I’ve finally finished my Chinese story. It’s been in gestation since February and while I’ve been able to have clear runs at it, much of it has come slowly and in relative pain. This is not a story that wrote itself.
Chronologically, it follows the last Sherlock Holmes story that had the girls in Brussels working in the Berkendael Clinic with Sr Edith Cavell. The action begins in the spring of 1918. I take the girls out to Shanghai and back for September 1918. The action starts in London; there is plenty of interest in the cruise out to the East and then the denouement is in the great wicked city of Shanghai. The setting is very important to the story with the early action happening in Whitechapel and the final act taking place on the Bund. I love Shanghai as a city. There’s a vibe in the streets that is fascinating – not so much in Pudong with its modern, high rise marvels- but in the old city on the other side of Suzhou Creek along the Bund. Shanghai was a wicked place once- a veritable sink of iniquity, famous for vice of all kinds- but it was also one of the few places that accepted Jewish refugees from Europe. It’s still a wonderful place to visit.
Children are very important to the moral focus of the novel, of course, as they always are in my stories. In this case, the focus is on two little Chinese rickshaw boys and a thirteen year old secret agent. And yes, it has a happy, righteous ending. That’s the only way I like them.
It’s also long, tipping the scales at 55,000 words. There are only a few illustrations this time – most of them the splendid coloured cards featuring “Shanghai lovelies” advertising soap, cigarettes and beauty products. These advertisements play a part in the story so it’s not just kitsch for its own sake.
The novel will be posted on my website early next week.