Thursday, 4 June 2015

Garvie Smith – from the little black book to Running Girl

Today's guest blog post is by author Simon Mason.  He is the author of four children's novels and has been nominated for the Guardian Children Fiction Prize.  In 1990 he was awarded the Betty Trask Award. In his post Simon talks about Garvie Smith the character for his latest novel Running Girl.

I keep notes of ideas.  On 3 April 2010 I scribbled in my little black book: A thought while running, in the rain, this afternoon.  A crime novel.  Realistic.  Starring a teenage boy called, say, Jack.  Jack is seventeen, lives with his mother in a flat in a big city.  Full of danger.  He is bright, lazy, interested in girls, etc.  Gets into trouble with teachers, his mother, occasionally the police.  But he has intelligence, and a conscience.

For a while I thought that was my first glimpse of Garvie Smith; in fact I soon realised I’d seen him before.  And after a while I remembered where: he was one of my son’s best friends.  That’s a way of describing a process many other writers will be familiar with, the process of making a vague notion concrete.  Once I’d had the hazy, generalized idea of a character – clever and good-hearted but lazy – the first thing my (somewhat lazy) imagination did was to search my memory of lived experience for close matches.  It came up with my son’s friend – and Garvie Smith leapt into focus.  Now I knew what he looked like (slim, dark-haired, good-looking) and what, precisely, he was good at (maths, smoking, thinking, being charming), and where his mother was from (Barbados) and that his father wasn’t around.

Obviously this isn’t to say that my son’s friend is Garvie Smith: they simply share certain characteristics; they overlap slightly.  As I continued to think about Garvie, he developed along distinctly original lines.  He took up weed in a big way, he became more bored and more feckless than ever, and he fell into the habit of lying to his mother, cheeking the police and ignoring school.  Frankly, I’m not proud of any of these tendencies.  But he also showed a certain code of conduct, a conscience, and a determination to right wrongs.  Naturally he immediately hid these virtues as much as he possibly could.  More importantly, from the beginning he had the ability to see things others missed, even though (he’s not a natural explainer) he doesn’t always bother to tell others what’s going on.

I’m sometimes asked which of the great detectives he resembles most.  Like Sherlock, he can be pitilessly rational: he sees the signal in the noise.  Yet I fancy he’s more empathetic than he would like to appear.  In Running Girl he realizes that Chloe wasn’t wearing her own shoes because she would never have worn something so un-colour-coordinated.  In that, perhaps he’s more like Hercule Poirot, the master psychologist.  Poirot, however, is a conformist.  Garvie – like Sherlock (another drug user) – is a maverick, happy to take the law into his own hands.  I think also that there’s also a touch of Philip Marlowe about Garvie too, another character whose prickly attitude hides a good heart.

In truth, though, the most important and dramatic fact about Garvie is that he is a young man with a powerful brain who shows a marked disinclination – at least while in school – to do anything at all with it.  He’s the most disaffected person I know.  Thinking the world has done nothing for him, he’s not about to go out of his way to do anything for the world.  He doesn’t want to do anything to help himself either: it would be too much effort.  I fear for him.  It seems that the only thing that really gets his attention is a murder.

In Running Girl it’s the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Chloe that gets under his skin.  He can’t
let it alone.  This is mainly unfortunate for the police who are already working on the case, in particular the uptight Sikh detective Raminder Singh.  Singh is Garvie’s opposite: dutiful, ordered, ambitious, and energetic.  Recently promoted and in charge of his first murder investigation, he feels in no need of help from the notorious slacker Smith.  What ensues is less of a collaboration, more of an inspired interference.  Garvie sees what Singh misses, but his contribution to the investigation is unorthodox to say the least.  If I fear for Garvie I feel sorry for Singh.

Singh, by the way, wasn’t part of my original plan.  He’s one of those characters (I usually have one per book) who gatecrashes a story and won’t leave.  Perhaps now he wishes he had.

Some readers have asked what’s in store for Garvie in the future.  So far as his mother is concerned the immediate answer is obvious: his exams.  Garvie seems less concerned.  And when a kid from school is found in the middle of the night neatly dressed in his school uniform, complete with school bag and violin case, bleeding to death on an industrial estate, he can’t help getting interested.  DI Singh, recently demoted, could definitely use some help – but he thinks that any more help from troublemaker Smith could see him actually dismissed from the force.

Beyond that I don’t see Garvie settling down much, or fitting in.  I don’t see him passing his exams either.  He wouldn’t want to compromise his laziness.  Perhaps he’ll drift for the next few years, get out into the world.  He might think that – at last – he’ll finally have the opportunity to loaf, to treat being busy with the contempt it deserves.  But I can’t help thinking that if he happens to find himself lazing in the vicinity of a murder he won’t be able to resist getting involved.

Running Girl by Simon Mason is published 4th June by David Fickling Books, price £7.99 in paperback

Running Girl

Garvie Smith is a school boy hero: charming, brilliant, and with the highest ever IQ reported at Marsh Academy. Unfortunately, he's also a complete slacker. But when his ex-girlfriend Chloe Dow's body is pulled out of a local pond, Garvie's attention is piqued. Meanwhile, ambitious young policeman DI Singh has just been given his first ever murder case, and he's determined to prove himself. What he definitely doesn't need is any help from a cocky teenage boy - or does he?

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