I am a firm believer in the maxim that history is stranger than fiction. As an amateur historian there are countless times when I have come across a character or incident that has been so hard to believe that I have had to search out other sources for confirmation. Thomas Cochrane who features in my first book is one of those, his real life adventures seem ridiculously far fetched for a fictional character. The Begum of Samru from my second book is another: a fifteen year old nautch dancer who gained the confidence of an army, had a man literally kill himself over her and who led her soldiers with skill and courage, before becoming something of a catholic saint.
History is full of amazing stories and in my books I try to do my bit to tell some of them. When I thought of a vehicle to do so, the Flashman series from George MacDonald Fraser came to mind. Most of what I know of the Victorian era was prompted by his books. The concept of a fictional character witnessing and participating in real historical events, while not unique, has rarely been done better.
George MacDonald Fraser was an exceptional writer and he developed a character that he took from Tom Brown's School Days into a truly legendary figure. While Harry Flashman might not have been a typical Victorian, he certainly brought the period to life. For me the Regency/Napoleonic era was one of even greater colour and extremes and so I have created a new earlier member of the family: Thomas Flashman.
There are similarities between the generations in that they both have the uncanny knack of finding themselves in the hotspots of their time, often while endeavouring to avoid them. Thomas though is not exactly the same character as Harry Flashman, this is partly accidental and partly deliberate.
For example Harry Flashman makes prolific use of the 'n' word which will never appear in my work. This is not just political correctness but reflects the different times the two fictional characters occupy. While Harry Flashman in India thrashed and abused the natives; in Thomas' time many British were in business with Indian partners or had Indian wives. The British Resident of Delhi went so far as to marry a harem of thirteen Indian women who used to parade around the city every evening on elephants. In contrast any British man in Harry's time who married just one Indian woman was likely to find himself ostracised from the British community.
As several reviewers have pointed out Thomas is not quite the vicious villainous rogue his nephew became, at least in the first book. As this was mostly set on a very small ship there were few places he could hide while retaining the confidence of the commander, which was crucial to the plot. I think the character develops more in the second book and this trend will hopefully continue. The genius of George MacDonald Fraser was to create a spiteful bully that the reader could still relate to. I have tried to convey a character that lived in his time and who balanced cowardice, pride, lust etc with the need to bring the reader with him.
Where to buy in print
Flashman and the Cobra
(5.00 from 1 review)
By Robert Brightwell
Published: February 10, 2013.
The second instalment in the memoirs Thomas Flashman takes him to India during the second mahratta war and includes an illuminating visit to revolutionary Paris.
Flashman is embroiled in treachery and intrigue from the outset and, despite his very best endeavours, is often in the thick of the action.
Flashman and the Seawolf
(4.00 from 1 review)
By Robert Brightwell
Published: February 5, 2012.
Following the popularity of the memoirs of Harry Flashman the Victorian scoundrel who got himself embroiled in many events of his age, this book introduces a new generation of the family: Thomas Flashman, whose career covers the Napoleonic and Georgian era. This first book covers his adventures with Thomas Cochrane, one of the most extraordinary naval commanders of all time.
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