Tag Archives: reginald hawking

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The new portrait of the Colonel

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Categories: performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

You may remember that for last year’s Mrs. Hawking productions we made this portrait to serve as the framed photograph of the Colonel that hangs above the mantlepiece in the Hawking parlor.

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I liked this portrait because it was a genuine Victorian image, with a sort of quiet sadness in the look in the gentleman’s eyes. But now we are not only performing Mrs. Hawking, but also Vivat Regina, which you may have noted contains explicit reference to what that portrait looks like. Specifically, it’s a significant moment when Mrs. Hawking expresses her discomfort with Nathaniel’s resemblance to her late husband. With that resemblance being pointed out in the dialogue, it doesn’t really serve to have just any old person’s image hanging there for all the audience to see.

To that end, we made a new picture to go inside the portrait frame. This meant we temporarily had to cast the character of Colonel Reginald Hawking— with Jeremiah O’Sullivan, our actor playing the role of Nathaniel.

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We dressed Jeremiah in a military-style jacket and a costume mustache with spirit gum— after all, Mrs. Hawking says the Colonel has “whiskers” in that picture. This not only ensures the resemblance, it’s a nice hinting at stories to come. The Colonel is set to appear in part four of Mrs. Hawking, back before he was the Colonel, in flashbacks juxtaposed with a present-day story. I thought it would be cool to double cast Nathaniel and the Colonel in that piece, to convey not just their similarities, but to drive home to the audience how hard it is for Mrs. Hawking to see anyone but the Colonel when she looks at her nephew.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.

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“What if the Colonel did black ops?”

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Categories: character, development, Tags: , , ,

As I mentioned in the entry on Early Installment Weirdness, it is common for your conception of who a character is and what they’re like to change the more you work with them. While a fair bit of this happened with the more central characters, particularly Mrs. Hawking herself, you know which person ended up changing the most in my mind? Everyone’s favorite Ghost Character, her late husband Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking.

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Back when I was imagining Mrs. Hawking as more of a straight-up Sherlock Holmes type— more purely calculating, intellectual, and reserved —I imagined that it might be intriguing if her interior life was something of a black box. I thought it might be engaging if she remained largely inscrutable in her feelings and motivations, leaving the audience to guess from her actions alone. The Colonel, correspondingly, was even more opaque— a distant, detached figure who by virtue of his absence and Mrs. Hawking’s complete lack of interest in him would never be fully understood.

But I really could not stick to this view of them. As the Batman influence became more and more prominent, it became clear that Mrs. Hawking actually had LOTS of strong feelings and motivations, which no matter how much she kept bottling them always threatened to burst out. Maybe it’s a weakness on my part, but I found it much more satisfying to actively, obviously explore her inner life. And by that same token, it became much more interesting to me to make the Colonel a more complex, human figure.

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The first step of that was the devising of his central tragedy— that he really loved Victoria, and was incapable of understanding how that love managed to hurt her. And from there, all these things about him started to assert himself. He was actively excited to have a family with her, and when that was no longer possible he was extremely sad. He realized that she didn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and so decided removing the burden of his presence from her life would be the kindest thing he could do. A lot of people ask me how Mrs. Hawking managed to hide her society avenging work from him for twenty years. The answer to that is partially that he was away a lot, in his capacity as a prominent commander of the British empire. But because we made him more interesting, we found ourselves getting more interested in him. And that means now I wonder a lot about how he spent that time.

Bernie suggested he might have had cool adventures in his time abroad, perhaps serving in some elite capacity in special operations all across the empire. Maybe he led some kind of Howling Commandos-type special force. Who knows what sort of missions he could have run? And, seeing as they were in service to the engine of the British Empire, they might not all have been the most righteous causes. He’s a loyal soldier, but he’s not without moral understanding. How might the Colonel have felt about that?

It’s hard to bring this stuff into the story as we currently conceive of it. It’s Mrs. Hawking’s story above all, not the Colonel’s. But it certainly enriches thing to know what happened behind the scenes, even if we never completely tell the audience what it is. The little character moments it could inform could add so much dimension to our understanding of these people.

