Author Interview

How did The Torch come to be written?

HarperCollins asked me if I could write a sequel to The Cartographer, because there had been such a positive reponse to the main character. I decided to write a sequel that begin only a few weeks after The Cartographer had ended, in other words, in January, 1960. I began by writing a synopsis, then breaking it down into chapters. I then wrote chapter 17, really, to see if the voice was still there. It felt as if I had never been away. 

How long did it take to write the novel?

The first draft took about twelve weeks, which is about nine thousand words a week. For the second draft I added about fifteen thousand words, mainly because I introduced a few knew characters. I think Aunty Daphne was one of those. Lettuce Gettis was another. 

The Torch has a huge number of characters. What's going on there?

While writing The Cartographer I had a lot of fun creating new characters, some of whom were only there for one scene, e.g. Alfalfa, the bloke in the railway shed. In reality, a child on the loose would run into a lot of people. With the sequel, I simply decided not to impose limits on the cast, with the result that there are something 120 different people either mentioned (think aunts and uncles) or having an active role. Also, my publisher asked for the narrator’s friends to be given more story space. I was happy to do this, as the main character is  something of a manipulator, and who better to manipulate than his friends? 

Why did you decide to relate a lot of the action to an actual event that was big news at the time?

I did this in The Cartographer (with the idea of the counterfeit plates) and enjoyed the hook with reality it lent to the plot. I didn't have to look far for something else that was big news in the fifties. But the research was a big job. But the main event of the summer of 1959-60 was the heat wave, which was a great backdrop for the story.

Which character was the most fun to create write for?

Uncle Seamus. Like the kid, and like Barney, he's a misunderstood and often  misjudged person. But unlike the other adult male characters, he really wouldn't hurt a fly. I like that very much.

Which character was the most difficult to get just right?

As in The Cartographer, that would be the main character’s mother. A few people have asked me why I didn't develop her more; the reason is, because she is potentially strong enough to overwhelm the kid's own story. So I needed to keep her constantly present without minimising her role, and without overstating it. One of the ways I did this is by introducing a character who is similar to her, only gentler. That is Raffi's mum.

Why are there so many memory digressions?

The kid's life is only twelve years long, and the only bits worth remembering are just a few years old. Thus, the kid's past is not as 'historical' as, say, the reader’s own past would be, and he is able to refer to it with an immediacy and freshness which to him is not much different than last week. So he does. In a way, he becomes aware of one aspect of temporal relationship when he discusses coincidence. While it's true that his life is so abundant in coincidence purely because he gets around, it's also true that he has a consciousness of the nature of events (especially their freshness) that few people of any age have. 

Is the setting of The Torch identical to that of The Cartographer?

Yes. I actually made a minute change to one of the features on the original map, because the story required it. Other than that, the environment is the same. Of course, a few new objects have been added. 

The Torch is strongly grounded in the geography of the location. How authentic is the Richmond of the book?

There have been very few tweaks to the authentic Richmond. Here and there I have changed the name of a street, mainly for the effect of the sound itself. And I have added a few buildings, houses etc, for example, the cemetery in 'Fawkner' Street. But I actually visited the area and walked the streets, to see how much they had changed since my childhood. Not a lot, really.

The Cartographer is a violent story, with a body count. In fact, the kid witnesses two deaths, not counting Tom (which is backstory). Does The Torch have a body count?

The main character witnesses two new deaths, and a possible third, though details are not given. 

What tactics does the kid chiefly use to get things done?

Lying is high on his list. He has learnt, for example, that is okay to lie to certain people, e.g. the police. Also, he is an expert assessor of what PG Wodehouse's Jeeves would have called 'the psychology of the individual'. In other words, he is good at seeing how a person might be manipulated. Finally, he is aware that he has charms, especially with what his Uncle Ivor refers to as 'the weaker sex' (though he knows perfectly well that his uncle has got that idea completely wrong). 

Are you planning to write any more novels about the kid?

I am already writing a third novel about the kid, which begins just a few weeks after The Torch ends. Really, when the kid wants to tell a story, you have to let him do it - he’s your basic gasbag.

Copyright ©  Peter Twohig. All rights reserved.