Putting your novel in time and place.
Had it not been for the E-resources of the State Library of New South Wales, my latest novel, The Merry Millionaire would hardly possess the depth of historical accuracy that it does.
Ronald Fry, my principle character and protagonist in the story finds his day entirely incomplete should he fail to open the pages of The Times at least once. As a result, since the majority of this gay, rollicking travel adventure takes place on luxury ocean liners, sumptuous Egyptian express trains and opulent oriental hotels, the opportunity to find a current copy is most difficult and highly unlikely. Consequently, when Ron manages to get his hands on a Times, be it two days or even a week old, he hungrily pours over it like a schoolboy devouring The Hotspur weekly.
In The Merry Millionaire I use Ron’s insatiable desire for catching up with current affairs as a way to place him in his world; the world of early 1937. This is where the E-resources at The State Library of New South Wales became invaluable since here can be found, digitalised, the entire collection of The Times from 1785 until the year 2008. What in The Times would grab Ron’s attention, you may ask? The trial of two Royal Engineer captains accused of misconduct regarding their out of hours activities as Scout Masters, for one.
The Merry Millionaire, Part 2, Chapter 1
Four boys, all scouts, or former boy scouts, from a north London scout troop, were making accusations towards two army officers, Captain Loftus Tottenham, and Captain Jocelyn Chase, of the Royal Engineers. However, given both men had distinguished army records, and were accomplished sportsmen prior to their arrest; Loftus Tottenham in Hockey and Water Polo, and Chase, appropriately, in Athletics, it appeared the police were willing to hush up the allegations and encourage the officers to escape abroad until the whole thing blew over. Nonetheless, proceedings were reinstated after Captain Chase contacted his commanding officer, explaining his and Loftus Tottenham’s absence from duty. Arriving back in the country from Belgium, they were arrested at Victoria Station and prepared to face a Court Martial, accused of committing forty-four acts of gross indecency and disgraceful conduct towards civilian boys while acting as scout masters at the Hendon scout troop.
The Cleveland Street Scandal, involving no less than an heir to the British throne, for another.
“Very well,” I said, while sampling a particularly good French example, “As I unwrapped a china tureen, a headline caught my eye, ‘Earl of Euston sues for libel.’ Reading on, I discovered the Earl was embroiled in slanderous accusations made by a north London newspaper, the editor connecting the Earl to the goings on in a brothel in Cleveland Street, just behind Tottenham Court Road.” With our plates of beef, roast potatoes, cabbage, and parsnips, now before us, of course, as soon as I uttered the word brothel I realised I had the lad’s complete attention, since all three had ceased eating. “Who’s the Earl of Euston when he’s at home?” said Mervyn. “The eldest son of the Duke of Grafton. It appears Lord Euston was walking down Piccadilly one evening, when a tout handed him a card. On it was printed, ‘Charles Hammond. 19 Cleveland Street, London,’ and in italics, ‘Poses Plastiques’” “What’s that mean?” asked Teddy. “Living nudes, more or less,” I answered. “Women or men?” Mervyn sniggered. “That’s what Lord Euston was about to discover.”
Furthermore, since Ron himself was involved in the infamous raid on the Caravan Club, notorious homosexual London night club of the 1930’s, he would have found tantalising the account of the trial at Bow Street Magistrate’s Court.
At Shelton Street, we turned right and then left into Endell Street, and at the end, stopping at a set of traffic lights. “See the old school,” I said, pointing to a brick edifice through the rain streaked back window of the taxi, “There’s a basement next door and a door leading to the infamous Caravan Club.” “Infamous!” asked Mervyn, “Why? What went on?” “What didn’t go on, you mean. About three years ago, if you were the way we are, then the Caravan was the place to go in London.
There you could drink, relax, dance, make new friends, and see a live show. No holds barred.” “How do you know? Did you ever go?” “Once or twice; around the time I met you.” “You sneaky beggar!” Mervyn said, laughing, “Hey! If it’s so good, why don’t we pay the cabby and go in?” “The police closed it down. I was there the night it was raided and was one of the seventy seven men arrested.” “You! Arrested!” Mervyn exclaimed, “I don’t believe it.”
No two gentlemen about town on Coronation Night would be stuck with nowhere to dine or be entertained. So it was easy for Ron and his young protégé, Mervyn, just to take up The Times and pick a gay venue at which to wine and dine, then choose a show at the many West End Theatres offering entertainment that night. Here then my task was easy, since all that was required was to open The Times Archive, select the day, 12th May, 1937, find the entertainment columns and make a choice, thereby placing my two happy chaps right there in the moment.
Three cheers I say for the State Library of New South Wales and their wonderful E-resources facility, completely invaluable to the biofictional writer.