I had a vision of how maybe it was an old family legend among the Hawkings that the Colonel was once offered a knighthood and turned it down. Being the reserved person that he was, he never said why, or what for. Nathaniel would of course be fascinated by such a thing, and could ask Mrs. Hawking about it. But she would say she didn’t know why, because, to Nathaniel’s uncomprehending shock, she never asked. And a moment like that says a lot about all parties involved. A great little moment to reveal character.

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Rehearsing “Like a Loss” for staged reading with Bare Bones

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Categories: character, gilded cages, performance, Tags: , , , ,

This Sunday we had rehearsal for the staged reading of the ten-minute play Like a Loss at Bare Bones 16: At War. As I’ve mentioned, Like a Loss is unique in that it’s the only time up to this point in the story that the Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking ever actually appears onstage. I like the opportunity this gives for the audience to fill in certain blanks, to compare what they observe of the man themselves to the disparate viewpoints taken of him by other characters.

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This piece stars the Colonel as well his longtime personal valet Henry Chapman, who in having served him for so many years through so many adventures has become his good friend. What makes the piece interesting is that it depicts a rare moment of emotional exploration between two gentlemen who do not often discuss such things under any context. They are Victorian gentlemen, of a culture that keeps these things to themselves. They are master and servant, and while closer than many, there is a level of formality and distance that makes such things off-limits. And finally, the Colonel is in the very delicate position of having pretty much every single person he’s close to in a total state of confusion as to why he married such a difficult, disagreeable woman. His family hates her, and Chapman thinks she’s unforgivably cruel to him; none of them see in her what the Colonel sees. Even among all the other factors, that in particular makes it so the Colonel has no one safe to talk to about what he’s currently struggling with. But Chapman cares about his master a great deal, and is taking this opportunity to try and address the pain that the Colonel is so clearly in.

This was a great opportunity for me as a writer, as it demanded effective use of subtext, which is always hard for me. It also presents a particular challenge to our actors, Brad Smith as the Colonel and Eboracum Richter-Dahl as Henry Chapman, his faithful batman and valet. They must convey to the audience just the depth and significance of the emotional moments while maintaining that superficial even keel. It was fascinating to watch them manage those moments, to bring levels that required a huge amount of nuance to read through their guarded, civil attitudes. Like Nathaniel, I always pictured the Colonel to maintain that particular variety of never-say-die British cheer, which is strongly at odds with the difficulty he’s going through in this piece– and Chapman is seeing right through it while politely pretending he isn’t. Brad and Eboracum did a beautiful job illustrating what is actually an extremely tragic story, that of a man who loved of a woman who utterly lacked the capacity to love him back, and of how completely without meaning to they ended up ruining each other’s lives.

The moment depicted in this particular piece alludes to lots of story we’ve yet to see. One thing we do know for sure is that the marriage of Colonel and Mrs. Hawking was extremely fraught. But there’s a great deal of lead-up before it reaches the state it was in when the Colonel died, one year before “Mrs. Hawking” opens. This piece hits at some of those stages it passed through, how they may not always have been as completely at odds as they ended up, how their conflict evolved from friendly opposition to directionless anger and ultimately to the chilly distance that was the final straw in breaking Reginald’s heart.

Someday we’ll tell that whole story. In fact, I’d like to detail the journey of how Victoria and Reginald met and married in what I’m planning to be the fourth full-length installment, after the upcoming Base Instruments. But for now, we only get a glimpse at another point in that timeline, here right after a major downward turn, in the the tragedy of the man who had the terrible misfortune to fall in love with our distant, damaged hero.

Come join us for our one-night only performance as the opener of Bare Bones 16: At War for piece, The Wheel, written by Zinnie Harris and directed by Jess Viator, on Thursday, March 26th, 2015 at 8pm at Unity Somerville, at 6 William Street, Somerville, MA.

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We have a portrait for the Colonel!

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Categories: performance, Tags: , ,

Just a quick peek at the portrait for Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking! GAZE UPON THE LOOMING SYMBOL OF OUR HERO’S OPPRESSION.

