Author Letter: A.J. West on the inspiration behind Thomas True

Author Letter: A.J. West on the inspiration behind Thomas True

Dear reader,

It is my sincere pleasure to share this book with you. The manuscript was known simply as ‘Mollies’ for the first two years of its life, morphing as it was written then rewritten almost from scratch and written again. In fact, only one chapter has remained unchanged from the first attempt: Parson’s Dell, in which we first meet the infamous justices Grimp and Myre. Incidentally, any Sherlock Holmes fans may recognise their names from a certain book about a demonic hound.

Anyhow, living with these characters has been an adventure, at once exhausting and fascinating. Day after day for long back-aching hours in the London Library, I would step through the dusty pages of my various books into the stick and squalor of Georgian London, assaulted by the clatter of the City, watching from a short distance as this strange yet fabulous community whirled around me, going about their business at such a frantic pace I could hardly keep up.

If you gasp at a particular point, please know I gasped writing it. If you laugh, I laughed too, if you cry, I wept real tears. I cannot begin to explain the thrill I felt when I realised who the Rat was (this, I planned from the start), or how intensely sorrowful I felt writing some of the more difficult scenes throughout. I have hooted and howled in equal measure in coffee shops, cottages, libraries and trains, strangers checking I’m alright on more than one occasion. Such is the magical madness of anyone who clings on to their imagination since childhood and pours it onto the page. Thomas and Gabriel are better and more alive to me than most of the people I meet in the ‘real’ world.

This book was born more than a decade ago on a baking July day in North London. I had the thrill of being a young, single man then, living alone in a tiny basement flat. A gentleman caller had just left – a red headed, beautifully-bottomed dancer from Sadlers Wells I recall – and I had an overwhelming sense of freedom…and a clanging headache. I lay back on my bed with the French door open to a breeze and listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘Tales From the Old Bailey’. This particular episode was about molly culture and it introduced me to the testimonies of men put on trial for sodomy. I made a note about it in my phone: Mollies. Novel about gay men in 1700s London being betrayed by imposter. Heartbreaking.

That note languished on my phone through various jobs, different homes in different cities and a few heartbreaks of my own. I always came back to it in my quiet moments, hoping that one day I would write the story and perhaps – if I dared to dream – share it with readers.

Well, here we are. My dream came true after all, and it’s been so very difficult getting here. I’ll tell you about that when I’m dead and somebody publishes my diary, but suffice it to say, there have been so many trials along the way. Still, some indistinct force seems to have willed my career into existence and I’m grateful, not least because it gives me a reason to keep flinging myself into the past.

The research for this novel was hard work but enthralling. I began by reading Ned Ward’s A London Spy, a 1700s guide book of sorts, and now my favourite book of all time. Witty, bitchy, scandalous, sly and filled with character, it takes the reader on an immersive tour of the City, from Tower Hill with its roaring lions and Bedlam with its roaring residents to Newgate Gaol, the bawdy houses of Saffron Hill, Smithfield Market and even a waxwork of old King Charles in Westminster Abbey museum, which our guide Ned judges to be a fine likeness. Incredibly it’s still on display; isn’t that amazing?

Along with my various maps, the book gave me a sense of the noisy, dirty unlit streets of the period and also an introduction to some of the lingo you’d have heard as you walked through the bustling crowds. I didn’t like to use too much slang in The Betrayal of Thomas True, fearing it might feel contrived, but there’s a sprinkling of the vernacular for good measure. Perhaps you might find some of the terms below useful, if one day you find yourself transported back to the early 1700s. Lord, that’s my greatest wish. To walk across old London Bridge and find myself amidst the hustle and bustle of the great City, long before mobile phones, kamikaze cyclists, hoking traffic and chewing gum. To find out what it really looked, smelled and sounded like.

I hope Thomas True transports you as it did me. I wrote it with a constant eye on the map you have in your stunning Goldsboro edition, tracing the tiny alleys, passageways and streets with my finger to find out how the various characters would likely have moved through the packed City during the busy daylight hours then again at night, when the streets were black and – though the shadows whisper - deserted.

When it comes to writing history, the trick, I think, is to live there. I hope you enjoy reading my story, beware the Rat, and, more than anything, I hope you enjoy meeting Thomas and the rest of the family.

Thank you, and feel free to bid me a good day on socials. @ajwestauthor

AJ

 

 

 

A FINE SELECTION OF HISTORICAL WORDS AND PHRASES, AS DISCOVERED BY A.J. WEST FOR REFERENCE AS PART OF HIS RESEARCH FOR THE NOVEL THE BETRAYAL OF THOMAS TRUE AND SHARED HEREIN FOR THE INTEREST AND AUSEMENT OF SUBSCRIBERS TO THE VENERABLE GOLDSBORO BOOKS PREM1ER CLUB.

 

Molly Market - where the mollies ‘caterwaul’ or ‘troll’ to ‘find trade’ and ‘make a bargain.’

Caterwaul – prowl for sex, like a cat prowling for food

Troll – go for a walk

Find trade – Find a man for a hookup

Make a bargain – have sex

Molly House – venues – usually private rooms, boarding houses or coffee houses, set up for gay men to meet and carouse

Sluggards paradise - ale house or coffee shop

Culls and Bubbles – victims of crime

Bully-ruffins - highwaymen

Bully-fop - a maggot pated, huffing, silly, rattling fellow

Tatterdemalions – poor people in tattered clothes

Mumper - beggar

Galleyed - condemned to the galleys

Gallowed - condemned to the gallows

A pettifogger - a lawyer of inferior status who handled petty cases.

A Knight of the post - a professional false witness.

A horse-leech in the law, that once he is well-fastened will suck a poor man deep into consumption...' he coughed 'or some such words.'

Jangling - chattering

Screaking - squawking 

Such-like Hobbady-bobbodies - workers of various sorts

Split-fig - a grocer

Pocket pistol - penis

Whirlegigs - testicles

Apple-dumpling show – cleavage/bosoms

Fambles - hands

Gamble-cheats – golden rings on fingers

Buss – to kiss

Fuddled - drunk

Toper - a frequent heavy drinker.

Clipping the King's English - not speaking plainly when drunk

Skink - pour the liquor

Skinker - they who pour liquor

Beard-splitter – a man who pleasures women

Slug-a-bed – a lazy person

Buffle-head – a foolish fellow

Jack Adams - a fool               

Snudge - one who lurks under a bed, to watch an opportunity to rob a house

Blade - a man.

Coxcomb – a vain and conceited man, a dandy

Molly – a gay man

Pretty fellow – a gay man

He-Whores – gay men

He-Strumpet – a gay man

Men of lewd, disorderly and enormous practices – gay men

Buggerantoe – a gay man

Beast-like confederacy – gay men

Suck-fosset – a gay man

Madge - a sodomite gay man.

Madge cull – a sodomite gay man

Madge cove - a keeper of a house for madge culls

The Rat…?

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