Many thanks to Paul and Headline for allowing me to host a leg of the blog tour for the wonderful Maharajah’s General.
The Inspiration for Jack Lark
The idea for my colourful protagonist, Jack Lark, began to emerge when I read the excellent history of the British soldier in the age of Brown Bess called Redcoat written by the peerless historian, Richard Holmes. I had started to read Redcoat as a part of my research for the novel that would eventually become The Scarlet Thief. At the time I was not sure who my protagonist would be but I knew I needed to create a character that was very different from the crop of young officers featuring in similar fiction being written by other authors. There was one chapter in Redcoat that really stood out. It was called “Epaulette Gentry” and it stated that many of the young men, who purchased their commissions in the army, and most especially those buying their rank in the regular line infantry regiments, did not hail from the highest echelons of Victorian society. In fact many came from rather ordinary backgrounds and their newly purchased commission was very much their only evidence of respectability.
This fascinating chapter led me to recall a BBC TV series that I had watched in my teens called The Monocled Mutineer, which was based on the life of a rogue called Percy Toplis. Percy hailed from a northern mining town but he found his place in history during the turmoil of the First World War when he turned a childhood ability to mimic others into a life of crime and debauchery as he masqueraded as a British officer. Percy’s exploits allowed him to live a life very different to the one being experienced by his fellow soldiers and it inspired me to attempt to create an imposter of my own.
Identity theft in the nineteenth century was really very much easier than it is today. People tended to be judged on appearances and so a young gentleman who was dressed correctly who both spoke and acted properly would be readily accepted into the society of other officers who, thanks to Richard Holmes, we know were not perhaps quite the upper-class popinjays of popular perception. So the idea for Jack was born and I started to conjure up the circumstances that would allow Jack to be able to become an officer.
Of course, the life of an imposter can only go on for so long. At some point, being found out becomes almost inevitable and Jack cannot rely on an endless stream of convenient identities falling into his lap to allow him to thrive in his new life. Yet he is a resourceful fellow and I reckon he will find a way to survive as he struggles to find a place where he truly belongs. I can see him turn up in all manner of places during the events that shaped our modern world. Jack has a varied and thrilling life ahead and I for one cannot wait to see how it turns out in the end.
Now go buy both the wonderful Jack lark books