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I had a poster printed up at Staples of the image I found depicting a Victorian-era soldier in colonel’s regalia. I found this frame at the dollar store with the right sort of baroque aesthetic. Truth be told, blowing up the image has left it a bit pixellated up close, but I don’t think it’s noticeable from a distance. That’s the beauty of the stage! If it can’t be seen from thirty feet away, it doesn’t exist! Honestly, the more I look at him, the more pleased I am that I went with this picture. Even if he doesn’t look quite like how I imagined the Colonel, he has a kind of sadness in his eyes that I think is exactly right.

I think I’ll hang it up at the read through, so the actors can get used to him watching them all the time. :-)

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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The Colonel’s portrait for the set

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A prominent feature of the Mrs. Hawking set is the portrait of the Colonel that hangs over the mantlepiece in the parlor. I always liked the idea of this detail, as it gives a physical representation to how the Colonel’s presence hangs over the play, and the entirety of Mrs. Hawking’s life.

There isn’t much in the way of detail about it in the text, neither about what it looks like or how it got there. I originally thought of it as a painting, but that would imply that the Colonel sat for it, and I don’t really see that. So now I’m inclined to think of it as a cabinet portrait, a daguerrotype, taken with the elaborate frame cameras of the day.

I also don’t see the Colonel as a man vain enough to live every day with a huge picture of himself in his living room, and of course Mrs. Hawking herself would never want to put it there. So I think it was a gift, and it was kept somewhere out of the way until he passed. After his death, somebody, quite possibly Nathaniel, brought it out to hang over the mantle. Mrs. Hawking felt like she couldn’t protest, so there it has remained in the year and one month since when the first play begins.

To represent it in the Arisia ’15 production, I decided to find an appropriate image. I did a Google search under various related terms, finding it difficult to find something that was exactly what I wanted. I needed something that looked like a daguerrotype of a gentleman in a Victorian’s colonel’s dress regalia, and I knew I wanted it to be of a handsome man. There were not a lot that fit those criteria, but I narrowed it down to these three options.

 

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The first one is of a good-looking man with whiskers, but he seems a touch young for when I think the picture would have been taken, and he is also in civilian dress. The third has the necessary regalia, and I like his beard and the way the colorized image would lend a pop of brightness to the set, but the look of the man isn’t quite right. So I think I’m planning on using the middle one, as I believe it has the best balance of costume, facial hair, age, and handsomeness. None of them really look like quite what I imagine Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking to look like, but I think that one will serve.

I plan on having a large version printed, and put into a frame. That will then be hung on the set of Mrs. Hawking’s parlor, to distinguish the location and flesh out the world.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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The problem of Hawking family resemblance

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Categories: gilded cages, performance, Tags: , , ,

When you’re writing something to be performed by people, you can’t get too married to what characters look like. Yes, I have pretty strong mental images of Mrs. Hawking and Mary, inspired by my lovely friends and models Frances Kimpel and Charlotte Oswald, but when you need to cast people you have to be open to the person who can give the best performance in the role, not necessarily the one who most closely resembles your image of it. Still, I can’t help but picture what these characters look in my head.

Drama is a visual medium; what the audience sees can do as much to tell the story as the words the characters speak. So it’s very possible that what the characters look like could influence that storytelling. I imagine Nathaniel, for example, to be a tall, boyishly handsome man in his late twenties with a swimmer’s build and Irish-setter-red hair. And it just so happens that Nathaniel’s appearance, if not those imagined details specifically, has had an explicit effect on the plot. In Vivat Regina, Mrs. Hawking tells him that it’s hard for her to learn to let down her guard with someone who looks so much like the Colonel, the man from whom she spent years hiding everything that was important to her.

Mostly the discomfort of that would have to be informed. You might have some ability to actually depict it by what you chose to have as the portrait of the Colonel over the mantelpiece, but you’d mostly have to take Mrs. Hawking’s word for it that the resemblance existed. That means the impact, the unsettlement, she feels from it is difficult to translate to the audience’s perception. This kind of bothered me, as it’s always better to make the audience feel the emotions rather then just tell them about them. But then it occurred to me that there’s a theatrical way to make the audience see what Mrs. Hawking sees– eventually, at any rate.

