I’ve taken a few weeks off on this. For good reason… I was busy sorting out a certain other book. But not to worry. Back to the daily grind now. The good news is that I’ve been able to jiggle my writing schedule a bit more so I now get two days a week on this instead of one. I’m also trying to learn the piano but that’s another story entirely… Back on the real workload, the 1920’s are starting to bite.
When last I told you what was going down all I had on paper was the basic beginnings of the book, which involved some arguments about facial hair. Now I’ve actually got going the book is really starting to take shape. The first few pages are general background information about Charlie, his childhood, his neglectful parents (Hmmm… That seems to be a recurring theme… Almost NONE of my characters have a full set of loving parents!) and the stuff about the facial hair… The actual story doesn’t begin until the death of Charlie’s father, Ronald. At this point his mother, Mae, goes narky and becomes even more neglectful than usual, so she throws him out of the house… Not permanently but long enough to get the actual story rolling…
And this is the point where I introduce you to Charlie’s childhood home: Towcester. (Pronounced as either Toaster or Tau-ster… judging by Wikipedia’s pronunciation page I’m guessing Toaster.) It’s a real place, just south of Northampton. The reason I chose it was because, according to maps of 1941, it’s small enough for my purposes. Charlie’s house is even a real house that was there in the 1920’s.
As Towcester is real and it’s likely that people who lived in the place in the 20’s and 30’s are still alive and kicking I have to stay as true to reality as possible. Thankfully, the internet is brimming with possibilities as to how to do this. Firstly there are websites detailing the history of the place and I got some good stuff about the church from them. I even found a website where you can do an interactive tour of the inside. It was interesting, although the only part I really needed was the outside.
The church, as it happens, is very important to the overall plot as that is where Charlie meets Jeremy Compton. I don’t want to say much about Jeremy at this stage other than that his friendship with Charlie is going to play a huge, near integral part to the story. And this is something that is entirely new. It wasn’t in the original version but the idea behind the relationship just seems to slip so easily into the book that it enhances the story. The meeting itself is an interesting one as it includes something that may be a bit confusing to readers under a certain age.
I’ll go back a bit. My initial idea for the meeting was that Charlie and Jeremy share some sweets in the churchyard and then become friends. To this end, I started by showing Charlie going into a sweet shop and buying some sweets. And this sweet shop exists… I don’t know if it was there in the mid 20’s but I’m going to take an assumptive leap and say that there was a sweet shop in 1920’s Towcester. It’s plausible. I found this sweet shop through another near ingenious way of researching places for a book without ever setting foot there. Street view. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, particularly seeing as market towns such as Towcester have hardly been knocked down and rebuilt in the last hundred years. Market towns are renowned for their unchanging appearance so its safe to assume the buildings that were there in the twenties looked at least very similar. The key to this, though, is using it all in collaboration with maps and photographs. They’ll give you a big hint as to what was actually there at the time. Even though the only old photos of Towcester I could find were of the fifties it’s still marginally more useful than photos of the town today, though both are useful in their own right.
There’s more to this sweet shop thing though. I’ll come to the actual sweets in a second but first I want to talk about the shopkeeper. He’s not important but he’s Belgian and his name is Mr Reglisse. Those of you who understand French will have hopefully laughed at that. Those who don’t… I’ll give you a second to look it up then come back here. You done? Kind of good I think. The name of the man who runs the Towcester sweet shop translates into English as Mr Liquorice. I believe this harks back to a long line of literary characters named after their professions or traits. Think of Dickens and Shakespeare or the Mr Men/Little Miss books. You’ve probably got your own favourites I’m sure. Sometimes these names are obvious (Mr Men…) but I prefer to be a bit more subtle. For instance, those who don’t speak French won’t know that ‘reglisse’ is the French word for liquorice but when they find out it might give them a little smile, a smile that the people who speak French would have already had. So in other words, this book contains a man called Mr Liquorice who runs a sweet shop- and in future books look out for such exciting personalities as Mrs Frost-Hole, the brothel owner, a welsh farmer who shouts nothing but Rick Astley Lyrics… in Welsh… And not forgetting the devilish Mrs ‘Eat Fucking Shit.’ Ok… That isn’t really her name but it translates roughly as ‘Eat Fucking Shit.’
