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London, 1926. Henry Twist is a single father in a world without single fathers, and decides to keep the baby a secret. Then, one evening, a strange man steps out of the shadows, saying his name is Jack. Henry is helplessly drawn to this man, who reminds him of his dead wife. As the two men grow closer, Henry has to ask: who really sent Jack?

The Haunting of Henry Twist is set to the backdrop of a postwar London, where the Bright Young People dance until dawn. Rebecca F. John tells us why they had to be part of Henry Twist's tale.

Rebecca F John

There’s a possibility that my truest self resides within my writing. Outwardly, I’m pragmatic, contained.  I’m probably fairly difficult to read.  My writing, however, is more colourful; it has a much better flare for the dramatic; it makes no effort to hide any part of itself. It is, I suppose, my freedom.  And so it’s through my words that my romanticism leaks, and my doubts skulk out from the shadows, and my ideals are allowed to roam freely. I am, on occasion, an unashamed idealist, and as such, I can pick and choose which facets of reality I include in my stories. I don’t think I have ever yet written a story which includes or alludes to modern technology – because I have little interest in it beyond its necessary applications.  

When it came to writing about the 1920s, therefore, I approached the task fully aware that I was going to cheat a tad, that I was going to spotlight the parts which interested me most. After all, it would be im
possible to encompass every detail of that chaotic decade; Ihad to choose.

The Bright Young People, though, did not offer me a choice. The Bright Young People refused to be ignored.

They were too loud, too exuberant, too vivid and sparky and brimming with the urge to live. They – much like the unhappy character of Matilda, whose meddling spins the lives of her friends into mayhem – appeared on the page and demanded a place to stay.

And that joie de vivre was the very light against which the eponymous Henry’s darkness needed to be considered. Here was a man who had lost everything he’d lived for when his wife was killed, and all around life – with all its beautiful possibilities, its delights – was being thrust at him. Initially, the Bright Young People and their carefree parties served as a simple contrast to an existence thrown into emptiness. They were spilling over, while Henry had been drained dry.  

But as I learnt more about that ready gang, so my appreciation of the opportunities for freedom and choice they embodied Henry Twistgrew. I read about their extravagances; I read about the thriving gay clubs in London at that time; and I felt certain that any of those engaged with the Bright Young People would have openly accepted an act of love, regardless of its unfortunate legislative status. For Henry, therefore, and for Jack, the character who appears to claim his heart, they came to represent hope – for change, for acceptance, for a future they could belong within.  Such is the accidental design of the writer. The Bright Young People partied their way into my novel, understanding, before I fully did, that they had arrived as a vehicle for hope, for progress, and for love. And that was entirely apt, given that The Haunting of Henry Twist is, first and foremost, a love story. It might not be a conventional example; it might not always offer certain characters their deserved endings; but it is a story fired by passion and honesty and the willingness to gamble everything for the person you want.  

What else could it be, then, but a love story? And what better idea is there to imbue a love story with than that of the dancing, feathered freedom of the Bright Young People?


Read an extract from The Haunting of Henry Twist, which is out now.
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