Updated: Mar 6
I am ridiculously, embarrassingly, excessively proud to announce that my latest collection of stories, So Last Century, is on sale today. This will obviously go into reverse quite shortly, as that is the way it is when you put your all into something, because your all is never quite enough, except if you're Anton Chekhov or William Shakespeare, and I'll guarantee they didn't think it was either.
Anyway, it now occurs to me that confessing to an attack of the doubts might not be the best way to sell the book, which, did I mention, is out today. How about, 'Not bad, if I say so myself'? Or, 'A humble thing. but mine own'? Indeed: modesty can be a touch irritating even when it's genuine, and even to its protester. Surely, though, the opposite is worse, despite, again, Oscar getting away with it, as long as everyone kept seeing the joke.
Enough: So Last Century is a collection of stories set decade by decade in the twentieth one. There is no grand uniting idea, apart from that quote by Benedick which adorns my home page. It is a mixture of characters, real but imagined and imagined but hopefully real, in real settings, and its purpose is to entertain.
Of course the twentieth century was a terrible century, a baleful, horrible exaggeration of all that is foul about our species, not least the unerring ability to pervert advance. But it also displayed that other bewildering and possibly in some way exonerating characteristic of allowing gentleness and whimsy to somehow survive alongside the unspeakable and inexcusable.
And who was better at that than PG Wodehouse? He might have come off worse when his gentleness and whimsy collided with the unsubtleties of patriotism and propaganda in 1940, but the work prevailed and prevails. Certainly, I couldn't resist taking myself into something of his world, where good intent always conquers clumsy execution and everything is all right in the end. Edward VII is as near an embodiment of this as reality allows, and he was allowed his end before the unspeakable and inexcusable made its first desperate appearance.
Thus my first story sees Edward, or Bertie, at one of his habitual country house stays, towards the end of his life but showing no end to his indulgence in amorous matters. These have led him into a pickle requiring the decisive if ill-advised action that Plum so often demanded of the Hon Bertram Wooster. I have allotted Bertie's role to none other than Freddie Eynsford Hill, the impressionable young man who falls madly head over heels with Eliza Dolittle in Shaw's Pygmalion and the later and equally delightful stage and film adaptation by Lerner and Loewe, 'My Fair Lady'. He and Eliza are ideal for helping their fellow guest and sovereign. Freddie takes to the Wooster role like a natural; Eliza is a more unorthodox Jeeves. Together they thwart the evil machinations of Miss Irene Adler, already familiar to readers of Sherlock Holmes as a dastardly criminal. Peace is restored, but there are shadows of the much wider conflict which will ravage Europe in the next decade.
Should writers borrow characters from other writers? I think it fun if it is done with affection and in tribute, but, most of all, if it is done well. You can be the judge.