Jackdaw - K.J. Charles Caution: I may have veered off topic. Sorry about that.


When I was very, very young I was introduced to a genius. That introduction is probably one of the most special that I have ever had. The reason it is special and will always be so is because that introduction was given by my dad and the genius in question was Oscar Wilde.

Some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading to me. I remember sitting on his lap while he read me whatever book it was that he was reading and you know it’s highly possible that I can actually claim to have read ‘War and Peace’ or ‘Ulysses’ after all, I just did the audio version. There is no doubt at all that my love of reading comes from my father. He has introduced me to many authors throughout my life but the one who has stayed with me always is Wilde. There isn’t a time I can recall not knowing him, that’s just occurred to me as I write this, and that’s kind of wonderful. I started with just his words and as I grew older I began to learn of the man. And the story of the man still absolutely breaks my heart. There is no doubt that Oscar Wilde wasn’t an arrogant man, that arrogance most definitely led to the tragedy that was the end of his life but I think that arrogance also helped to fuel his creativity.

It was my dad who explained to me about the end of Wilde’s life, I remember being absolutely distraught, I don’t think I was much older than 11 or 12, and I just couldn’t understand how the world could treat someone I loved so dearly in such a way. ‘They ruined a man who was before his time, because they didn’t understand him. Remember bigots are usually the people who don’t try to learn about the things they don’t understand’ was my dad’s reply to my question as to why Wilde was arrested and imprisoned. I know that it is a very simplistic view but it was the answer given to a child and the most important thing I took from it was the word ‘try’. I still try to get all the information and the facts about something before I pass personal judgement, I still try to learn as much as I can about something I don’t understand before I form an opinion and by doing so I think, and I hope, it makes me a better, more compassionate and a more understanding person.

For that (and many other things) I thank my dad and I thank Oscar. Much of the world is still not very tolerant of the things they don’t understand but little pockets are improving and as long as we keep moving forward maybe one day all of it will. My own little pocket has come a hell of long way and as my little pocket is the birth place of Wilde that change feels even sweeter. A memory I hope to carry with me always is my dad, because he was so overjoyed that Marriage Equality had passed, reciting ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ on the 23 May 2015 to a large group of people at a family party some of whom (unbeknownst to him) were people who had voted ‘No’. My dad is what we call eccentric and others call a bit crazy but on that day I felt utter pride for a man who has thought me to question everything and that love is a gift and can be hard to come by so who are we to dictate who gets to receive it.

“And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!”

What has all this got to do with ‘Jackdaw’? Well it does all tie in, sort of, as soon as I understood what it was that had happened to Ben I could not get Oscar Wilde out of my head. The injustice and the terror Ben went through. The humiliation, the bigotry and the fear he endured was heart breaking and I know that from a social stand point Oscar Wilde and Ben were worlds apart, even though Wilde would likely have put himself in Ben’s social class after he served his sentence, I just couldn’t separate them while reading this. Ben and Wilde’s punishment for their ‘crime’ absolutely slays me. My heart felt heavy for the entirety of this book, everything Ben went through felt grossly unfair, a life destroyed because people didn’t understand that he was in love with a man. I could totally understand his anger at the start of this, in actual fact I thought his ability to forgive was amazing. It’s very clear that he never stopped loving Jonah but his world was turned up-side down and he was left to deal with the consequences on his own, the anger and resentment he felt were totally justified. He was terribly cruel to Jonah at times but it made perfect sense, it never felt like angst for the sake of angst, it felt like that was where they needed to go to get past this awful thing that happened, that the poison had to come out before the healing could begin.

My most favourite thing about his book was Jonah. I both loved and hated him in ‘Flight of the Magpies’ but I adored him in this. He is so very flawed, so very damaged, so very human and he was a joy to read. Every time he talked about not being very good at planning I was close to tears. There was something very childlike about him and as his story unfolded the reasons for that became clearer and made me love all the more.

‘Jackdaw’ is not an easy read and while there is a thread of the ‘Charm of the Magpie’ humour throughout, it is also a story of two damaged and flawed men trying to find their way back to each other because apart they are barely existing.


“I’ve stopped running.”

“You fell?”

“I landed.”