Most everything I read for pleasure is historical non-fiction. It really has to be the right sort of book for me to read a novel. I suppose that’s not the right thing for a novelist to say, but it is what it is. The novels I enjoy are those by Bernard Cornwell and C.S. Forester and similar novels.
But my favorite novels, by far, are those by George MacDonald Fraser. I am a massive fan of the Flashman novels. When Fraser died it was like a punch to the gut to realize there would not be anymore Flashman books.
In some respects, Jackson Speed owes a great deal to Harry Flashman. Like Flashman, I set my character up as a coward whose actions are often misinterpreted as heroic. Like Flashman, Speedy is a great philanderer. These are common enough anti-hero themes, and I’ve enjoyed numerous other books in the same vein, but it was Flashman I had in mind when I started writing about Speed.
I also employed the device of holding my novels out as the memoirs of Jackson Speed in the same way that Fraser’s novels were the “discovered papers” of Harry Flashman. Again, Fraser didn’t invent the technique – it goes back to Defoe’s Moll Flanders and was a common narrative technique in 18th Century English novels, but it was Flashman I had in mind when I started writing about Speed.
I’ve often wondered if Flashman wasn’t a little better than he made himself out to be in his papers, but I think at the end of the day you must take Flashman at his word. There are a few cues, I think, that show that Flashman’s papers accurately portray him as a complete scoundrel.
When I started writing about Speed, I wanted to leave the question a little more open to critical examination than that. Fraser, I think, employed the “discovered papers” technique as a way for the supposed hero to confess how truly awful he was. I’m consciously allowing that maybe Jackson Speed wasn’t as big a coward as he remembered himself being. It’s possible that the women didn’t love him quite as much as the old man writing the memoirs thought.
Part of the character of Jackson Speed has to be the man writing the memoirs, not just the man the memoirs are about.
Truthfully, I’m undecided if the old man writing the memoirs is accurate in his depiction of himself and the events of his life or if it is possible that the old man’s recollections are colored by cynicism. I suppose he might have even been more of a coward than he lets on, for that matter. But there are moments when I’m writing and I’m carefully trying to construct an opportunity for a reader to say, “No, Jackson Speed was never that big a scoundrel.”
The Jackson Speed books are intended to be fun, light reading. There’s a good bit of action, and the books are bursting with historical information. I threw in some lewd sex scenes to appeal to the college kids (because when I was in college that was all we were interested in). I hope readers find the books amusing because the Speed books are intended to be more than a little comical.
But they are not the Flashman novels and even on my most optimistic of days I never once considered that they were comparable. Flashman is unique and superb, and I would be appalled if I thought people were judging my work alongside George MacDonald Fraser’s. Fraser was a genius. I’m just a guy who writes books in his spare time.
I doubt seriously if a hardcore Fraser fan would find my books very appealing. I suspect, instead, that the things that make Jackson Speed not Harry Flashman would be enough to disappoint them. More to the point, the things that make Robert Peecher not George MacDonald Fraser would certainly disappoint them.
That said, if you like the sort of humor you find in the Speed novels and you enjoy your historical fiction with a bit of womanizing, some cowardice and some humor and you’re looking for a good novel to entertain you while you wait for the next Speed book to come out, let me strongly urge you to give Flashman a try. You’ll thank me for it.
If you have not read about either Jackson Speed or Harry Flashman, click this link, buy this book, and read it first so you won’t be tempted to compare my books to Fraser’s.
If you have read the Jackson Speed books and your are going nuts waiting to find out what happens to him on the Orange Turnpike, then click this link and buy this book and read it, but remember, even though George MacDonald Fraser is a better writer than I am, you’re still a Jackson Speed fan and you still want to find out what happens to him on the Orange Turnpike!
If you’re not interested in history and you don’t much care for novels but you like funny columns about raising boys, click on this link and buy this book.