Speed’s English ancestry

Allan Pinkerton, America's first detective, was born in Scotland. The Pinkerton in the Speed novels is a Partick Thistle fan.

Allan Pinkerton, America’s first detective, was born in Scotland. The Pinkerton in the Speed novels is a Partick Thistle fan.

I’ve written before that the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser provided much of the inspiration for Jackson Speed, and there is no question that the Jackson Speed books are similar to the Harry Flashman novels.

The character type – the roving rascal, the womanizing coward, the historical bully – is inspired by Fraser’s Flashman. I also employed the same tool of holding out the novels as “found” memoirs. It is a fact, too, that Jackson Speed was dreamt up while I was re-reading Flashman (for the third time) and reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative.

But the deeper I get into writing the Speed novels, the less I think I rely on Flashman and the more Speed has become his own person. I’ll admit, when I wrote the first Speed novel, “El Teneria,” the voice speaking to me in my head was more Flashman than Speed.

But I’ve found, particularly with “Orange Turnpike” and “High Tide” and now as I write the fifth Speed novel, that the voice I hear in my head is Speed’s voice.

It helps, too, that having written him through Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, I think Speed is more American now than he was in “El Teneria.”

Let me explain: Even though I live in rural Georgia, a British accent is a commonplace thing for me. I know several guys who are English and living here. I play soccer with them all the time. I watch English Premier League soccer and Scottish Premiership soccer, so the announcers all have English or Scottish accents. I follow on Twitter and Facebook many fans of the Scottish soccer team Partick Thistle, and I read their tweets and posts every Saturday morning. And because we’re all Partick Thistle fans, I get to read a lot of cussing, so much so, that I even gripe and moan and complain with a Scottish accent these days (liberally laced with “fook” and “pish” and “shite”).

I watch Top Gear and, at least when I wrote “El Teneria,” I watched a lot of Doctor Who and even Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.

So, I may speak with a Southern drawl and I may be surrounded by Southern accents here in rural Georgia, but I am still constantly exposed to various British accents.

And because Jackson Speed was so heavily influenced by Harry Flashman, I think Speed started life with more of an English influence than I ever intended.

But the more I write (and gain confidence in my own character and my own writing), the less Flashman influences Speed. My character has grown into his own. And he’s developed his own voice, with a properly Southern accent. It helps, too, that he’s been through some very American experiences and been hanging out with very American people. I mean, how can you keep your English influences when you count among your friends people like Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee?

Without question, Jackson Speed traces his lineage back to England, and his ancestors are Harry Flashman and the guys from Top Gear and Premier League announcers, but I think he is now fully and completely American and, more importantly, Southern.

Nevertheless, I continue to owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow Partick Thistle fans on Twitter and Facebook (and the Scottish sitcom “Still Game”), and they will continue to find their way into the Jackson Speed books. I get my Allan Pinkerton dialect from Partick Thistle fans. Pinkerton, of course, pre-dates Partick Thistle’s founding, but I am confident America’s first detective would have been a Thistle supporter.

The fifth book is coming along very well now. Speed is currently hanging out in Indian Territory with Stand Watie, but he will soon be making his way west to encounter Joaquin Murieta.

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