I love the majority of my characters. Even the annoying ones and villainous ones need to spark a little understanding or sympathy or they risk being cut-outs.
Octavius Guy, otherwise known as Goosebeery, is about to have his fourth outing as Michael Gallagher’s resourceful young detective. However, before becoming the protagonist in Michael’s books, Octavius started life with a cameo appearance in what is generally accepted as the first ever detective novel; The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, first published over 140 years beforehand. Like Octavius, Michael had a life before becoming a full time author and talks to 1PMChat about his time teaching, his interest in photography and, of course, Octavius.
1PM: You say you first met Octavius when you read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins?
MG: Yes, I fell in love with Wilkie Collins’s Octavius Guy, aka Gooseberry, when my Crimes & Thrillers reading group tackled The Moonstone at the beginning of 2014. His part was so slight, however, that readers of the book seldom recall who he is. If you run all of his speeches together, you’ll find he contributes a mere 121 words of dialogue! He’s Mr Bruff the lawyer’s errand boy, who appears at the novel’s climax when the diamond is about to be redeemed from the bank. He—and only he—sees that it’s the sailor who redeems it and sets about tailing him. It occurred to me immediately that he’d make a perfect amateur detective for a cozy mystery.
1PM: So you gave Octavius a second lease of life. How did you go about that?
MG: Wilkie Collins gave him bulging eyes, quite possibly the better to see with and I decided to make him a reformed master pickpocket! The Victorian Journalist, Henry Mayhew, who wrote extensively about the life of London’s poor, had documented the day to day lives of mudlarks, one of the lowest tiers of society at that time. I drew heavily from that.
1PM: His background is obviously important, but what about his character?
MG: I thought long and hard about my own internal voice as a teenager. In my head I considered myself articulate and urbane, whereas in reality I was anything but! It can be quite a juggling act to get this right, and a thrill when readers pick up on it. One review said Octavius had a “wonderful mixture of pomposity and innocence, knowledge and ignorance, that makes his narration a pleasure to read.” I liked that!
1PM: The Moonstone was set in 1849, when have you set your series of books?
MG: The series starts in 1852, approximately three years after the conclusion of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, on which many of its characters are based. The book I’m currently working on takes place in September of 1853. One of the less obvious strictures of writing a series with a teenage main character is that, in order to keep Octavius relatively young, there can be no more than a six-month gap between when each title is set.
1PM: What was you career prior to writing?
MG: In the late 1980s I decided to train as a teacher. I quickly discovered the Catch 22: to train, I already needed to be teaching a class. My specialism was B&W photography, and a local charity, Bede House, had a darkroom, so I offered to teach classes for free for the adults with learning disabilities who worked Bede’s catering project. It was a very fortuitous decision. When silver-based photography was replaced by digital, I was able to move into teaching adults with learning disabilities full time. Practical skills mainly. Cooking, using public transport, things like that.
1PM: Did you enjoy working at Bede?
MG: Loved it! I was lucky enough to be asked to teach 1:1, whatever my students wanted to learn – anything from tying one’s own shoes to typing one’s name. Mostly though, they wanted to learn two things. Money, whether it be counting it or making the correct change. And maths. I taught many people to subtract. It’s an absolute joy to see the thrill someone gets when they can subtract large numbers in their billions with absolute confidence.
1PM: How long were you at Bede?
MG: I worked there part time, mostly on but occasionally off, for the best part of twenty-seven years.
1PM: Must have been hard to leave?
MG: Psychologically, the hardest thing for me was knowing that, when I left, my teaching career would be at an end. But it was the right time. Although I was only working five hours a week, my hourly rate was more than they could afford at that point, the funding for the voluntary sector being so precarious, and when they offered the staff voluntary redundancy packages, I took it. I’m not sure who was the more shocked: my project manager, the director, or me. I still have close links with Bede and go back and visit when I can.
This striking image of an entirely red rainbow by the photographer Rod Jones was the inspiration behind Seventh Rainbow Publishing.
1PM: Your publishing company is “Seventh Rainbow Publishing” and your twiitter name @seventh7rainbow. Where did that come from?
MG: When I chose to go down the self-publishing route, I made a decision to set myself up as a publisher: Seventh Rainbow Publishing. I’d chosen a striking image of an entirely red rainbow by the photographer Rod Jones to be the logo, and the name itself was simply a contraction of the phrase “one-seventh of a rainbow.” As for my Twitter handle, I didn’t fancy being michaelgallagher937215, it turns out I have a very common name, so I tried seventhrainbow – and even then I was disappointed. So I inserted the 7 to break the two words up, which seemed the most elegant way to go.
1PM: Photography has always been important to you. Does that background account for your attention to imagery in the books?
MG: Many readers have used some variation on, “It played like a movie in my head.” I think the way I put words together to create something almost tangible stems from two things: sixty years of watching TV and film, and the fact that I write in the first person, so you get to experience the world through that person’s eyes. TV and film taught me how to set up shots and sustain tension; the first-person voice makes it personal. My background in photography, and in particular the history of photography, means I can write about the different Victorian processes with some authority and a fair amount of ease – something many writers fail to do. You can smell their nervousness emanating from the page. They either put in too much detail or too little, unaware of what the crucial points happen to be.
1PM: Speaking of movies. The Moonstone has had several film and TV interpretations, how would you feel about seeing Gooseberry on the screen?
MG: It sounds great in theory, but I have to wonder how well I would adjust to losing control over my characters. I once saw Deborah Moggach, author of These Foolish Things, which was made into the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, speak about this at my local library. It’s a process, and one that the novelist is hardly involved in. Mind you, I would definitely be on board if they got Ray Winstone for Bertha!
Huge thanks to Michael for taking the time to talk to 1PMChat. Be sure to read George Burman’s review of Michaels first Gooseberry book by clicking here.