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The Sirens of Suspense




G.M. Best was Headmaster of Kingswood School (the first and oldest Methodist school in the world) for 21 years. After his 2008 musical MARLEY’S GHOSTS, commemorating his favorite author, Charles Dickens, premiered to some success, his daughter asked him “Dad, why don’t you try and write a novel?”. The result was OLIVER TWIST INVESTIGATES (2010) and WUTHERING HEIGHTS REVISITED (2012).

A Classic Case of "What-If?" item1

OLIVER TWIST was the first Dickens’ book I ever read as a young teenager and it has remained one of his books that I like best. However, it has always been a disappointment to me that what was a serious novel about child exploitation has become to many modern eyes just a rather jolly story because of Lionel Bart’s famous musical version OLIVER! (much though I also love it). I therefore decided I would try and write a detective story sequel that would be much darker in mood than the musical and more faithful to the original book. I thought it would be perfectly reasonable to treat the characters of OLIVER TWIST as real people in Dickens’ life because he was a reporter before he became a novelist and he often based his fiction on the people that he had met.

The question “What if Nancy was not killed by Bill Sikes?” just popped into my head and it rapidly led me on to others —“Then who did kill her? And why? And why did Dickens lie and say it was Bill Sikes?” I then had great fun imagining what might have happened to Mr Bumble, the Artful Dodger, Betsy, and all the other characters after Nancy’s murder. I reread what Dickens had to say about his early life and incorporated much of that into the novel. Particularly exciting in this respect was researching the real story behind Dickens’ relationship with his sister-in-law and weaving that into the plot. Those with a knowledge of Dickens’ other novels may also pick up some hints within OLIVER TWIST INVESTIGATES about where Dickens got the idea for GREAT EXPECTATIONS from. As a historian I also tried to accurately depict the terrible nature of life in London at that time.

Because I really enjoyed creating a mystery in which a famous author interacted with his fictional creation, I wondered which other writer might lend himself or herself to such a treatment for my second novel. I was born and brought up in the north of England and so a natural choice was to consider the three Brontė sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) who are, after Dickens, probably the most famous of our nineteenth century writers. What made them even more interesting from my perspective was that I am a Methodist and my wife is Cornish and the mother of the Brontė sisters was a Cornish Methodist. Having written about the slums of London in OLIVER TWIST INVESTIGATES, it appealed to me to tackle a novel that could be set in the wild moors of Yorkshire and among the smugglers and wreckers on the Cornish coast. The question was which of the Brontė novels should I choose to focus on?

Obviously Charlotte Brontė’s JANE EYRE and Emily Brontė’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS are the best-known books and for me there was no contest. I love the story of the tragic love affair between Cathy and Heathcliff in WUTHERING HEIGHTS and I am not surprised that it has given rise to not only many radio, television and film adaptations but also a song, a musical, a ballet, and three operas. My problem was that I found Charlotte a much more interesting person historically than Emily and this led me to think about the relationship between the sisters when it came to writing their novels. I knew that it was Charlotte who drove Emily and Anne to write and that gave me the starting point for a possible mystery, especially as all three sisters and their brother died unexpectedly young and in a very short space of time. After considerable research into the family I decided to make the key figures in my new book WUTHERING HEIGHTS REVISITED not just Charlotte and Heathcliff but also Ellen Nussey, who was the real-life schoolfriend of Charlotte Brontė, and I was very pleased at the way in the end I was able to seamlessly blend fact and fiction into an intriguing detective story.

And just in case you are wondering, I’m currently working on my third novel. I live in the wonderful World Heritage city of Bath and so it is going to be set there in 1745 and feature as its main character Tom Jones, the famous character invented by the eighteenth-century writer Henry Fielding, who lived in Bath for a number of years. I am really enjoying writing scenes that are set in the city’s various historic buildings, such as the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, and the beautiful nearby Prior Park. As my ideas are developing, the third novel is turning into a spy story as well as a multi-murder mystery.

Hope you enjoy!



COMMENT? QUESTION FOR GARY? OR tell us what classic you think should be revisited by commenting below or visit us and share your thoughts on our Facebook page and be entered to win a copy of OLIVER TWIST INVESTIGATES or WUTHERING HEIGHTS REVISITED!

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