“I say,” Ellsworth blurted out, “isn’t that a Prussian name?”
“Und vell it should be, Doctor. I vas born in Berlin.”
~ BROWN and ELLSWORTH on first meeting
My engineer, Gunther Brown, was less developed than my other characters, and only lasted through the first book. His character was symbolic of the relationship between England and Germany, or “Prussia,” in the world of Beyond the Rails. They were, as was clearly stated, “…about two insults from open warfare,” and Gunther was the child of a Prussian mother and an English father, a clerk in the British embassy who had to receive special permission to marry a Prussian national. His very existence defines the conflict.
I very quickly found that it was difficult to get Gunther into the action anywhere near as much as the others. Keeping the motors and all the systems running was pretty close to a full time job, and unless I was going to set long scenes in the engine room watching him shovel coal, he was hard to work in with the others. I gave him a few good scenes, but nothing like what the others got, and he very quickly became a largely unseen function with a name. Without an engineer, the ship doesn’t fly, so I had to have someone down there making her go, but I never cracked the secret to getting him out of there, other than the odd scenes at Faraji’s, and like I said, a couple of others that I really had to reach for.
The other problem, and the one that led to his departure, can be seen in the quote that begins the article. Somewhere during the preparation of BtR, I acquired the notion that writing his accent phonetically would contribute to the authenticity of the story. If everyone is allowed one mistake, let that one be mine! Of all the negative comments I have received on the series, probably 90% of them cited the struggle to translate the characters’ accents, especially Gunther’s, as the greatest source of difficulty in reading the book. Accepting and internalizing those complaints, I studied better ways to suggest accents, and sent him back to Germany to care for his mother.
But he had a good ride, especially in Episode 2, The Anthropologist. He ended the machinations of the evil spy Gudrun, and one of von Redesky’s henchmen as well during the daring rescue of half the crew from the Prussian’s jungle camp. I saw him as being in his late twenties, large and muscular, and devoted to his fellow crew members. There might have been more for him to do, but the vastly negative response to his accent sunk him. It did give me a chance to add an African, Bakari, to the crew, and he has been well-received as well as increasing the diversity, so all seems to have worked out for the best.
All I can say is that when I started BtR, I didn’t realize that it would come to define me among my handful of fans, so I wasn’t as careful as I might have been. I guess the lesson for newbies who may be reading this is to respect everything you write, because you just can’t know what’s going to break out. The other object lesson is probably Sherlock Holmes. Doyle viewed him as a throwaway character, something to make a few bob on the side, and killed him at the end of The Final Problem so that he could concentrate on his “serious” writing. Fans wouldn’t allow him to stay dead, however, and Doyle had to resurrect the Great Detective for a second career that went on longer than the first. Yes, respect everything you write. It’s very important.
That wraps it up for today, but I have a little bonus to offer, an insight into my personal belief system. If you’d care to see what drives me, and to some extent, my writing, check in on my other blog, Jack’s Hideout. I trust you’ll find it to your liking…