Friday, 12 February 2016

Back Home

If all goes well, my next book should be out in almost exactly two months. It's called Back Home and it brings John Williamson's adventures to a conclusion with him "back home" in England.

When I introduced John Williamson in The White Rajah, I had no plans to produce a sequel, although I deliberately left open the option of having him move on to India. When Cawnpore came out, the conclusion had him returning to England and I knew then that there was a possibility for one more story.

Back Home is my farewell to John Williamson. I have really enjoyed writing about him and I wanted to send him off in style. The mechanics of his story to date meant that last one was going to have to be in England and the idea for the plot came when I started reading about the Victorian underworld. It seemed to me that in Victorian society the gap between the respectable world and the London underworld was as great as between Britain and its colonies. Writing about crime in London could not only produce an (I hope) exciting adventure story, but it could allow Williamson to see how the governing class in England exercised its power in a ruthlessly self-interested way at home, as well as abroad.

As I learned more about the London of 1859, I was repeatedly struck by the parallels with today. Just as today, London was undergoing a period of massive growth, at least partly fuelled by immigration (from Ireland rather than the Middle East). There was a lot of political activity by revolutionaries and a concern about possible revolutionary acts. Napoleon III was waging war in Europe and there was a genuine belief that he might invade Britain. All this, of course, against a background of extreme wealth and privilege in some parts of society and almost unbelievable poverty in others. Increasingly, I felt that a book about the struggles of the underclass in 1859 had something to say about society today.

Williamson's story comes full circle with Back Home. He left England as a young man and has now returned as a man past his prime. He has spent much of his life carrying British values to people in the Far East. Now he sees how those values are applied in his own country.

Back Home is not a political tract. It is, first and foremost, an adventure story that rounds off the adventures Williamson has had in Borneo and India. But there is a political side to the story. And, as the British debate their place in the world of 2016 and politicians talk proudly about Victorian values, it is, perhaps, time that we looked at the world of 1859 and asked ourselves if those are really the values we want to go back to.

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