A character pesters the author

Jo is back, looking over my shoulder.

“So when do I come in?” she asks, with a frown.

“I’m not even sure you’ll be in this one,” I say.

“How can I not be? I was in the other two. It’s a trilogy, you said.”

“I only said that because I didn’t want to write more than three. I’m not even sure I want to write the third one, but now that I’ve started with Clerkenwell, I might as well.”

“I’m in Shoe Lane,” Jo points out. “That’s not far from Clerkenwell, and there are a number of printers in both places.”

“I didn’t discover there were printers in Shoe Lane till yesterday. How did you know?”

“I live there. So when do I make an appearance in this book?”

“I only just started,” I protest. “I’m barely halfway through the first scene. Right now I don’t know anything except Samson Light is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.”

“Oh, Samson,” Jo says, looking at the ceiling. “That’s Tommy’s tutor, right? I don’t remember whether I’ve met him.”

“I don’t either. That’s part of the problem. I keep having to return to the other books to know where I am. But if I set this one in 1870 –”

“Then I’m thirty-six. A perfect age for an independent woman. I could be running the Illustrated London News by now.”  She starts sorting the pencils in my cup.

“No, you can’t. I’m trying to keep as true to history as possible.” Jo makes a face.

“Jo, I adore you. I do. I made you the detective in the second book. The entire novel went all feminist because of you.”

She smiles. “Of course it did.” She smooths her skirt and perches on the corner of my desk. Easy to do, since she never wears a crinoline. It’s one of the things I like most about her. “Will I be solving the crime they think Samson committed?”

I shake my head. “No. I think I need to have Tommy solve it.”

“But he’s only nineteen!”

“I know, but you see, this was supposed to be the ‘Tommy Jones Mysteries’. In the first one he helps Inspector Slaughter, but he’s hardly even in the second book. He needs more visibility.”

Jo thinks for a moment. “I’d call them the ‘Jo Harris Mysteries’, and make me the detective. Or even the villain.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“What will you do with Rossetti?”

“I don’t need him here. I only needed him for the art mystery.” She looks sad. “Will you miss him?”

“I have no idea,” Jo says haughtily, “since I don’t even know if I’ll be here to miss anyone.”

I say nothing.

Jo sighs. “You take away all my friends, you know. Nan in the first book. Now Rossetti. If you give me a friend, may I keep him, or her, this time?”


“You promise? If I’m in the last book I can keep my friend?”

“Would you like to be with someone? A lover or life partner?” I reach for a pencil.

“Yes. Maybe with a child? A little girl that we can raise together. We could raise a little suffragist, and she could grow up to gain women the right to vote.”

I do some calculations. “If she’s three years old in 1870, she’ll be almost 50 before women get the national franchise.”

Jo’s chin drops. “What? That long? That’s outrageous.”

I shake my head. “I know, I know.”

“Well,” says Jo, her jaw set in that way I’ve come to know so well, “Even if I don’t live to see it, it’s still worth doing.”

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