The novel is finished. ‘Glint of Light on Broken Glass’ is my first historical novel, although my editor reached the half-way point still expecting a body to turn up. It began life as an unpublished short story way back in 1990 called ‘A Ghost in my Eye’. During the First World War, a crippled boy drops his spectacles into a pool, chips them, and becomes convinced the glasses are haunted by a water spirit. Around 2001 I revised the story to set it in Guernsey, re-titling it ‘A Glint in the Eye’, mixing it into local folklore and changing its ending.
Sometimes a plot is far too good to be wasted on a short story. Since publishing the short, the plot began to expand in my mind. George and his spectacles were the starting point, but what about his brother Artie? He was originally just a bit-player, but I began to build Artie’s story considering how he would deal with having a crippled brother with a worrying obsession. He adds a solid and grounded core to the magic-realist elements of the plot. Artie’s story can of course go where George’s cannot. This is bolstered by adding the rest of the family: Marie, Jack and Henry. And what would happen if the family were to have a second child with George’s physical problems?
Then came Edith. Again she began as supporting character, the woman that troubles the lives of both young men. Yet Edith was too strong a personality to be shoved to the sidelines, she demands centre stage. Readers could indeed view this novel as Edith’s story as she gradually asserts her hold on us. Some of the draft titles effectively confirmed this. Quite late in the edit I firmed up the three-person viewpoint, eliminating scenes where none of the trio were there, following them closely through the trials that follow.
The rest of the cast followed naturally – Edith’s dissolute mother Ruth, the mysterious Mrs Patterson and the many friends, relations and colleagues that flow through the story. I already knew most of the period detail so it was a matter of fitting the tale of three young people to the established history of Guernsey from 1897 through into the 1920’s.I took a few liberties with actual historical persons such as ‘the last witch in Guernsey’ Mrs Lake and the Rector of the Castel, mentioning many others who never appear in person.
From a short story of 23 pages came a novel of close to 400. From the story of a lonely young man looking for a friend, emerges a much bigger tale of an island community at war facing a century of change.