First published on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mandy-jacksonbeverly/thimblerigger_b_9886562.html
Like other writers I’m an avid reader. My reading list covers most genres, give or take a few, however if a story isn’t well written and hasn’t drawn me in to the ink by the end of the first paragraph I move on. I want art to make me feel something, to experience an emotive reaction. Art that makes me uncomfortable is often the form I appreciate most. Negative emotions force me to look at something within myself, or the collective, that I’ve meticulously kicked under a mat.
The month of July 2015, found me in a dark place, thousands of miles away from my own family, a dark threatening sky, and coping with the death of a loved one. Flipping through unanswered emails, I noticed one from author John Hudspith with an invitation to read his latest literary horror fictional novel, Thimblerigger. Sleep had not been my friend for weeks, so I opened the attachment and began to read figuring I couldn’t feel much darker. Then I entered the world of dark horror. Here are the first few paragraphs of Thimblerigger.
This is the last time I will braid Master’s curls. I take care, stroking each loop into place. The muscles across his back are lumpy, a sign that he is readying. When I caress them he exhales a grateful whisper. I swallow his pride and my heart opens, a perfect flower. I am so fortunate.
The rocker creaks as he pushes from it — a beautiful sound I shall miss. I find his hand and we venture outside, bracing as the chill nips our flesh. It’s an exquisite autumn day; everything wilting, dying off, rotting down; the earthy aroma lifts my toes from the lawn.
A sparrow flutters to my shoulder and its claws tickle my skin. As we cross the hilltop, more sparrows flitter around us like interested butterflies. We make the short walk to the copse where our pit awaits me. Master lifts the wooden hatch and the rich scent of decay waters my eyes. The soup of life. It is part of me, I am part of it, and together we shall be. I am so fortunate.
By the end of the story I had questions. Why are people so messed up? What’s the tipping point where some people act out their darkest thoughts while others don’t? I asked John what inspired him to write Thimblerigger.
“Inspiration, if you can call it that, came from humanity’s inherent fear and my desire to nail it to the page for eternity; that quivering trait which forces poor choices and ease of manipulation; a quivering trait grown through lack of knowledge and understanding. Our world is undeniably mad, such waste through murder and destruction; a spiraling and unstoppable force of nature; a nature we choose to nurture through need and ignorance. Rather than decipher a doable future where sanity might reign, we continue waving our sticks and gold-plating our butt plugs. Thimblerigger — the charlatan — was, all those years ago, the very story I wanted to write; to encapsulate mankind’s fanciful fear-fueled ego and squeeze it into one small allegorical bubble: mindless manipulation and destruction laced only with the slightest sliver of hope.”
What can you tell me about the novel’s structure, the multiple POV of characters and interwoven timelines?
“It took a while to get there. My first attempt lost the plot. I went away and learnt more, wrote more, ate up everything about writing I could get my hands on. Wrote two other books and edited a further 200 for others. Then I went back to Thimblerigger. After much digging — and I mean months and months of digging — I began finding the gems, the mileposts, and the story started to unfold in my head. Three notebooks, two wall charts and a zillion Post-it notes helped hold it all together.”
I enjoyed your location descriptions. Can you tell us a little about the area where the story takes place?
“The story is set in the Scottish Borders. A loch surrounded by cabins for hire. There’s a nearby pub, a village half hour’s drive away, and a quaint little pottery with a white-haired woman who talks to her doves in the dovecote whilst painting her weird pottery figures. The place is real; a beautiful place I’ve visited often over the years — right down to the white-haired woman at the pottery. All place names have been changed, of course.”
Thimblerigger is intense and I found myself at times thinking, “Oh no, please don’t go there,” but of course, the author did just that! The characters, like the plot, are twisted and often violent, and remind me of aspects of society that keep me awake at night. I asked John to comment about one character in particular, Elizabeth — the wood spirit. She seemed similar to another character, Beth. Was she Beth’s evil counterpart? This similarity of names, Beth and Elizabeth, carries on to other characters in the story, both past and present.
“Ah, yes, dear Elizabeth, the precocious child, evil twitching her nostrils at every turn. She has it in for Beth, doesn’t she? A despicable child, the product of misguided parental ignorance and the need for control. She was fun to write but gave me the shudders. As for the similar names past and present, that is to show that history does indeed keep on repeating itself; the same ego-driven shallowness allowed to stumble on.”
Throughout Thimblerigger there is a sense of the familiar with John and his relationship with birds. I asked him about his attraction to crows.
“Not just crows but all birds. When I was seven years old, a developed pain in the knee led to diagnosis of Perthes disease which resulted in both legs being plastered from toe to hip and separated by wooden bars across the feet and knees. My bed was brought to the living room and there I sat for two years, drawing, writing stories, helped along by a wonderful home tutor (Rose). A lot of that time was spent watching the birds in the garden and when I was eventually released and I learned to walk again, I would stride out into the countryside and not return until dark, fascinated by the wildlife, the scenery, the fresh air, and the birds. Birds became a fascination — and to this day they still are — especially the canny crow. As I walk the dogs through the woods in winter with my bread bag in hand it is the crows who know who’s coming and what’s in the bag and they’ll caw a hello and follow me until I reach the stump then they’ll caw some more to let their pals know that grub’s up. They look after their own and will happily share. We could learn a lot from those canny crows.”
Thimblerigger will be available on Amazon later in 2016.
Links to find Mr. Hudspith:
Who is your favorite character, and why?
“Do I have a favourite? Let me see… we have Pete the maintenance man, an asexual trier. He likes to dream and build, and relies on amphetamines to achieve his goals. He succeeds – most of the time – but I don’t like his ego at all.
Then there’s Alison Black – what a misery, ay? Pete laughs at her misery but it’s no joke, really, when one’s ego is repressed by a controller. I like Alison, the way she fights back.
Or there’s Rose, the writer, she was fun, a smart and caring human who knew her own ego enough to battle with it; to keep it reined in: hope’s confidant, in this sorry little tale. One can’t help but like Rose.
Then there’s Bob and Carol aka Martin and Muriel. Martin’s a bit camp and Muriel’s a bit flighty; dancers on holiday who live for the twinkling stage. Selfish, the pair of them. They might be fun to watch but their fluffy egos make them easy targets. No, not much to like there, once you get beneath the surface.
Sasha White, retired porn star (retired because she got rich and fat), was also a lot of fun to write, but again her passion for trinkets and anything phallic-shaped makes her an easy target. Nothing to like where Sasha is concerned; she’s despicably human.
There’s Alison Black’s husband George. She had to stand up to him; of that I was determined – and the sad user and abuser gets what he deserves. Nothing to like about this particularly large slice of humanity. George stinks all the way through.
Butterfly Lady stands out. She might like dancing naked in fields while puffing on a spliff but she knows the score; she brings hope. In fact, she shines with hope. Shame she isn’t given a chance. I do like Butterfly Lady and those just like her in our own world.
But then there’s George and Alison’s daughter Beth – Bethany Black – fifteen years old and eager to grasp everything good in the world through eyes a little different from those around her. Sometimes she mixes her words or goes off on daydreams. Her parents argue whether it’s Asperger’s or autism – but Beth knows it’s just her. She sees auras around people in the form of colored bricks, and she can do instant maths without having to think about it. Her thoughts are always for others; she has no ego and she’s difficult to manipulate: the ingredients for hope. I think Bethany Black is my favorite.”