We’re so pleased to welcome GayRomLit attending author Christina Pilz to The Novel Approach today to chat about how she came to fall in love with Oliver Twist.
Enjoy Christina’s guest post, then be sure to leave a comment below for the chance to win a copy of her historical novel based on the characters Oliver and Jack Dawkins, Oliver & Jack: At Lodgings in Lyme.
Christina is giving readers 2 ways to win: A Paperback copy of the book to one US or Canada winner, and an E-copy of the book to one International winner.
THIS CONTESTS IS CLOSED
Swimming With Nazis: or How I Fell In Love With Oliver Twist
When I was very little, the Air Force moved our family to Winnweiler, Germany, where we lived off-base for the first year. I spoke German and went to a German kindergarten. And because my mother was otherwise occupied having a fine time playing bridge and eating fresh, German pretzels, I wandered in the wilds of the Black Forest, unsupervised. I remember seeing the remnants of gypsy caravan camps that had been ravaged by time, but in what was left of the caravans, you could still see bullet holes.
Sometimes my sisters and I swam in the local swimming pool with large, jolly men, because Germans were all about being athletic. They seemed rather eager to show us how they could wiggle the joints for their missing fingers and to point out their scars and tell us that when they were younger that they had fought in the war. That they’d worn the uniform. That they’d marched in the parades. I had no idea who these men were, only that they were nice to me.
While we were in Germany, my parents also thought it was a good idea to take us to a concentration camp museum for a bit of history. I’m thinking it was Dachau. For years after seeing those piles of shoes, and eyeglasses, and hunks of shorn hair, and pictures of Jews in striped uniforms being tortured and starved, I had nightmares about Nazis.
Don’t get me wrong, while Nazis give me the creeps, the Germans were great because Germans love kids, and I was the cutest little blond-haired blue-eyed child they had ever seen. But it never occurred to me until later that the men in the pool were the same men who had tortured Jews and slaughtered civilians during the war. It was the late ‘60’s, you see, only 20 years after the end of WWII, and the Germans still remembered because the marks from the war were still all around them.
Then in the summer of 1969, we went to England for a two-week vacation.
For me, coming from history-drenched, post-war Germany to England was like stepping into a fairy land. It felt like home because not only did everybody speak English, I did not see any scars from the war. I’m sure there were scars, as London survived The Blitz after all, but there were no concentration camps, and no men who told stories about what they’d done in the war. England is country that should be very proud of having given those Jerrys a good, solid drubbing, and they certainly didn’t brag about it.
Even better, English food tasted a whole lot nicer to my untutored palate, what with the sweet tea and softly scrambled eggs for breakfast along with a nice sausage and some toast. All of which is so much more appealing than discovering in your German breakfast a bit of half-cooked bacon inside of your pancake.
The contrast between the two countries was rather huge in other ways, for although the English love kids too, they are more subtle about it. Instead of being forced to say guten Tag to a rather scary looking and large, loud German guy in an overly decorated green Tyrolean hat, I would get a gentle nod from a woman in a printed apron as she patted my blond hair and served me a slice of Victoria sponge to go with my tea, without asking my parents if she might do this, because, for some reason, my parents were nowhere to be found.
Combine all of this with the rather transitive state of a six year old brain and a parentally unsupervised trip to the movie theater with your siblings where Oliver! is playing and you have yourself a life-changing event.
Having been totally prepared for yet another boring movie in which there is a lot of talking about nothing that could ever mattered to a six year old, along came this little boy, and he was like me. He had blonde hair and blue eyes, and his whole life seemed to be made up of being pushed around in a world where nothing made much sense but which must be dealt with. Plus, for an added bonus, he had no parents. He was an orphan.
I could almost feel the wetwire in my brain becoming hardwired forever as I fell in love with the little boy on the screen.
And I don’t mean a little in love, I mean passionately forever-in-love. Looking back, I can identify this moment as a recognition of a mirror self and all that psychology stuff, but Oliver Twist was so damn cute that nobody questioned why I loved him. Nor asked why I was in love with Mark Lester, who played him. At the age of seven or eight, when we moved to Forbes AFB in Topeka, Kansas, I wrote myself a little reminder note that I was going to marry Mark Lester one day, and while everyone around me thought this was oh-so-cute, I was fairly certain that they did not understand the depth of my devotion.
I followed Mark Lester’s career for years; if there was a movie he was in, I saw it, and in that age of no VHS machines, no Netflix, this was quite a feat. Some of the movies appealed to me more than others, though the more the character Mark played was like Oliver, the better I liked it. I particularly liked him in the TV movie The Boy Who Stole the Elephant, probably because he wore those little suspenders with his trousers. (Come to think of it, that’s when my suspender fetish started.) I also rather enjoyed Crossed Swords, in which Mark played the poor boy and his royal lookalike counterpart. And let us not forget Run Wild, Run Free, which was about Oliver, I mean, Mark, I mean Phillip and a white Welsh pony. OMG.
So that, my friends, is how an obsession starts. You get imprinted at a young age, and it never leaves you, never.
I had a subscription to Tiger Beat magazine, so that on a regular basis I got new pics of my fave. By Junior High, I had also determined to read the book the movie was based on, such was my devotion. Much to my shock, unlike in the movie, in the book Fagin dies in the end, and Oliver’s best friend Jack goes missing in the middle. He gets deported, you see, for fumbling the theft of a two-penny-half-penny snuffbox.
Did I know then that Jack was Oliver’s best friend? Of course I did! Because even at the tender age of six or ten or twelve I knew that Jack and Oliver cared very deeply for each other, that they were, actually, in love.
