Today we welcome Paul Terry to Booklover Book Reviews to share with us how he came to write his latest book The Claimant.
And, thanks to Bonnier Publishing Australia, we have a paperback copy to giveaway.
It was the early nineties and as a young journalist, I had been sent to cover a meeting of the local council in my home town of Wagga Wagga. Guess what? The meeting was very dull! With the short attention span of the young, my mind soon wandered from the worthy deliberations of our civic leaders to a large painting hanging on the wall of the council chambers.
The painting was eye-catching for one reason – the enormous man at the centre of it. More than just a huge mass of humanity, he exuded an air of smugness and self-importance that captivated me so much that I don’t remember anything else from that boring council meeting. It was my first introduction to the man with no name.
More than 25 years later I returned to him for my fourth book. I soon discovered his story was stranger than fiction. Indeed, the great writer Mark Twain (who had an intense interest in the case) wrote that no fiction writer would dare to tackle the story because ‘The public would say such things could never happen. And yet the chief characters did exist, and the incidents did happen’.’
Essentially, the story came down to this: The fat man in the painting going by the false name of Tom Castro, butcher from Wagga Wagga, claimed to be in fact Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, the missing heir to the fortune of one of England’s oldest families.
On the face of it, it seemed ludicrous. Yet many people who knew the missing Roger – including his widowed mother – were in no doubt that the baronet had returned from the dead. Sadly for the fat man, other members of the Tichborne family most definitely did not agree. It led to a scandal that consumed nations, climaxing with the two longest court cases ever held in Britain.
At the centre of it was a 300lb pound man with a deformed penis (trust me, it is relevant) who may or may not have been the greatest impostor in history. If you throw in a sex scandal, a medieval curse, upper class corruption and working class insurrection, a global souvenir industry and baying mobs in the streets you start to get a picture of why the story was the cause celebre of the Victorian age. Add a mad barrister, intrigue that still can’t be explained, a touch of comedy and more than a dollop of tragedy and you have the recipe for a story that enthralled Twain and countless other writers since.
Once on the trail, I became addicted. In terms of research, I was fortunate that many books have been written about the Tichborne Claimant, as he became known, in the UK and Australia, and also that millions of words were written about him in newspapers around the world. These sources helped me to flesh out a story (a lot of flesh it must be said) and each new lead uncovered a twist more fascinating than the last.
Best of all, I have a brilliant researcher in Jen Lamond who threw herself into the Claimant’s story and uncovered details of the final stages of his life, sad enough to bring tears to the eyes of a plaster statue. Thank you, Jen!
The Museum of the Riverina at Wagga also offered invaluable help. The museum has some terrific documentation on the case that made the bush town of Wagga a household name, as well as some of the last surviving Tichborne souvenirs that could once be found in thousands of households across the UK, Europe and Australia. Every little piece of the jigsaw comes together when you see these priceless keepsakes.
It added up to a re-telling of a story that was once known to almost everyone in the English-speaking world but has since largely faded into history. With help from Jen Lamond and others, this book finds new layers to the story and hopefully adds a little humour and pathos to what was once a deadly serious matter.
It was great fun to write about such a colourful character, especially as much of the action unfolded on the streets of my childhood home and I’m forever grateful that I attended that long-ago council meeting. Overall, I’ve tried to tell this story in an informal style that has the page-turning appeal of a novel with the thrill of a true story that’s even more outrageous than a thriller.
Despite his many faults, I’ve been left with a grudging affection for the Claimant and hope any new readers will enjoy his story as much as Mark Twain and I did.
It’s 1866, and from the dusty frontier town of Wagga Wagga comes a man who sets Victorian England alight – the likes of which have never been seen before or since. A tale so preposterous that its veracity is still debated today.
Tom Castro – or was he Arthur Orton? – an obese, toothless butcher who lives in a slab-hut with his illiterate wife and children, suddenly comes forward and claims he is Roger Tichborne, the rightful Baronet of Tichborne Park, Hampshire, and head of one of England’s oldest, most noble Catholic families. Incredibly, the family matriarch agrees.
So sets in train a journey that takes our unlikely nobleman on a rollercoaster ride of fame, glory, prison and penury, unleashes the Tichborne Curse, disturbs Queen Victoria, delights Mark Twain, immortalises our Claimant in wax at Madame Tussauds, and strikes at the very heart of the English class system.
And, at the end of a tumultuous life, a strange posthumous victory to the Claimant leave some still asking the question that had consumed a generation, was he Roger Tichborne, a baronet, or Tom Castro, a butcher?
About the Author, Paul Terry
Paul Terry is a journalist who has worked in newspapers, television, radio and online news for 30 years. He has written three other books, The True Story of Ned Kelly’s Last Stand, In Search of Captain Moonlite and Banjo. Paul lives in regional New South Wales with his wife and three children. Connect with Paul on Facebook.
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Thanks to the lovely people at Bonnier Publishing we have a paperback copy of The Claimant to giveaway to one lucky reader.
- Australian mailing addresses only
- extra entries for spreading the word via Twitter and Facebook/Google+/Webpage
- extra entries for registered participants of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017
- entries close midnight 10 February 2017
- the winner will be randomly selected and must respond to my email requesting their mailing address within 5 days otherwise their prize will be forfeited and another winner selected
SORRY, ENTRIES NOW CLOSED – Winner announced here.