Thievery: The Busker
Thievery is a series of blog posts about story inspirations.
On Thursdays, I invite my favourite writers to share the inspirations behind their stories. Here’s one from novelist Liam Murray Bell.
The Busker was published by Myriad Editions.
‘Wake up!’ I try again.
‘Rab?’ the voice is thick with catarrh, but he hocks it up and a phlegm-missile flies out from beneath the blanket to land on the solicitor’s door and dribble down the paintwork. It is still early so there are no suits. Sage sits up and peers at me over the top of the blanket. ‘Well?’ he says.
‘Morning,’ I say.
‘Is that all?’ he fixes me with his stare. ‘Do I not get the speech? Do I not even get the bloody speech? I know thee not old man, was what I was expecting, make less thy body hence and more thy grace. Fall to your fucking prayers, I was expecting – ‘
‘Sorry about last night,’ I say.
‘Ah, so there is an apology, is there?’ he clears his throat again. ‘I’ve not been banished, then? Well, thank fuck for that, Rab. After all, what the fuck would I do without you, eh?’
I’m too hungover to unpick his sentences. Instead, I hold out my peace-offering: a bottle of half-full ‘blended’ wine. This morning I traipsed around the debris of the party, pouring dregs and sediment into one bottle. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s four parts red wine, two parts white, one part vodka, and one part expired cough medicine that I found in the bathroom cabinet.
‘Sorry,’ I repeat. ‘I ended up crashing on a sofa afterwards.’
These two characters are a double-act. Rab is the central character of the novel, but Sage was great fun to write because he’s the older homeless man who tries to pass on his ‘wisdom’ to his younger companion. He’s like Bubbles, in The Wire, trying to educate the ‘green’ Johnny in street living and the ways of the heroin addict. He’s Bob Pigeon, in Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, who acts as a mentor to the characters of Mike and Scott (played by River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves). Not surprisingly, given the clues in the extract above, he’s also Falstaff in Henry IV Parts I & II, tutoring young Prince Hal in the ways of debauchery.
It always sounds a bit pretentious to cite Shakespeare as an influence, but the character of Falstaff really was an inspiration for the character of Sage. On the surface, he’s boastful and arrogant, but there’s an insecurity and a genuine warmth of feeling underneath. At the beginning of the novel, it’s unclear what Sage’s motivations for helping Rab are – there’s an undertone of lust in his dealings with the younger man – but he proves himself to be kind-hearted and, through his actions, vital to Rab regaining his confidence after the spell of failures that led to him sleeping rough in the first place.
Falstaff, in films like Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, is often portrayed as a comic figure in the ‘loveable rogue’ mould and there were definitely times at which I was playing the character of Sage for laughs – particularly in his more pompous moments of earnest lecturing – but, as with the Shakespeare character and Bob Pigeon, who was also based on Falstaff, the perception of the overweight, self-important Sage should shift as the novel progresses. Rab begins to see the benefit of having someone – no matter how patronising or overbearing – on his side in his struggles with the music industry, squatting, and homelessness. And the reader should begin to see a character who attaches himself to a younger man not to exploit or take advantage but, rather, to look after both of their best interests and, crucially, provide a bit of companionship to get them through the days and nights sleeping rough on the streets of Brighton.
Get The Busker from Myriad Editions.