Guest Post: Cindy Brown

A Different Kind of Twist

It must be fate: The lovely and talented Cynthia Kuhn invites me to post here in June when my new book Oliver Twisted comes out, and then I discover that the theme for the month is “Twist.” And since I listen when the universe talksOLIVER TWISTED cover FRONT final copy, I’d like to give Dickens his due, and write about Oliver Twist.

That was my opening paragraph for this blog post. Then I sat in front of my computer and thought, “Are you crazy? There is no possible way you can write about Oliver Twist. There are entire books written about the novel. There are even entire books written about the musical (I own one). The story has been popular for 178 years and with good reason. Why in the world do you think you can write about it?”

So I won’t write about Oliver Twist. I’ll just tell you why I love it.

I love the humor. Most of the humor is borne out of character, so it’s difficult to show it off in an excerpt, but this one about Oliver’s name makes me smile:

Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after a moment’s reflection, ‘How comes he to have any name at all, then?’

The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, ‘I inwented it.’

Illustration by George Cruikshank from the original serialized Oliver Twist 1837–39

‘You, Mr. Bumble!’

‘I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The last was a S,—Swubble, I named him. This was a T,—Twist, I named him. The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins. I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through it again, when we come to Z.’

I love the darkness. Ladies used to faint when Dickens read from Oliver Twist, and with good reason. He depicted violence in all its bloody gore, and his characters could be as menacing as any modern villain. I think Dickens’s original dialogue still works to great effect, which is why I used it in a few places in Oliver Twisted, as in this scene where Val, a Russian actor who plays Bill Sikes, turns on Ivy when she approaches him offstage:

“Stand off from me, or I’ll split your head against the wall.”

Whoa. I stepped back.

“That’s right,” Val continued in his Bill Sikes voice, “you be quiet now, or I’ll quiet you for a good long time to come.” He stared at me with the flat eyes of a killer, then turned back to the girls, all charm. “Now if you’ll excuse me, ladies.” He doffed his hat and took my arm roughly. “Pretty good, you think?” Val whispered to me in his own voice as he pulled me away from the group. “I do that for the play tonight. Now they come. Nice foreskin, yes?”

“Foreski—I think you mean foreshadowing. Oh. You knew that, didn’t you?”

Val grinned at me. No sign of Bill Sikes now.

Heck, I just love the writing. Though I’m not always fond of wordy writing (no Faulkner for me), Dickens makes it work for me. It might be his fine balance of description and dialogue, or it might be simply that I love Dickens’s way with words, like this description of Oliver’s birth:

Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,—a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress,

Edouard Trebaol as the Artful Dodger in the 1922 film version

rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.

“Rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer”—don’t you love it?

I love the musical Oliver! No, it’s not the book (SO much sunnier), but what great songs—and the dance numbers are to die for. My fav? “Consider Yourself.” If you haven’t seen it in awhile, you owe it to yourself to watch this great version from the 1968 film. It features Jack London as The Artful Dodger, Mark Lester as Oliver, and–butchers dancing with meat? Now there’s a twist for you.


Cindy Brown writes madcap mysteries set in the off, off, off Broadway world of theater. Macdeath (nominated for an Agatha Award for best debut novel!) The Sound of Murder, and Oliver Twisted (June 2016) star Ivy Meadows, actress and part-time PI. Cindy lives in Portland, Oregon, but made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.

She’d love to connect with readers at or on Facebook or Twitter.





11 thoughts on “Guest Post: Cindy Brown”

  1. OK, I admit it. I could never make it through Dickens, but reading your post makes me want to hit Amazon and try it again. Instead, I think I’ll pick up Oliver Twisted. Now that’s a book I KNOW I’ll love. Great and fun post, Cindy. Thanks for visiting.


  2. I haven’t touched Dickens in forever, but this does make me want to dig out my old copies, too! Great post, Cindy. Thank you! Your series has been popping up on Kindle as recommended for me, so I’d added it to my TBR list. How lovely you’re here today!


  3. Welcome, Cindy! What a fun post for this month’s theme! I’ve never read Oliver Twist, but have really enjoyed other Dickens novels. I’ve added both Oliver Twist and Oliver Twisted (great title, btw!) to my TBR list! 🙂


  4. You crazy girl! Your enthusiasm for your projects knows no bounds and what’s more, its infectious. Am adding your Oliver to my amazon list post haste. All I know about Oliver Twist is the Tom Hardy DVD I bought early in my Tom Hardy period. (That young man fascinates me; I know not why.) Creepy story!


  5. I’m a Dickens fan. In my youth, I bought one of those fake-leather bound sets of his entire works. Still haven’t made it through very many of them (the bindings fall apart), but you have inspired me to dig back in. Looking forward to checking out your books, too!


  6. Hi, Cindy! I’m looking forward to reading OLIVER TWISTED because I know it’ll be a great read, just like your others. I’m a Dickens fan, too, but only the stories I already know. I like slowing down to read something more difficult every so often, but not something so dense that I have to really study it. (I’m lazy that way.) And anyone who got paid by the word and serialized is my hero.


  7. Ah, Dickens. As an English major in college, I read a LOT of Dickens. Back then, I slogged through Dickens. Then I had to read Hemingway, Faulkner, and the like – and Dickens was a piece of cake! But Oliver Twist is one of the better ones, in my opinion. And yes, I know the musical is not the book but it is fun. Thanks for stopping by!


  8. Oliver Twist is one of my favorite Dickens–book and play! These are great examples, and I can’t wait to read your book. Thanks so much for visiting us (and thanks for your very generous words)!


  9. Not sure how to reply to each of you individually, so please excuse the group reply, but…thanks all! So glad this inspired you to pick up Dickens again.It’s been fun re-reading him as a writer. It’s interesting to see, for example, how much the serialization affects Oliver Twist. You can almost hear Dicken’s editor saying, “Okay, Charles, now we need a humorous chapter. And make sure to tie up all your loose ends in the last chapter or so.” Thanks for having me, and hope you all enjoy Oliver Twisted, too!
    (And Keenan, I went through a Thomas Hardy stage, too. Go figure.)


  10. Okay, yeah.. I like “unwonted allowance of beer”, but I also like “Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them.” Thanks so much for this cosmic introduction to OLIVER TWISTED!


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