Looking back on my career as a storyteller, I think Who is Rufus T. Weeks? was the first of my novels to have almost no conformity with Paul Gallico’s advice to only write about things one has experienced. Although it has any number of twists and turns, the plot has one significant and over-riding revelation. Keeping my reader guessing what this is, is the principal challenge running through the story. Happily, my early readers and critics confirmed that, irrespective of their personal backgrounds or experience, none of them guessed the answer to the question I pose in the title. This is important because the story that unfolds is essentially the journey followed by my hero, Markus Jenkyns, as he tries to discover the answer himself. To keep my reader as committed to the story I must keep him or her as puzzled as my hero.
Because this story has its genesis elsewhere than my experience, makes it more difficult to explain how it came to be written without revealing the plot. Having said that, like many of my generation, the imagery of Jesse Owens, the black American athlete who demolished Adolf Hitler’s wish that the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin would demonstrate the supremacy of his vaunted Aryan race is most vivid. The less well-known racial bigotry Owens faced when he returned to the USA sadly detracts from his achievements on the track in Berlin.
If they wish, creative storytellers can choose which of any bêtes-noirs they choose to cast as the ‘baddies’ in their stories. In Rufus T. Weeks my sights fell upon the American National Security Agency and the Roman Catholic Church although I stress that my novel is not a hobby-horse for any opinions, rather that both organisations seem inept at managing the responsibility that their strength and power gives them. They are by no means alone though it would be equally fair to note that it’s unlikely that Médicins Sans Frontières or Cancer Research are likely to appear in this role in future stories.
Finally, on a related topic, I do find that as I develop characters, especially strong ones, I sometimes find myself thinking of people I’ve known who share some of my characters’ admirable qualities or traits. In I’ll be the brightest star..., I found myself very drawn to the character of Alejandra who voices that line declaring her undying love for my hero. In this novel, as I was describing Quentin Salisbury, the ‘Old Africa Hand’ who plays a significant part in the unravelling of the puzzle, I often thought of a man who’s been a constant and loyal friend for some 60 years. Although my friend shares few of the specific experiences I credit to Quentin Salisbury, he does have the now-unfashionable sense of doing what is right regardless of personal risk. Not for nothing was he appointed to an honour he richly deserves and is one reason that I dedicate the novel to Lloyd Paxton, MBE.