Next book or not?

I’ll have to write the middle book of Louis Beauregard, because I need to show you how the entitled young frogspawn (“I’d have to smack this man if I were to meet him in real life” – Goodreads reviewer) turned into the wise old warrior.

I always intended to write at least three of these.

THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN shows Louis as an elderly man, facing his death with the same courage he’d lived his entire life constructing.

SHADOWBOX is Louis as a much younger man, an over-entitled blond with an appetite for life so large he discards friends and lovers like used tissues, accumulating debts financial and human in his rakish progress across Europe while he escapes from a murder he was compelled to commit.

In between? What happens in between, to change the man’s behaviour without affecting his character?

I had a touch at this with All Roads Lead To The River. Louis is no longer young, roaming Egypt as a last resort with the latest group of friends to which he’s hitched his wagon.

But even in that short story, his character is closer to the elderly man than the youngster.

So, other than general ageing and maturing, what happens to him between 1832 and 1852 to turn him from his youthful exuberance towards a stronger, calmer personality?

What makes him into the man who gathers the Cuckoo Club around him like an offshoot of the East India Company with an unhealthy dash of the Freemasons?

And the fictional Cuckoo Club itself – with Louis at the helm – turns from a gentlemen’s club of little standing, a group of hobbyists obsessed with what we’d now consider conspiracy theory, into a titan of the British Empire’s ruling classes.

How. Does. That. Happen?

There’s a foreshadowing of how this might progress in the later chapters of SHADOWBOX.

Louis encounters a man who I now see can become a fearsome mentor – a man whose past includes time in the Grande Armée during the retreat from Moscow, an assassin, a bodyguard, and a man whose impeccable appearance hides a sophisticated and ruthless survivor.

Leo Tolstoy, 1848 - young man seated, facing the camera
Leo Tolstoy, 1848. Not the man with whom Louis will run off to Moscow, but the similarity is uncanny.

How would you like a story that takes in those characters, across the cities and landscape of Eastern Europe, across the Black Sea to Constantinople and thence the Nile?

Ooo, I’m even beginning to convince myself…

Which leaves me now with another question, one I’m approaching with my eyes half-shut and my face turned away like you would opening a shook-up can of skoosh:

One more book; or three?

Maybe I’ll have to do some research.


This week’s links, more of a note to myself:

A Dance To The Music Of Time – long, complicated story of family across generations, adapted by Channel 4 from a series of 12 novels by Anthony Powell. I guess this is the “stately home” version of all those family sagas set in pit villages or pioneer communities, none of which is to my taste. Are the stories just filled with toffs being horrid to one another? (in which case I’ll stick to Aldous Huxley).

The Duellists. In SHADOWBOX, but more so in the hidden parts of his storyline, Louis Beauregard does a lot of duelling. By the time of The Last Rhinemaiden he’s mostly delegated this to others, but he still has to fight for his elderly life on occasion. Bonus link – the film also features Robert Stephens, who played Aragorn in the BBC R4 Lord Of The Rings – now available on Fourble!

(Ooh – while looking for The Duellists, I stumbled upon Barry Lyndon (film) by Stanley Kubrick, which looks delicious…)

Les Miserables. The book by Victor Hugo, not the musical (link to Project Gutenberg version). Hugo wrote the story shortly after the events described in the book, and actually took part in the revolution so vividly described. Not sure I’d like to be so close to such historical upheavals, but then again maybe we don’t always have a choice in these matters.

And maybe we’re going through them right now.

Juggling with knives. And potatoes.

With the recent jump in temperature as we approach the summer solstice, and the old adage of Write What You Know uppermost in my mind, I’m reminded of summer jobs I worked at in my youth.

Mostly juggling knives. And potatoes.

Stood between a range cooker and a hostess cabinet serving hot food under hot, bright lights. The kitchens were so hot we’d open the windows for a breeze, then the midges came in and all hell broke loose as we itched and scratched and tried not to look like pariahs. We’d put on the big noisy extractor fans instead, and have to use sign language to make ourselves understood.

Sweat gathering in the folds behind your knees, trickling down your legs as if you’d peed yourself. Still smiling at customers fresh from a dip in the nearby river, leisured holiday-makers paying your wages.

Another kitchen, hovering over a deep-fat fryer the size of a washing machine. Praying a customer would order something other than saveloy-and-chips so I could stand in front of the fridge – or the freezer, yay! – for a few seconds while the cool air seeped out onto my blotchy ankles.

Walking home, the dust on the road sticking to my bare skin and my hair stinking of fryer grease.

Offices too, often too cold in winter and far too hot in summer.

One building with an air-circulation system that moved air from one floor to another – how’s that faring these days, now that COVID is airborne?

Another office, in full sun all day under a corrugated steel roof; we’d trip the electrical circuits using fans where none should have been needed, but the building was made in a time before computers and printers and photocopiers, and designed for half as many people.

I’m mindful of these experiences when I write.

In the Petticoat Katie novels, my characters don’t swan around country houses with servants to bring them iced tea by the pool.

They don’t stride across the countryside with their companions on a quest to throw a gold ring into a volcano.

They don’t zip through time and space in an air-conditioned police box larger on the inside than the out.

My characters have to work for a living.

They travel by Tube, and the journeys are often crowded, hot and gritty.

On other occasions they travel by airship above shimmering city streets or sandwiched between forest and thunderclouds, cocooned: oppressive, humid, inescapable.

a chimpanzee seated at an old-fashioned typewriter

Petticoat Katie has an office filled with monkeys in an inner-city block built in the Victorian era. Small windows, one door, and did I mention the monkeys which must not be allowed to escape?

Sledgehammer Girl spends her spare hours in a cramped cellar workshop inventing cute gadgets. Much activity with hammers and drills and flaming torches of the non-pitchforky kind.

In summer both locations are unbearable, the first too hot with the stench of bananas and typewriter ink, the other too breathless for brazing or fabrication.

Each place is similar enough to where I’ve worked that I can make a guess on its conditions. Where I have to put my characters into an unfamiliar situation – as we all have to as writers, especially SF or historical fiction – there’s always the research of other writers or the testimony of witnesses.

The more you know, the better you can imagine.

(And right now, I’m imagining ice-cream on a seafront promenade with just enough breeze to be comfy.)


This week’s links – happy, happy.

Moderna HIV vaccine to begin trials.

Great news – Laziness Does Not Exist. Interesting article on Medium.com, which emphasises the link between situation and response. Worthwhile reading to consider when you’re creating new characters.

And, while I’m not a big fan of podcasts, there are plenty of interest at Fourble including many BBC radio comedies and drama series. Here’s A Canticle For Liebowitz, an SF classic novel adapted for NPR.

Published in: on June 13, 2021 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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