Etsuko and the Boy Wonder began as a homage to Poltergeist, with the little girl channelling the ghosts from ‘the other side’ and doing odd things in the kitchen. Etsuko is just the right age to fit that sweet, innocent character used by the spirits. I couldn’t think of a way of doing the scene that wasn’t directly ripped from the film, so I came up with the idea of an ‘invisible friend’ who was a ghost.
It starts innocently enough, with Etsuko doing a jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen table. Then Owen realises that even for a child of a genius like Toshiko she was far too good at them and discovers that a ‘secret friend’ called Bobo is helping her with the puzzles.
His immediate thought is the obvious one for a medical man – that it is something psychological, and Owen starts wondering what the best way of treating ‘invisible friend syndrome’ might be. Despite his experience of strange and mysterious things, natural and unnatural, his instinct is that of an MD.
And as a father, of course, he is worried. Etsuko isn’t a ‘normal’ child. She was conceived by parthenogenesis and can become invisible if she chooses – a skill I haven’t yet, fully explored, it has to be said. I really need a story sometime that focusses on her invisibility.
The intermediate scene around Glasgow’s shopping streets took a bit of research. The Enoch Centre is within walking distance of the Hub on Jamaica Street, near the railway station. The Glasgow branch of Hamleys Toy Store, the Harrods of toy shops, is also in the same area, which was really, really fortunate. I was thinking of something like Toys R Us, but those are all on the outskirts of the city on retail parks. This was even better.
Munroe enticing Etsuko with an apple with a smiley face etched into it is, of course, an idea gleaned from Doctor Who. Young Amelia Pond was given them by her Scottish auntie. It seemed like a nice little touch from somebody as family orientated as Munroe, a grandfather through his son, who knew more than any other member of the team about bringing up children.
The next reaction from Toshiko and Owen together is to feel they haven’t been good enough parents to their children because Etsuko has developed this obsession with her invisible friend. They feel guilty. I don’t know how many real parents worry the way they are doing. It is certainly an issue seen often in American films and TV programmes. I was disgusted a whole back by an episode of NCIS where a high ranking female naval officer chose, in the end, to leave her job because she was ‘neglecting her children’. It is invariably working mothers who end up with those kind of guilt trips. I’ve certainly never heard of any male officer in any military force who worried about neglecting his children. It’s chauvinistic nonsense, of course, that a woman ought to put the children first. As long as the children are safe and cared for and KNOW that they are loved by both or either parent it should be enough. Besides, in the UK, single mothers are virtually harangued by the Department of Social Security to put their children into nurseries and go out to work. Only the middle and upper classes have the luxury of being full time parents, so it really is a lot of nonsense.
Of course, the database at the Hub comes up with the answer. Bobo is short for Bo Boland, a Victorian music hall sensation – a child genius hailed as miraculous. A few people were actually convinced there WAS a Wikipedia entry for him. I seem to have managed to capture their style of biography – no wonder after the amount of times I’ve used it for background to a story. No, Bobo is fictional, but perfectly plausible. Victorian music halls had all sorts of oddities of that sort.
The significant thing about the discovery of Bobo’s identity is, of course, the fact that Darius, the Vampire, is the one with the most empathy for the half-forgotten dead child. Owen and Toshiko are too worried about their own daughter to think of his needs. Darius, of course, is probably the most Human and humane vampire ever. His love for his own baby daughter is obvious and his compassion for the suffering spirit that Owen had called a ‘freak’ before realising what he was saying is a lesson to them all.
It is only later that Owen and Toshiko finally realise that the ‘bad people’ Etsuko has mentioned aren’t ghostly paedophiles like the character in Poltergeist, but ordinary school bullies who have marked her out as ‘different’. Both of them know that problem of old and determine to do something about it.
Meanwhile, there is only one solution to Bobo, simply make him sleep in the landing cupboard at night, since he IS a boy, and he can’t share with Etsuko, and let him carry on learning with her.
That is, if a ghost CAN learn to read.