Reading Group Guide
Gideon the Cutpurse
Linda Buckley-Archer's debut novel is the first part of a fantasy adventure trilogy. An academic and a fan of children's fantasy fiction, Linda was inspired to write her first book after listening to historian Lucy Moore discussing aspects of 18th century crime. A highly original cross between a historical novel, a thriller and a sci-fi page-turner, Gideon the Cutpurse is carefully researched to reflect an accurate portrait of 18th century England. As a mother of two, Linda Buckley-Archer wrote the tale for her own children. The result is an attention-grabbing story with a fast-moving plot that switches back and forth between the 18th and 21st centuries. Its narrative grips the reader as tightly as the hangman's noose that haunts the tale.
It's just over a week before Christmas and Peter Schock is looking forward to a belated birthday treat -- spending some precious time with his dad. However when his father cancels at the last minute, Peter has a huge row and screams "I hate you!" at him.
Instead of a day watching a Premier League match, Peter ends up in Derbyshire with the family au pair, Margrit, who's visiting the Dyer family. While witnessing an experiment with an anti-gravity machine, Peter and Kate, the eldest of the Dyer children, are hurled back in time and unceremoniously dumped in18th century England. Here they discover a world where highwaymen, thieves and cutpurses are a dangerous reality, and although life is very different in the past, friendship, hospitality and generosity can still be found. Naturally, Kate and Peter are homesick and upset by their displacement, but they are also resourceful and anxious to find a means to return to their own time. Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, a huge police hunt is underway with both families desperate to track down their missing children. There have even been some mysterious 'ghostly' sightings of kids in 18th century garb that look remarkably like Peter and Kate...
Things To Think About
Peter Schock and Kate Dyer come from very different backgrounds. Why has the author chosen such contrasting characters to feature in her novel? Peter is an only child, and Kate is the eldest of six, Kate spends a lot of time with her large family, while Peter's mother has been working in the US, and his father is often preoccupied with his career too. How have their different upbringings affected Kate and Peter?
The world in which Kate and Peter find themselves is hugely different to our modern world. Kate is particularly frustrated by the way women are treated and hampered by something as basic as their clothing. What does this tell us about attitudes over 200 years ago?
Despite Gideon's criminal past, Kate and Peter remain loyal friends to the former cutpurse. Why is this? And how does it affect any bond between the three of them?
The narrative winds back and forth between the 18th and 21st centuries, and reflects the way people speak in their own era. But it also leads to some confusion too!
Kate and Peter find the 18th century usage of the word 'bottom' difficult to get used to! What did the phrase 'show your bottom' mean, and why do Kate and Peter find it so hilarious?!
Much of the 18th century vocabulary we learn in the story is related to the criminals of the time -- the thief-takers, the footpads, the cutpurses and prancers. Did you know what these phrases meant before you read this book? Why do you think these phrases are no longer in common usage?
'Blurring' is a new concept to readers introduced by the novel. It's the process whereby both Kate and Peter learn how to disappear or 'dematerialise' themselves. It takes skill, and a little practice, but blurring is a very useful trick that certainly comes in handy when you want to make a swift getaway!
There are many genuinely heart-stopping moments in this story, but one of the most exciting is when the children are travelling from Derbyshire to London by carriage in the company of Parson Ledbury when they are held up by the ruthless highwayman Ned Porter. The speed and suddenness of the attack on their party, the viciousness of the robbers, and the tension as the Parson attempts to conceal the Mrs Byng's precious diamond necklace are almost too much to bear. But perhaps best of all, this is the first time we see the gallant Mr Gideon Seymour swing into action and think about the safety and security of others above himself.
As Gideon the Cutpurse progresses, we see the best (and sometimes the worst) brought out in our main characters throughout the course of the story. Neither Peter nor Kate have met before their time-slip adventure begins, yet they quickly realise that if they are to survive the ravages of the 18th century, their best hope is to stick together. Peter clearly isn't used to sharing -- he's an only child after all -- and Kate clearly is a resourceful and intelligent girl with a mind of her own. But by looking out for each other, and providing support and encouragement, they soon learn how to make the best of their situation and try to solve the problem logically and creatively. Emotionally, they also find they are inextricably bound, and when they make their blood pact, we are left in no doubt that both Kate and Peter are as reliant upon each other for survival as they are upon the kindness and hospitality of the friends they have made.
Despite the fact that they are both used to the comforts of 21st century living, they soon learn to adapt to life in 1763 and even enjoy some aspects. Peter's experience of riding with Gideon, for example, is one he would never have experienced before travelling back in time.
It is no accident that Linda Buckley-Archer was inspired to write this novel after listening to a historian talking about crime and punishment in the 18th century. The author has gone to great lengths to ensure that the historical content of the book is accurate and reflects how different classes within society lived their everyday lives long before the Industrial Revolution. Every aspect of the major picture is built up by paying close attention to minor details, hence the food, the clothes, the modes of transport, the sights and sounds of 18th century England are all beautifully evoked. Some of the most vivid passages chronicle the horrendous conditions inside Newgate prison and the humiliating scenes when Tom and Parson Ledbury confront Gideon in the most appalling conditions. Gideon's own story of how he came to work for Lord Luxon highlights the terrible dangers presented to the poor within a society where standards in sanitation and hygiene were much lower than today, and where modern medicine simply didn't exist.
The introduction of real-life characters from history such as Erasmus Darwin, George III, and Dr Samuel Johnson give the novel an authentic historical context that informs and entertains. But for us, the readers, perhaps the book's most startling legacy is the frank portrayal of the unenlightened attitude towards criminals at this time, and the cruel and inhumane conditions they were forced to suffer for what we now look upon as relatively minor misdemeanours.
Sum It Up
The richness of detail and historical fact in Gideon the Cutpurse cannot fail to impress the reader. But what captivates us ultimately is the contrast between an England separated by more than two hundred years, and the tension that is created by flipping back and forth between these two eras. Both Peter and Kate are caught up in a time-slip, desperate to return to their modern lives, and to escape the fearsome and terrifying Tar Man. As we revel in the fun, excitement and tension of that endeavour, we are also provided with an intriguing window into life in Georgian England.
As a well-crafted children's story with impeccable historical credentials, Gideon the Cutpurse is an original and compelling work of fiction. With translation rights sold to France, Italy, Germany and Russia, and more to follow, the first book in this trilogy has been greeted with plaudits from all over the world. What's more, a cliff-hanger ending that boldly reverses the fortunes for two of the main characters means that book two in the trilogy, The Tar Man, is eagerly awaited by its growing audience of fans.