It’s a funny business, writing. I never expected Postumus would make me cry. I didn’t think I would enjoy him so much. Conceived as only a little less twisted than the Addams Family, using him as a new narrator had tricky moments. For a start, once again I would be ‘writing as a man’ – only this time he’s a twelve-year-old boy. Friends of mine have now expressed concern about my fluency as a small boy… As I always say about writing fiction, the tool is observation. Just as I had known some men before I wrote Falco, I have known some boys. None actually put worms down my neck, so I don’t need to punish my character as therapeutic revenge.
I hope people won’t be put off by the ‘short story’ description that has become attached to what is in fact nearly 30,000 words. As a writer, I like space to develop character and ideas. There were plenty of ideas with young Postumus; he has ideas every five minutes – the madder the better from my point of view. When I write an extra piece like this, I want a change. I started a spin-off series and now this is a spin-off from the spin-off, although I had to remember the point of it was to lure in new readers for the main series. So it needed to contain the same elements. That helped decide the story. I didn’t want to have a troubled boy exposed to a real murderer, but on the other hand Postumus could mistakenly find himself investigating a perceived crime. A detective in fiction often has to make enquiries that nobody else thinks are necessary. So, my boy detective would be able to go through all the normal stages of interviewing witnesses etc. Since he has not fully learned his craft from his father and sister, these stages can all go awry. Such fun.
I knew there would be lovely opportunities to talk about his family. As they are to Albia, Falco and Helena are just ‘Mum and Dad’ for Postumus, eccentric but just-about-adequate parents he tolerates. But because of his special situation, he and his relationships are more complicated. His puzzlement about his origins gave me threads – but also meant that I wanted to supply him with more security than he thinks he has. Falco and Helena are in fact good parents – Albia frequently tells us that. Her little brother spells it out unknowingly as he describes his life with them.
I had to find a way to let being taken from his happy home end well for him. And for them, in fact, because Falco and Helena have invested much love in this horrible child. I couldn’t leave them anxious about his fate with Thalia and her wilful python.
There he was, then, slyly becoming a poor little tot I felt sorry for! His beloved Ferret, his only friend and confidante, goes missing. I realised that for a boy of twelve, however brave he appears to be, resilience would only be a front. Soon I saw that if he does bad things, it has to be accidental. He never means to be bad.
When things go wrong for Postumus, he has only us to tell. Exposed to his inner uncertainty, I became insidiously affected. By the time I was supposed to be writing madcap scenes of Falco’s long-lost play – anyone for a few more little glimpses of Hamlet in its primordial version? – I knew there could be only one solution.
The Spook Who Spoke had given me my setting. The legendary Spook himself had to play a vital part. If he spoke, it must be a key moment for the boy. I realised what I had to do. Spooky will be developed by Shakespeare into the grim ghost of Hamlet’s father, bearing his ominous message of murder. But long ago in Palmyra, Falco had recognised that this play’s crazy plot has to be a comedy…
That was it then. The moment when the Spook finally pipes up was when Marcus Didius Alexander Postumus had me shedding a tear over him. Be careful, for it may do the same to you.
Amy is responsible for the smooth running of the H for History website, and enjoys reading history-based fantasy. She also like to photograph sites of historical interest in her spare time with a cup of bovril and a pork pie for company. Favourite period of history: Ancient;
Favourite historical read: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave;
Upcoming book i'm most looking forward to: Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick
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