eird thing happened to me in the shower this morning (not for the first time): I got hit by a plotbunny meant for someone else. Even if I were going to write a fiction book, this wouldn’t be a book I’d want to write and it probably wouldn’t be a book I’d read – but I think lots of other people would like it.
It would be called “The Younger Sons”, from the Robert Service poem, and would basically be competence porn about a bunch of childhood friends, English younger sons who didn’t inherit and left to do other things. There would be multiple story lines, each centered on a different person: one not unlike Kipling’s Stalky and Kim, who lives in the shadows of Her Majesty’s rule over India, helping things go well in his small part of it by working together with and respecting the locals. There would be one in the Klondike Gold Rush; I think he’d be a bartender or supplier to the miners rather than a miner himself, because that was the way for sane steady men to get rich, but I think he’d end up involved in a lot of adventures and rescues that didn’t get talked about much. Others might settle in South America or Australia; maybe one would be a diplomat in the mold of Peter Wimsey. They’d all be quiet doers, who would get stuff done without much in the way of resources, and most people wouldn’t notice them because they’d prevent calamities rather than getting there too late and doing more visible metaphorical firefighting. I’m not sure how to link the storylines; maybe it could be epistolary (though you’d need to include letters from others besides the main characters, since they’d tend to minimize their own doings) or maybe the diplomat could travel enough to provide a link.
You can tell I haven’t thought this out thoroughly, but I can already see a number of issues with it. The smaller challenge is making the historical timeline come out correctly: Kim was published in 1901 and Stalky & Co in 1899; presumably their adult adventures at the end of each book were supposed to be more or less contemporary with publication. The Klondike Gold Rush was 1896-99, so that works out, but Peter Wimsey was practicing his diplomacy in the 1930s; you’d need an older generation version of him. The bigger issues, though, is that this could become a very masculine book and the challenge would be to keep it from being a complete sausage fest. Still, there were women who Did Things at the time; I recently came across the photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, for one; there could be a Younger Daughter modeled on her, or on another photographer she collaborated with (who was born in England, in fact), Zaida Ben Yusuf. Or on Isabella Bird. The other challenge, especially after the writer immersed herself in the amount of history and fiction of that time that she’d need as research, would be to keep it from being yet another encomium of the jolly old British Empire, never mind those poor brown fellahs starving over there, they’re jolly grateful really.
Still, Kim and Stalky managed to avoid thinking that way to a surprising extent, given they were born into it. So it should be possible, right? Anyway, clearly this plotbunny wasn’t meant for me – I can’t imagine wanting to write a book I don’t wish I could read – so I’m writing it down to release it back into the wild, in hopes it finds its person.