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Maisie Clifton 1919 I had always planned to lose my virginity to fiance Arthur Clifton in Weston-super-Mare, under the blue plaque that said “Jeffrey Archer lived here”. But then he got drunk in the pub and another man I recognised came along and I thought,”Why not?” As you do. I got pregnant, but I didn’t think it would matter as I was marrying Arthur the following month.
Harry Clifton 1920-33 We’ve all been told to write the first part of our chapters in the first person and in a different font. None of us thinks it adds anything to the story but Jeff insists it’s a brilliant literary device.
Harry was a working-class lad with a heart of gold and his working-class Mum worked all hours in Mrs Tilly’s teashop to feed him. When he was small, he aspired to nothing more than a job in Barrington’s shipyard where his father had once worked, but then he met Old Jack Tar who told him he was very clever and had a nice singing voice, so he won a choral scholarship to St Bede’s. There he was bullied by everyone except Giles Barrington, the nice-but-dim son of the shipyard owner who befriended him, though Giles’s father hated Harry on sight. For no apparent reason, Giles started shoplifting. Harry put everything back to protect him, but was blamed for it. Luckily, Giles owned up, so Harry could go to Bristol grammar school after all.
Maisie Clifton 1920-36 I had always suspected the wealthy baddy, Hugo Barrington was Harry’s father and had mysteriously killed Arthur two years later, but I couldn’t prove it.
Maisie worked long and hard at Mrs Tilly’s teashop to make ends meet, but you already know that, though I’m afraid you’re going to have to get used to a lot of repetition in these parallel narratives. Maisie eventually bought the shop and after a lot of hard work, it made a profit. Then it burned down and she had to give nearly all the insurance money to Hugo Barrington who had, unknown to her, put up capital, so she was broke again. But she vowed to do anything she could to pay Harry’s school fees.
Hugo Barrington 1921-36 I’ve always been a bad egg and when I saw that slut Maisie we both understood I had droit de seigneur. I couldn’t help it that her husband was killed. Honest.
It had been Hugo’s idea to expand the business into shipbuilding and the first project was losing money. So when Hugo heard that Arthur Clifton was trapped working inside, he decided to let him die there to save the bother of opening the hull. Obviously no one thought of opening the hull to look for Arthur, because in Jeffworld the Barringtons could fix everything. Since then Hugo had done everything he could to make sure his illegitimate son, Harry, never inherited his fortune.
Old Jack Tar 1925-36 I’m the mysterious sage who turns up in all Jeff’s books. Like Jeff, I won the VC and have secretly helped everyone in the world, but I’m not that important to the story.
Old Jack Tar was an absurd character so no reader took him seriously.
Giles Barrington 1936-8 I’m hoping to go up to Oxford to play cricket with Jeff if my best friend Harry can pull off a few clever wheezes to get me in.
Giles had nothing else to say.
Emma Barrington 1932-9 I’ve loved Harry ever since I first met him when he was four and Giles brought him to our palace. Daddy hated him though, but now we’re getting married.
It was in Italy that Emma decided to surrender her virginity to Harry. “I can’t,” he had said, “my mother is working as a prostitute.” “I don’t mind,” Emma had gasped, “she’s only doing it to pay for you to go to Oxford.” Several weeks later the cathedral was full as Harry and Emma were about to take their vows. Maisie and Hugo were completely untroubled by the fact that the couple were probably half-brother and sister as they were both colour-blind like all the Barringtons, and it was Old Jack Tar who had the wedding halted.
Harry Clifton 1939-40 I didn’t really care about being closely related to Emma but it seemed good form to give us both a bit of space till the brouhaha died down, so I joined the navy.
On the very first day of the war, Harry’s ship was sunk. Everyone but Harry was killed and when he was picked up by an American boat he decided it was obviously a good idea to switch identity with one of the Americans who had been killed. “I’m Bradshaw,” Harry announced. “Then we’re arresting you,” the authorities replied, “for the murder of the English language.”
Digested read, digested: There’s worse to come.
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