In less than a week, It Begins In Betrayal, will be out, I would like to reflect on one aspect that goes into the writing of the books…no, not the giant cups of tea and mornings wrapped in my now deplorably tatty fluffy pink bathrobe, (I may be on the verge of simply nationalizing my husband’s fluffy blue bathrobe…but that is a discussion for another day. )
Rather, I would like to talk about the values that Lane and Darling share. They are values that my very British parents, who were born in 1911 and 1912 respectively, inculcated in me from the moment I arrived. Because my mother herself was presented at court when she ‘came out’ in the 1929 London Season, she considered us part of the gentleman class, and therefore very much bound by the values that in her mind were central to our identity.
I can see now that four of these values are inherent in the behaviour of the characters because Lane, as Lizzie Bennet said of herself, “is a gentleman’s daughter”, and Darling is what my mother very much admired, a ‘natural gentleman.’ These are, if I may give them names, 1. the duty of escape, 2. the word of a gentleman, 3. the obligations to others with whom one has ties and 4. an absolute stricture to never draw attention to oneself. While these four values are deeply woven into the stories thus far, they are a prominent undercurrent or driver for the action in It Begins In Betrayal.
1. Duty to escape. I remember my mother told me about this when I was a child, and I thought it terribly noble, and on a practical level I came to understand it to mean ‘get yourself out of your own scrapes’ and so whatever messes I got into in life it never occurred to me that anyone else should help me. The idea for the book came because there has been an ongoing discussion between Lane Winslow, the heroine of my series, and Inspector Darling of the Nelson Police about Lane being rescued. During their adventures, Lane has several times been in dangerous situations and always manages to rescue herself, or get a damn good start, just as he is about to sweep in. He finds it challenging that she should want to do everything herself, she finds it intolerable to be in a situation where she is in danger, and believes profoundly that she must exert every personal effort to extricate herself. She does not think for an instant about being a woman, and while she is grateful to see Darling looming up to help, she has already done most of the work. Now, I thought, what if she had to rescue him?
2. The word of a gentleman. In this book, Darling is accused of the murder of his young rear gunner in battle conditions. Lane does not doubt for a moment that he is innocent. He has said he is and she trusts that. For one thing he has already proven beyond a doubt to her that he is a thoughtful and profoundly ethical man, but for another, she is very much driven by the idea that a gentleman’s word is his bond. So strong was this value in my home that I have lived my whole life believing what I am told by people, and I will say, in particular after 40 years of working with adolescents including those in the gravest difficulties, I have rarely been proved wrong. Believing people is the right thing to do, and Lane believes Darling without a shadow of doubt.
3. The obligation to help a friend. This value is most amusingly captured in literature by PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, who is constantly obliged to help his friends out of scrapes because of the ‘old school tie’. As a gentleman he must come to their aid, regardless of how it imperils him. So too must Lane. We could certainly say that love is a motivation, but it is deeper than that. She would never leave a friend in the lurch. It is her duty to help, regardless of the cost to her, and it is great.
4. Do not draw attention to yourself. Finally, there is the value of not making a fuss, a kind of humility about what one has done. Both my parents absolutely embodied the gentlemanly, as I saw it, code of dismissing their achievements as being inconsequential, (many people today recognize this one in particular to be quintessentially British) What they did ‘anybody would have done’ and it is considered the height of poor taste to draw attention to oneself, let alone overtly boast about anything. I was certainly taught that no one wanted to know how I felt about anything, and I grew up imbibing that peculiar brand of British modesty that some may see as a kind of false modesty that in fact draws attention to itself. “Well, yes, I did climb Everest without oxygen wearing flip flops…but my dear, a child of five could have done it.” It is nevertheless a real value, and people who embody it feel a genuine embarrassment about having achievements celebrated by others unless they are made light of.