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I am a firm believer in the maxim that history is stranger than fiction. 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.
As several reviewers have pointed out Thomas is not quite the vicious villainous rogue his nephew became, at least in the first book. But the character develops more in the subsequent books with increasing levels of skulduggery. 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.
For more information, check out my website, www.robertbrightwell.com
on July 02, 2015 :
Captain Thomas Flashman was a self-confessed coward. He unwittingly found himself fighting the upstart Americans alongside of Iroquois warriors on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes during the war of 1812—Madison’s War. Although cowardly, Flashman was cunning and managed to present himself in a good light to superior officers. This has the unfortunate effect of keeping him on the front lines. While trying to prevent an enraged warrior from cleaving his skull with a tomahawk, he accidentally converts the savage Indian into a faithful friend who watches his back and spares him from numerous life threatening encounters. Simultaneously the tide of the war in America turned against the British and the European conflict with France suddenly ended. This happy news meant that Continental troops would soon relieve the beleaguered British forces in Canada. Flashman saw a route home to England. But his hopes were cruelly dashed and he returned to the solace of the Mennonite girl who he rescued from an abusive husband more than twice her age.
Flashman and Madison’s War is an easygoing book that I originally branded as slow, but I persevered and soon fell into the story’s pace. The character Flashman is an engaging creation who will set his own hook in reader’s interest. His unabashed self-assessment that he is a cowardly lying opportunist who wants nothing more than to stay alive and enjoy living to the fullest, quickly endears him to the reader. Robert Brightwell has retold an obscure part of an obscure war from a British point of view with remarkable accuracy and detail through the eyes of a fictional character with real charm. This is the fifth installment in a series of Flashman’s memoirs. It stands alone but some may prefer to start at the beginning.
(reviewed 19 days after purchase)