This post has been more than heavily influenced by Tim's wonderful little blog about P.G Wodehouse the week before last. Currently, I'm in book finishing hell (a little non-fiction number I will tell you about anon) which has involved a) writing it very quickly and b) then doing a major rewrite because of a). I've been working seven days a week, 15 hours a day for the past few weeks, and as any writer knows when they're faced with that kind of work load you need to dangle yourself one almighty carrot at the end to help get you through the slog.
I have two carrots. One is researching another book, which involves cricket (yay! you all cry) and I can't wait to start. The second is a promise to escape into the world of a fiction, and specifically the world of one of English literature's greatest comic creations, Flashman.
I first read the Flashman books by George MacDonald Fraser when I was a teenager and loved them. I've re-read a few since then and still loved them. Now, or at least in a week or so time, as a treat I'm going to read them all from start to glorious finish, and I can't wait.
I should hate Flashman. He is a sexist, racist, empire-loving coward. I once read an interview with Fraser and it was clear that Flashman's opinion were not that much of a caricature of his own. But Fraser wrote like a dream, he knew his history backwards and inside out, and in Flashman he created a character for the ages. Or re-created him. Flashman first turns up as the school bully in the very dreary Tom Brown's Schooldays. Fraser had the wonderful idea to take Flashman, still have him as a bully, but make him an incorrigible shagger and carouser who would turn and run at the first hint of trouble, putting the safety of his own skin above that of all others, and then place him at the scene of some of the 19th century's most famous and infamous events.
So, we have Flashman at Little Big Horn (his Native American - though Flashy would laugh uproariously at such politically correct pussyfooting - name: He Who Rides So Fast He Breaks the Wind, or Windbreaker for short) at Harper's Ferry, the first Anglo-Afghan War, The Charge of the Light Brigade, the Indian Mutiny, taking the first hat-trick in cricket history; and meeting Queen Victoria (who fancies him obviously) Custer (a psychotic), Abraham Lincoln (cool and collected), John Brown (another psychotic), Otto Von Bismarck (see Custer and Brown), Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar and Oscar Wilde ('an overfed trout in a toupé') and countless others. If they're female, he beds them. If they're warlike and brave, he hates them. If they're craven and cowardly like him, he gets the hell away from them before they rumble him as another wuss.
The central conceit is that wherever he goes he ends up hiding and crying and whimpering, but inevitably ends up being crowned the hero despite himself. Despite this predictability, the books are so much fun and so funny that you don't care. They also work as good introductions to history. They're so accurate and well researched that the occasional dopey historian was known to write to Fraser asking if they could have a look at the papers that Fraser draws the stories from (the basis for the books is that Fraser 'found' the memoirs in 1965 in an antique tea-chest in an antique salesroom 'wrapped in oilskin.')
Rather annoyingly, one of the insults hurled at our Prime Minister, the posh, arrogant and short-tempered David Cameron, is that he's like Flashman. Perhaps in Tom Brown's Schooldays, but Flashy fans know their hero is funny, self-deprecating and charming, despite being an obvious cad and a bounder (or because of it.) About the only trait he shares with our horrible PM is cowardice, though the crucial difference is that Flashman admits his.
So, after these past mad few weeks, I'm looking forward to Flash for Sanity!