Either way, back to the point, the inclusion of Mr Reglisse is just a means to an end. He’s there to introduce Charlie to the mechanism that brings about his initial meeting with Jeremy. I couldn’t just have Charlie go into the sweet shop and buy some sweets. It had to be proper 1920’s sweets. But there didn’t seem to be anything i could find that definitively talked about sweets in the 1920’s. And then i had an idea…
A Chocolate Orange is a tennis ball sized ball of chocolate that is segemented and tastes faintly of orange. The thing about them is the segments can be a little tricky to prize apart. In fact, it borders on the impossible, especially when you’re a kid like Charlie. I had an idea that Jeremy and Charlie could bond over this chocolate orange they couldn’t quite open and then when they finally did they would share the segments. There was one problem. The chocolate orange wasn’t introduced until 1931, a bit far beyond where I needed it to be. Charlie was born in 1918 and therefore a bit old by 1931 to be making friends simply by sharing some chocolate. I could have just used an anachronism and said it was a Chocolate Orange but people tend to notice.
So I needed something else… And then I learned that the Chocolate Orange is actually a spin off of a much earlier product that went the way of the dodo sometime around the 1960’s- The Chocolate Apple. From all that I could find it was exactly the same product only it tasted of apple instead of orange. And as the Chocolate Apple was introduced in 1926 it makes Charlie the perfect age to be one of the first to try and unsegment it, a process which leads to the introduction of Jeremy, who throws the blasted thing against the church wall causing it to break into the segments… And a friendship begins.
Which kind of leads into the next part of the book. Charlie, Jeremy and some other boys decide to go out into the lanes of Northamptonshire looking for fruit, Or more specifically, brumblekites. And now you are asking: ‘James… What the f@!# is a brumblekite??? It’s an archaic and obscure term for the blackberry. I don’t know if it was used in 1920’s Northamptonshire or not but it sounds like the kind of old-fashioned word you get in old books that nobody understands anymore… And it sounds cool, especially when you use the word repeatedly. I wanted an old fashioned word like Brumblekite for a reason. When you look at the text it helps to add to the feel that this was written by someone from the time. It looks less like it was written in the 21st century, if you get my drift. It helps enhance the book and give it more of an old Edwardian flavour.
And in general it’s not been that hard to get the formal writing style down. All I’ve found I need to do is use much more formal vocabulary whilst at the same time trying to make the sentences flow in a very posh yet sufficiently informal way. It has to be formal but friendly. Adding extra words where less would suffice helps as well. Plus, I’ve been reading some old literature to get the mindset right. Admittedly it takes longer to get each sentence to sound right but I think it’ll be worth it in the end.
In general the Brumblekites are another means to an end. They aren’t important to the story but what happens during the picking is as it brings on the next part. During that picking Charlie and his friends have a conversation which will start the ball rolling for what is to come later on whilst adding a bit of necessary fun to the start of the book. It’s a conversation about women’s genitalia, with a group of schoolchildren who only have the vaguest clue as to what they are talking about. Being absolutely clueless, these children naturally don’t know the many names that can be given to a woman’s nether regions, and they come up with a name of their own… One that is absolutely sexist and yet is still kind of an opposite term for one of the names of the male member. They call it a jilly (as opposed to a willy.) The worst part is that it almost sounds like it could be real. But according to this link right here the closest are Vagilly, Vajillyjam and Jelly. There is no jilly (or variants of jillie, gillie, or gilly) on there. Although I’m a bit disturbed by the people who call theirs Pikachu, Voldemort and Josh.
And this discovery inevitably leads to the revelation of sexual intercourse, sort of. Charlie and his friends first learn about one of the most important parts, the part without which there would be no sexual intercourse- The willy in the jilly… And that is all they know, initially, which leads to exclamations in the region of WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT??? Some of them are inevitably intrigued whilst others (notably Jeremy) are disgusted. And then comes the ‘what if it get’s stuck?’ question (Which I found out can actually happen during a rare occurence known as Penis Captivus…) Then comes the unintentionally (from their point of view) bawdy song, which spreads amongst the children of Towcester and then beyond to other towns and goes wild and multiplies before somewhere along the line becoming the wheels on the bus. (Hey… The tune needed a ridiculously sexual origin story!).
The boys shock an elderly spinster with this song and later on, whilst baking a pie with his grandfather, Charlie inadvertently starts singing it… Does his grandfather get mad? No. He doesn’t. He instead gives young Charlie his first lesson in the birds and the bees. And this is what sets up for the next part, taking place many years later in a triangle between Charlie, Jeremy and a woman…