In the the fourth piece I have planned, I want to tell Mrs. Hawking’s origin story, how she came to be the person she is today, and part of that is telling how she came to meet and marry the Colonel. This would require depicting Reginald Hawking as a young man. I plan on having flashbacks to that time juxtaposed to a case our heroes were working on in the present day, which of course would involve Nathaniel. My brainwave was that in that play, you could actually double-cast the two characters to be played by the same actor.

Not only would that signal the physical resemblance, I feel like there would be something truly uncomfortable for the audience to see the man they’re accustomed to seeing as her nephew pursuing her in the romantic manner that her eventual husband does. The weirdness for the audience would be caused by Reginald’s resemblance to Nathaniel, rather than how it is vice versa for Mrs. Hawking, probably because of how weird it would be to see a man who looks like that falling in love with her like Reginald does. But I think it would manage to convey the same feeling Victoria experiences, even if the reason for it is different. I think causing that discomfort would be extremely effective in conveying how difficult that relationship was for her, which would utilize the tools of theater to deliver a more visceral audience experience.

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Mr. Ambrose Hawking

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Categories: character, scenes, themes, Tags: , , , , , ,

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Though I’ve written very little in his voice, I’ve thought a great deal about the patriarch of the respectable, successful middle-class Hawking family, and the father of Justin and Nathaniel. While his younger brother Colonel Reginald Hawking served in the military, Ambrose built the family business from the ground up, turning a series of small investments into a thriving venture capital firm with interests all across the empire. He was close to and very proud of his brave younger brother, with Reginald’s choice to marry the fiery, inscrutable Victoria Stanton being the only difference to ever come between them. This conflict is referenced in Like a Loss, a ten-minute play featuring the Colonel and his valet.

Ambrose is a bastion of traditional Victorian masculinity, accustomed to authority and privilege and very skeptical of the notion of women having agency. The world and its accompanying systems have done well for him, and so he is loath to see them change. His younger son Nathaniel, however, is beginning to question and even reject the assumptions to which his father raised him. It will come as quite a shock when he is confronted by Nathaniel’s new perspective on things, especially when it comes to affect the way Nathaniel decides to raise his own son.

I don’t know if or when Ambrose will ever actually appear in the plays. Even in the upcoming third one, in which I plan for other members of Nathaniel’s family to appear and drive the conflict, I don’t know if there will be room for him. Still, I think the influence of a traditionally Victorian patriarchal father is important for Nathaniel’s sorting out of how he’s going to engage with feminism. If nothing else, I’m sure he will be mentioned, as he is in Like a Loss, or perhaps show up in another in-universe short piece.

