicated back story to deal with, which Gooseberry never directly gets to see. If I were ever to repeat this kind of project, I would want a good four or five months for preparation, not the six weeks that I had, and I would DEFINITELY want any back story to be perfectly plotted from the outset.

London Zoo provides the setting for this week’s chapter. The source I used comes from the journal “The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction”, Vol. 12, Issue 330, September 6 1828, which you can download for free from Project Gutenburg—just click on the link. Eagle-eyed readers will see it is nearly twenty-five years too early for Gooseberry, which is set in 1852, but it’s an attractive source that includes a detailed map of the zoo’s layout that I found extremely useful.

Till next week,

Week 11: September 12th, 2014

Photograph: Caney the Clown by John Thomson

Photograph: Caney the Clown by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

Now everything becomes even more difficult, as I go back to teaching this week. Thankfully it’s only part-time, so I still have five days in which to write.

It felt very strange writing this week’s chapter, a denouement of sorts, where the family is summoned to the library by the detective, and the guilty party is revealed. Normally this kind of thing comes at the end of the novel, not two-thirds of the way through. Do not fear. I haven’t lost the plot this week. In fact I think I may have found it.

Eventually you just have to trust your characters to get on and do what they’re going to do. Sometimes you can guide their decisions, but often it’s more interesting to sit back and see what they will choose to do. They regularly surprise me and delight me.

Till next week,

Week 12: September 19th, 2014

Photograph: A Convicts’ Home by John Thomson

Photograph: A Convicts’ Home by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

Trust your characters to make choices? Well, this week the fourteen-year-old Gooseberry goes on a spending spree with Franklin Blake’s money. Those two daguerreotypes at £1 each? In 1852, one pound is the approximate equivalent of one week’s salary for a skilled worker. I think he just blew something like a thousand pounds.

So, very roughly the modern-day equivalent of £500 for a sixth-plate. What does he get for his money? A miserably small portrait (though I would use the term “jewel-like” if I were trying to cast it in a better light) two-and-three-quarter inches by three-and-a-quarter inches in size. Now perhaps you can see why jewel-like is a better term.

In Britain, the cost of daguerreotypes was kept unnaturally high by a certain Mr Richard Beard, the man who’d purchased the patent rights in 1841 for the sum of £800. He eventually opened a chain of studios, but he also made money by licensing the process to other photographers. Prices remained high until 1854, by which point the printable wet-plate collodion process had superseded daguerreotypes.

In America in the early 1840s, a sixth-plate also cost the equivalent of a week’s wage ($5). But, since no patents for the process existed there, within a few years they were half that price. By 1852, when Gooseberry is set, you could buy a sixth-plate for $1 or even 50c. When wet-plate collodion arrived, it drove the cost even cheaper—though generally the quality reflected the price.

In real life, the daguerreotypist in this chapter, Mr William Edward Kilburn, did have a studio on Regent Street. He is in fact noted for his hand-coloured portraits.

Till next week,

Week 13: September 26th, 2014

Photograph: Street Advertising by John Thomson

Photograph: Street Advertising by John Thomson LSE's Digital Library

This week my publishers placed the finished book—which currently feels a long way from finished—on LibraryThings’s Earlier Reviewer’s list for next month’s giveaway. It will be advertised on their site throughout October for prospective reviewers to bid on, then sent out early in November. As much as it panics me to do this now, it has to be done so that reviews are being generated when the book is actually published in late November. Click on the above link if you’d like to bid, and are prepared to give an honest review—you do need to sign up to LibraryThing, though.

As far as this week’s chapter goes, when Gooseberry sends George to deliver the note to Mr Hook (the Client), I saw a golden opportunity to bring the monkey (who answers all your questions) back into the story. Well, I’d be a fool to pass up a chance like that!

Till next week,