Many people ask how I come up with ideas for my novels. Sometimes it’s flash-bang and a character is right in front of me doing something that needs to be written about, their story burning to be told; but more often it’s a much slower process.
The concept for Being Richard came to me in two stages and I spent a lot of time in Sunbeerka a.k.a. Richard’s company, thinking about him, talking to him, before I started to write.
Sunbeerka, son of the swamp lord, is my immortal’s ancestral title. At the end of this article is an exerpt from Being Richard in which he reveals his true name.
So here’s how the seed was planted and the character and plot line evolved.
As a professional tarot reader and astrologer I’ve studied many occult theories and investigated a variety of paranormal phenomena. One story that’s always intrigued me is the myth surrounding The Comte de St Germain, who many people say, never died. During his lifetime people would remark how he didn’t look any older than when they’d last met him years before, and some people believed that he’d discovered the elixir of life. I would often ponder this character and wonder how someone would cope if they never grew old, while friends and family aged.
I enjoy genealogy and recently discovered that one line of my ancestors used to live in a local village, Elstead, in Surrey, UK. This led me to not only research my family, but also find out more about Elstead in general. On the outskirts of Elstead is a wonderful place called Thundry Meadows, where the River Wey meanders, and archeologists have unearthed ancient artifacts that suggest there was a settlement there some two thousand years ago.
I started making up stories in my head about who this ancient tribe might have been and then I thought…what if one of them was still alive today? What if one of them was like The Comte de St Germain, and for some reason or another, had never died? With those two ideas Sunbeerka was suddenly in front of me, walking around a local graveyard, hunting for yet another new identity, so that he could never appear to be too young for whom he was meant to be.
I didn’t decide that Sunbeerka needed a problem, I just knew that one would appear while I wrote, because in all good stories the protagonist needs a problem. The first ‘problem’ that came into my mind was that the owner of Sunbeerka’s new identity had a troubled history. This was initially going to be the main thrust of my novel, Sunbeerka exploring Richard’s past and getting himself into all kinds of trouble while he unearthed family secrets that Richard’s living relatives would much rather keep secret. How did baby Richard die? It’s a question Sunbeerka is determined to answer.
Out of the blue Gilbert Hawkins appeared. Hey, I don’t recall inviting you into my novel! Yet there he was, sharp witted, keen eyed and creating another set of issues for Sunbeerka to overcome. Now Sunbeerka had S.I.D., the Special Investigation Department, telling him what to do. Obey or get locked up forever. And forever is a very, very long time when you’re immortal. Furthermore they insist he stops researching Richard’s family.
With the appearance of Gilbert I had all of the elements required to keep the tension running. Now Sunbeerka has people getting in the way of his goal…and that makes everything all the more difficult for him.
Here’s an excerpt from Sunbeerka’s first meeting with Gilbert.
“How long have you been observing me?”
“Long enough to know that you’ve way out lived your four score and ten. Before Julian you were Mike; and killing Bobby off just after the war was a real mistake, maybe one of your biggest. Records, Richard, records and photography, they really have been the bane of your life in recent years, even though you’ve proved extremely camera shy.”
There was no point in answering him. He was my worst nightmare come true, all of my fears realised into one forty something man leaning against my gate thinking he was clever. Those sharp brown eyes were scrutinising me, eyeing me up and down, searching for answers in my face and eyes, and the way I smiled or frowned.
“I have all of the evidence,” he said, turning his collar up against the fine mist of drizzle that had begun to grey the surrounding green.
“I’m sure you do.” I pushed myself off the gate and headed back towards the cottage.
In the kitchen I put the kettle on for instant coffee, quick and easy.
He stood in the doorway, blocking out the last fragments of natural light and feeling like an ominous guardian of the gate. I couldn’t get out and he couldn’t get in; neither of us could cross the threshold.
“My first name’s Gilbert,” he said at length.
“Well that’s a bloody stupid name if ever I heard one.”
“Unlike you I didn’t get to choose mine.” His tone was brittle, defensive.
Laughing I placed a mug of coffee on the table, next to the teaspoon and honey, goading him to have another try. Maybe this time he wouldn’t notice the chip and cut his lip.
“If you don’t join I’ll have to call my people and get them to arrest you.”
Leaning my palms heavily on the table I glared at him. “I don’t believe that you have any people. You’re just a lone wolf, a weirdo scientist, some crackpot snooper who sticks his nose into places where it’s likely to get burnt.”
“Unfortunately for you…no.”
“I can’t take you into the office unless you come on board, top secret, hush-hush, you know.”
I jerked my head towards the coffee on the table, but he didn’t budge so I shoved him out of the doorway. It was my backdoor and I needed to breathe the fresh air.
“I don’t do…emotional involvement, not anymore.” I sipped my coffee.
“Who’s asking you to…”
“You are!” I kicked the doorframe. “Everyone is. Every conversation creates a connection. Every smile, every embrace, every kind words builds a bond.”
“You don’t have to like me.”
“I’m not talking about liking!” I smacked my chest. “Here, it all takes place in here. And up here.” I tapped my head over and over again. “The thoughts, the memories, the missing and the yearning.” I stepped outside, took deep calming breaths. “You don’t understand. The body lives on, untouched, unscathed by every knock and cut… but the mind…” I rounded on him and shouted, “My mind is shot Gilbert! Completely fucked up, screwed up, destroyed! How many friends do you think I’ve lost? Hundreds? Thousands? They grow old and die, or get mangled to pieces in stupid battles… their guts spew out over my hands and I can do nothing to save them. They die of disease, long lingering deaths, and I harbour the smell of their feted breath and their last kiss on my lips… and I miss them! I yearn to have them back. To hear their sweet words again, their words of love and truth. To hear the timbre of their voice and to join in with their laughter. I yearn to join them in man’s dream world called heaven, and to leave this physical world far, far behind… There is no god to give me salvation, no hope of relief from the bitterness and anger and the sorrow…”
Gilbert was staring at me, absolutely dumbfounded.
“I miss them all,” I said quietly. “Every sweet soul who has trodden on my heart and left their footprint in my mind.”
He picked up the jar of honey and fiddled around spooning it into the coffee.
“These days they call it post-traumatic stress disorder. How many wars do you think I’ve been in, Gilbert?”
“How many times do you think people have stuck a rifle to my face wanting to kill me? How many times do you think I’ve been locked up, strung up, stoned and spat on for being out of step with their reality?”
He took off his cap and swept a hand through his hair. “It can be different now…”
“There are drugs that can help…”
“I’ve tried Laudanum and diazepam and…”
“I get the picture.”
“I’ll be useless to you. I don’t know what you want me to do, but whatever it is, I can’t do it. I shake under duress, and get angry… and at other times I simply don’t care.”
“You’re depressed, Richard. You need company.”
I laughed. “And then that company dies and the depression is exacerbated. Get your anger out they say…but to whom? My god who did this to me? My father who sanctioned the ritual? The invading army who started it all by murdering my mother!”
There was a moment’s painful silence.
“Do you have a real name?” Gilbert tipped his coffee down the sink. “An original name? I mean, who were you to start with?”
“Tuesla Gunchilld.” It felt strange saying my name out loud. I hadn’t voiced it for so many years that it rang through my mind like an aching echo from the past.
“Now who’s got the bloody stupid name?” He spoke very quietly, a hush of awe hissing through his pursed lips. “How old are you?”
“I stopped dying when I was thirty years old. I have lived on this mortal plane for two thousand, five hundred and sixty two years.”
It’s also available for Nook and other platforms.
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