Here is a small chunk I felt compelled to write, just as a way of exploring the slightly more human side of him. One thing is clear, he cared very deeply about his brother the Colonel, and what pained Reginald was also pain to him. I also think it serves to make his strong antipathy towards Victoria a lot more understandable. So, in service of that, here is a conversation I could picture them having about the Colonel.

~~~

NATHANIEL: Did you think he ever knew just how… strongly she felt?

AMBROSE: Are you joking? Of course he did. He wasn’t a fool.

NATHANIEL: How do you know?

AMBROSE: Everyone knew. You could read it in her every glance, she never tried to hide it. And it cut him.

NATHANIEL: Did he tell you?

AMBROSE: He didn’t have to. I was his brother, I could see it in his eyes.

NATHANIEL: You never told me.

AMBROSE: By Jove, Nathaniel, do you fancy I hate her just because she’s unpleasant at dinner parties? The woman my brother loved despised him above all else. And he had to live with that. You may have found a way to forgive her, boy, but I never shall.

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Sparking a romance

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Categories: character, development, themes, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , , , ,

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As you may have gleaned from reading Vivat Regina, I want to explore the idea of a relationship between Mary and Arthur Swann, the police officer she meets (and makes use of) in that play. All I wanted to do in that story was start a connection, but that meant I had to take care to get it off on the right foot.

I like the idea that romances begin because of something special that two people see in each other. Mary of course demonstrates she is brave and tough and quick-witted in a way Arthur didn’t expect, but Arthur shows he finds the fact that Mary saved him intriguing. He is not threatened by Mary’s capability, but impressed by and delighted with it. That immediate respect he shows makes an impression on her. Moreover, he’s not without wit and charm himself. These things altogether spark something that ultimately turns to romance.

I had Mary save Arthur to deliberately turn that damsel in distress trope on its head. Also I wanted to contrast it with the first meeting of Victoria and Reginald as the Colonel describes it in “Like a Loss.” Both men are impressed by the women’s display of courage and independence. But while Arthur wants to encourage and enable her to take her own action, Reginald’s impulse is to cocoon her protectively so that she doesn’t ever have to be brave or fierce or stand up for herself again. Arthur wants to nurture Mary’s strength, while Reginald wanted to neutralize it in Victoria. This makes for an interesting way to explore the effects of feminism, or the lack thereof, in our characters’ lives.

I haven’t figured out the whole trajectory of Mary and Arthur’s relationship, but I think it’s off to an interesting start. Especially in contrast to Mrs. Hawking and the Colonel.

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“Why won’t you trust me?” — early draft of a confrontation from Vivat Regina

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This is one of the earliest scenes I wrote for Vivat Regina, and it turned out to be a very crucial one. Bernie pointed out that, while Mary’s decision in this one is that yes, she would like to become a “new Mrs. Hawking” of sorts, Nathaniel’s is at least starting to reject his old desire to become like the Colonel. He idolized the Colonel his whole life, and it’s been a difficult thing for him to swallow how much pain his hero caused Mrs. Hawking. Him backing away from that, at least the parts of the Colonel that caused that pain, is a big step on his development toward becoming a true feminist. It’s a crucial part of being a good male ally. You can’t fix a problem before you admit you have it, and Nathaniel’s doing so demonstrates his very real desire to learn, and do better than before.

~~~

NATHANIEL:
Aunt Victoria— why won’t you trust me?

MRS. HAWKING:
Oh, do spare me, Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL:
No. No, you mustn’t put me off. I know I haven’t been the quickest study when it comes to this business of yours, but I’ve been giving it a serious go. I surely do mean to be of help to you, and by God, on occasion I even have. Isn’t that so?

MRS. HAWKING:
Yes. You have.

NATHANIEL:
Then… why won’t you let me on? Really let me on? Is it— is it because I’m a man?

MRS. HAWKING:
Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL:
Is it because I’m not clever enough? Do you think that once in a tough spot, I’ll lose my head and disappoint—

MRS. HAWKING:
You look so much like him!

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING:
Too damn much.

MARY:
Like whom? Do you mean— the Colonel?

NATHANIEL:
You never told me that. Others have, but not you.

(MARY looks to the portrait on the mantle.)

MARY:
I never noticed it.

MRS. HAWKING:
The years and the whiskers throw it off, but all the men in the family have that look. Your father, your uncle, and you. Your boy will have it too before long. Strong jaw, devil-may-care grin, handsome as the day is long. The sort of face to win anything a man could want in the world. But that was face I first looked into twenty years ago when a promising young soldier was first transferred to New Guinea and trammeled up my life forever. The same eyes from which I had to hide everything of any meaning to me so I might be permitted to have it.

NATHANIEL:
I don’t want you to feel that way about me. Not anymore.

MRS. HAWKING:
I know that, and not for nothing. But the years I lost and the pains I took…

NATHANIEL:
I know.

MRS. HAWKING:
Yes. Now you know. So it galls me, boy. I tell you, it galls me to look into those eyes and that face and give all the game away to them.

NATHANIEL:
I can’t help who I look like.

MRS. HAWKING:
No. But all the same, he’s in everything in you. His blood and his name and every effort in the world to be just like him.

NATHANIEL:
But… I’m not like him.

MRS. HAWKING:
To your eternal sorrow.

NATHANIEL:
Still. I’m not him. I can learn better.

(Pause.)

