I love it when I find myself immersed in the world of a book that I feel reluctant to leave. And when I reach that final page I feel exhilarated yet a little melancholy because I’ve got to say goodbye to some fabulous characters. Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones left me feeling exactly that way. Set in Victorian London it follows the fortunes of Sam Toop, a fourteen year old living and working with his father in a funeral parlour, and Lapsewood (deceased), a quill pushing clerk who works in the Dispatch Department of the Bureau. Sam has an unusal talent; he’s a “talker.” That is, he talks to ghosts. They seek him out and unburden their miseries on him or ask for his help in contacting the living. However, it is a gift that Sam would rather live without preferring to lead a quiet life. Much like Lapsewood, who loves his predictable and structured life, or should that be death, sorting and filing paperwork to keep the world of ghosts in order. But through a series of ghoulish, wicked and often bloody events both find themselves drawn into an adventure to save London’s ghosts. Above all, this is a very witty tale, crammed with a huge cast of well written characters that move the story along at a cracking pace. Ooh, and there are dogs in it…and you know how much I love dogs.
So it was with great delight that I went along to Seven Stories to meet Gareth P.Jones himself who’d popped by the museum as part of his promotional Ghost Tour 2012. Looking every inch the dapper Victorian, dressed as he was in a three-piece suit complete with top hat, he entertained the group reading an interactive Gothic Ghost story. Set in Highgate Cemetary Mr Jones introduced us to Helly Hoxton and a ghost chicken, pausing periodically to ask the audience what should Helly do next? The children in the group eagerly discussed the character’s dilemmas and then voted on which action Helly should take. Just like Constable and Toop, the story had twists and turns and comic moments giving a wonderful flavour of the novel for those who had yet to read it. Mr Jones then picked up his ukulele (as well as being an award winning novelist he has mastered a variety of stringed instruments) and taught us the chorus to the Constable and Toop song. He likes to write songs for all his books and we enjoyed singing along. A Q & A session revealed he started writing short stories at secondary school, after university wrote a novel and a children’s story that were never published but found success with The Dragon Detective Agency. And his advice to aspiring writers? Learn to take critisism….especially from your wife! We finished off with some more singing, this time The Meercat Rap inspired by Mr Jones’s Ninja Meercat series, which involved alot of Kung Foo “hi-ya’s” and clapping. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and joined everybody down in the fantastic Seven Stories bookshop to get my copy of Constable and Toop signed.
You can find out what Gareth thought about Seven Stories and his trip “Up North” here.
Well, it wouldn’t be a Ziggy Shortcrust post without an elf, and the very lovely and charming Mr Jones gave me permission to create his “elfter ego.”
I would highly recommend this novel, be you teen or adult. And if you can purchase it in an independent bookshop so much the better.