Forced to work out a debt in the service of dubious tradesman Ambrose Savidge, eleven year old Tom is desperate to find out what happened to his father. Told his father was a thief who disappeared leaving his family to starve, Tom believes Savidge knows more than he is telling.
Tom and Savidge burgle a house, where two men secretly watch their progress. Later, Tom meets another boy – Charlie. When one of the stolen books leads to an encounter with the mysterious Martin Deacon, Tom is offered the opportunity to rid himself of Savidge. Deacon introduces Tom to magistrate Jack Holt, his daughter Emily and her mother Elizabeth. Holt lures Savidge to the house where he is caught stealing saddles and thrown in gaol.
Tom embarks on his new position with Deacon and begins to learn about the mysterious updraft in the passageway of Deacon’s library, which allows them to pass through a gateway into different time divisions.
Targeted Age Group:: Mid-range children’s book: 9-12 years
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve always been interested in 17th century London and how people lived in those times. I wanted to write a story that reflected something of the reality of everyday life, but I also wanted to have a magical or fantastical element to the plot. As with all my children’s books, the story is essentially the sort of adventure I’d have liked to have had as a child, though without the threat of 17th century diseases, murders and plague!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The hero of the novel – Tom – popped into my head almost fully formed, though unlike the rest of my novels, I did spend quite a bit of time thinking about the characters and the story before I started writing. I also wanted to have villains who sounded like villains, hence the characters of Savidge and Felch. The other characters came along when I needed them, which was handy.
Something wet and heavy lands with a thump on his chest. If Tom hadn’t been fully awake before, he certainly is now. He sits up and blinks. The heavy wet thing falls into his lap and he sees that it’s a faded brown leather boot, plastered with mud. “Oh no,” he murmurs. “Savidge.”
“Master Fennel. Mar-Stah-Fen-Nel.” The voice is beginning to sound more than a little irritated. A shaft of light from the half-open shutters slides across the floor and over the counterpane, highlighting the faded pattern. Tom jumps out of bed and picking up the boot, walks over the bare floorboards to the window. Pulling his nightshirt down to a respectable length, he heaves the shutters fully open, flooding the small attic room with light. The sun is above the skyline already. Tom leans over the windowsill, blinking in the sudden brightness.
Savidge stands directly beneath the overhanging window, glaring upwards. His face is rather more beetroot-coloured than usual and he is balancing quite gracefully on one foot in a manner Tom would have admired if Savidge had been anyone else. As it is, Savidge is not a person to be admired at any time of day, and as Savidge is fond of saying, “Savidge is as Savidge does” (whatever that means). Tom judges that this is not a time for compliments. This is a time for good manners.
“Good morning, Mister Savidge, sir.”
“Well, hey and a ho, the sleeping ‘ave arisen,” Savidge announces with a loud burp. “And excuse I,” he continues “for ‘aving deigned to cast a boot in your general direction. Pleasant dream?” He draws a wide, leering smile then drops the hint of joviality and demands “What of the clock do you s’ppose this hour might be, sir?”
Tom leans forward and cranes his neck in the direction of the church tower whose gleaming white clock-face peeks between the houses at the end of the lane. “Er, two minutes after seven, I believe, Mister Savidge sir,” he says with a hopeful grin.
“Don’t you smile that cunnin’ little smile at me, Master Fennel,” barks Savidge. “I’ll not be for taming today. You sort your body and ‘ead together and show some liveliness afore I take a leather to your backside. And throw down my boot, if it ain’t too much trouble.”
Tom drops the muddied boot into Savidge’s outstretched hand. Savidge catches it and swings himself around into a position that allows him to lean against the wall of the house in order to replace the aforementioned item. Then, stamping both feet on the ground as if to verify that he is once more fully dressed, Savidge cocks his head to one side. Without looking up, he shouts “Still there?”
Tom quickly pulls his head inside the room and runs to the dresser by his bed. Lifting the jug out of the bowl, he pours a small amount of water, takes a deep breath and with a quick movement, splashes his face and neck. Grabbing a cloth from the hook by the door, he scrubs himself dry.
Less than a minute later, he’s snatched up the old leather satchel he always carries and is through the door to the street where he finds Savidge glaring down at him from the top seat of the cart. “Well, good day to you, sir” he says, wiping a stubbly chin with the mucky sleeve of his topcoat. “Thought we’d lost ye to the world.” The man gestures for Tom to climb aboard the cart and barely has he done so than it begins to lurch away up the lane.
Across the way, watching from a darkened room above the cobbler’s shop, a man leans forward and gently opens the casement. The bowed windows and jettied structure of the upper storey allow him to peer along the narrow thoroughfare and watch Savidge’s cart as it trundles up the cobbled street. When the lopsided vehicle eventually disappears around the corner, the man pulls the window shut and turns his attention to the fair-haired girl pushing open the door to the house that Tom has just vacated. He watches for a few minutes. When she comes out again, he waits for a moment, then hurries down the stairs.
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