For it was Jack, you see, who first fed Oliver. Here’s how it happened: After starving for years at Mrs. Mann’s baby farm and after being starved and beaten at the workhouse for six to nine months (Dickens plays it very loose with his timelines), Oliver meets up with Jack in Barnet, a town north of London. (As to what Jack is doing so far from his own hunting grounds is another story). And what does Jack do? He greets Oliver with a gentle “Hello, my covey, what’s the row?” and then he feeds him a ham sandwich and a beer. I think there was an old woman who gives Oliver a bowl of soup when Oliver first travels to London, but a ham sandwich and a beer is better than soup any day, wouldn’t you say?
That Jack Dawkins (the Artful Dodger) was played in the movie by the also-very-cute Jack Wild was no punishment on the eyes either. Jack Wild was dark and sassy where Mark was blond and sweet and they were such a perfect foil for each other that it was quite easy to think about them being together, doing things, having adventures.
For years, even after my mother threw out all my Tiger Beat paraphernalia, Oliver followed me around, at least in my mind. My little flaxen-haired alter ego and his dark-haired, rather more street-wise boyfriend, kept me company and gave a physical form to the never-ending mental movie about orphans and pickpockets that I took with me everywhere. I even made my friends act out scenes with me until they became tired of my obsession and began mocking me.
Eventually, in Junior High, I allowed myself to be convinced that vampires and shape-shifters were far more interesting than Victorian-era boys, so I was converted for a time. Though, as might not surprise you, the character I invented (the shape-shifting, storm-child Timothy North, aka Shadow) looked rather a lot like Oliver Twist/Mark Lester, but as long as I talked about him controlling storms, turning into a unicorn, and rescuing his best friend (the dark-haired, street-wise vampire, Pascal Brooks), then everyone was okay with that.
Life rolled onward, as it does, with adult cares and concerns, and eventually I became a mortgage-paying, lawn-raking, card-carrying adult. During this time, Oliver morphed into other characters and ideas, but always stayed present, a part of me, in spite of a former boyfriend and an ex-therapist telling me that it was time I put away such childish obsessions. (They wanted me to have more grown-up problems such as drinking and gambling, I guess.) But I never did. I kept Oliver and I kept Jack and woe betide anyone who tried to talk me out of it.
Eventually, after writing about every other character I’d invented except for Oliver and Jack, I knew I had to write about them. I had to, for they were a part of not just my inner emotional landscape, but also my entire being. Without them, I was just an ordinary person with everyday concerns and thoughts. With them, I was interesting (at least to myself) and had ideas that were exciting and adventures that were perilous!
So I did write about them, starting off with Fagin’s Boy: The Further Particulars of a Parish Boy’s Progress. That took me about six years and two layoffs to write, so hesitant was I, probably for fear of screwing up the image I’d held in my head since I was six. But it turned out okay, that book, and so then I wrote another one about my boys called Oliver & Jack: At Lodgings In Lyme, which had a more romantic tone to it, and a more dynamic relationship between the characters. A relationship, might I add, that seemed to need very little input from me as to which direction it should head. (It was one of those cases where the characters take over not just themselves but also the entire story and I was just there to take down dictation.) Currently I’m finishing up a darker tale about Oliver and Jack called Oliver & Jack: In Axminster Workhouse, where Oliver’s worst nightmares come to life, and Jack gets a better idea why his sweetheart is such a foodie.
I do get asked why I don’t write about vampires or werewolves, which is what all the cool kids are writing these days. In part it’s because I like to write about what I like to read about, and while I’ve always been a fan of Dark Shadows (and Christopher Lee’s many iterations of Dracula), I don’t enjoy writing about anything fantasy-based.
I also get asked why I don’t write something more “normal” like a regular romance or maybe even a crime thriller. Sure, I could write something like that, but it’s not what gets my motor running. I prefer writing about the dingy back alleys of Victorian London, about orphans and pickpockets, cute orphans and pickpockets, need I add. I like writing about characters and situations that resonate with me, like how hungry you can get when there’s no one looking out for you, and how gratifying a ham sandwich and a pint of beer can be when given by someone who cares.
But mostly, it’s because I can see in my mind that little flaxen-haired child who looked so like me and who has so faithfully stayed with me all of these years. Who, in effect, saved me from the Nazis. I cannot abandon him, for I cannot abandon myself. And besides, OMG, he is so cute!
Blurb: An ex-apprentice and his street thief companion flee the dangers of Victorian London and the threat of the hangman’s noose in search of family and the promise of a better life. Back of Book Description After Oliver Twist commits murder to protect Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger), both must flee London’s familiar but dangerous environs for safety elsewhere. Together they travel to Lyme Regis in the hopes of finding Oliver’s family. Along the way, Jack becomes gravely ill and Oliver is forced to perform manual labor to pay for the doctor’s bills. While Oliver struggles to balance his need for respectability with his growing love for Jack, Jack becomes disenchanted with the staid nature of village life and his inability to practice his trade. But in spite of their personal struggles, and in the face of dire circumstances, they discover the depth of their love for each other.
Author Bio: I was born in Waco, Texas in 1962. After living on a variety of air force bases, in 1972 my Dad retired and the family moved to Boulder, Colorado. There amidst the clear, dry air of the high plains, as the moss started to grow beneath my feet, my love for historical fiction began with a classroom reading of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I attended a variety of community colleges (Tacoma Community College) and state universities (UNC-Greeley, CU-Boulder, CU-Denver), and finally found my career in technical writing, which, between layoffs, I have been doing for 18 years. During that time, my love for historical fiction and old fashioned objects, ideas, and eras has never waned.
In addition to writing, my interests include road trips around the U.S. and frequent flights to England, where I eat fish and chips, drink hard cider, and listen to the voices in the pub around me. I also love coffee shops, mountain sunsets, prairie storms, and the smell of lavender. I am a staunch supporter of the Oxford comma.
Find out more about Christina and her work on her WEBSITE