NATHANIEL:
And I mean to. But I’ll need you to teach me. I can’t do it without you.

(NATHANIEL draws himself up with a quiet, cold dignity.)

NATHANIEL:
Rather… none of us could. The Colonel neither. Because the God’s honest truth is you don’t know if he couldn’t have learned. You never gave him the chance.

(NATHANIEL turns and strides quickly from the room.)

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The art of names

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Categories: development, influences, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

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I have to say, one of my favorite parts of the writing and character-creating process is coming up with names. I like it when I can make them subtly significant, if only in my own head, or at least give my characters names I’m going to enjoy saying over and over again.

I’ve written about how Mrs. Hawking’s name is supposed to be deliberately disassociated from her in-universe, but behind the scenes it was carefully chosen. Her married name, Hawking, came first, because it’s a good solid English name and conveys her bird-of-prey nature. It took much longer to choose her first name, but I went with Victoria because I’ve always loved it, the “victory” meaning connotes her warlike nature, and because of the connection with the regnant queen. Stanton, her maiden name, also took some time to determine, and was chosen mostly because I like the way it sounds.

The character of Mary Stone basically just walked into my mind and introduced herself by name. I love when that happens, it feels as if I’m writing about a real person. Thinking about it, I think there was some influence from the fact that she is in some ways a gender-swapped analogue to Dr. Watson, and Watson’s wife is named Mary. I think Mary’s name fits her so well I’m kind of sorry that her surname will change when she gets married. I have given some thought to who her eventual husband will be, and while I don’t want to mention anything about him yet, I chose his surname with the specific intention that I shouldn’t mind using it to refer to Mary. Her middle name, Frances, came from Frances Kimpel, my model for Mrs. Hawking. I very nearly made Mrs. Hawking’s middle name Charlotte, after Mary’s model Charlotte Oswald, but I didn’t think it sounded right with the rest of our hero’s name. I plan on paying tribute to Charlotte’s name in another way in the future, though.

When I noticed that both she and Mrs. Hawking were named after prominent English queens I decided I would continue on with that trend where appropriate. That’s where her eventual Moriarty, Elizabeth Frost, got her name from. I’m kind of sorry that Nathaniel’s wife Clara doesn’t fit the mold, but I think it fits her too much to change. Their daughter Beatrice doesn’t quite, as there is no English queen by that name, but it was the name of the youngest Victorian princess. Reggie, their son, is so called because of course Nathaniel would name his son after his hero.

As for Nathaniel himself, he is named after my friend Nat Budin. Not for any particular reason, except that I like both Nat and his name.

Stephanie Karol, who read the roles of Celeste Fairmont and Grace Monroe in the Mrs. Hawking Bare Bones reading, commented that I seem to like naming patriarchs “Reginald.” Both the Colonel and the head of the society family in The Tailor at Loring’s End both have it. I like the name, but it does have kind of an old-fashioned masculine sound to it.

Cedric Brockton sounds solidly British and upper-class, perhaps to the point of parody, but I like the way it sounds. Ambrose Hawking came from the same impulse. It might be a little absurd, but I guess I have a taste for names like that.

Gabriel Hawking came from the fact that Gabriel is one of my all-time favorite names. I wanted something powerful and striking, given that the mention of the name has a rather totemic quality when uttered in this story.

Justin’s first name came from something silly. I remember thinking that Ryan Kacani, the actor who played for Nathaniel at the Bare Bones reading, looked like a Justin to me for some reason. So I gave that name to Nathaniel’s brother.

Johanna Braun, the name the client gives in Vivat Regina, was chosen because it translates from German basically to “Joan Brown,” as plain and nondescript a name as they come. There is a reason I wanted it to be so generic, but I won’t say what it is here.

Arthur Swann, also a character introduced in Vivat Regina, is also named in the vein of English royalty, though King Arthur is fictional. Also it’s my granddad’s name and I always liked it.

There’s also a bit of a bird theme going on. The Hawking family, Arthur Swann the police man, Clara’s maiden name being Partridge. It doesn’t have any specific meaning, but the presence of a bird name means that they are a character to watch.

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