Calypso Bergère series

Beginning a fiction series: protagonist and setting

Paris travel poster

My first notion of Calypso Bergère was a kind of female Tintin, an intrepid teen-detective and adventurer inhabiting a slightly unreal, slightly indeterminate 1930s setting. But Tintin is ageless and sexless, and, to be blunt, two-dimensional. By contrast, I wanted Calypso to grow, to age, and to have adult relationships. I even thought about making her a sexual adventurer in the mould of Guido Crepax’s Valentina, or a fearsome secret agent like Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise. But these too are comic book characters and I wanted Calypso to be a more complex figure and also, importantly, to be caught up in the currents of her time. That’s not to say that one day she won’t have the kinds of adventures and experiences that could have befallen Valentina or Modesty — nothing is ruled out. But those two are older, experienced women, and I wanted to open the series with Calypso as a teenager on the threshold of adulthood, unsure of herself, uncertain of her capabilities, and unclear as to what her life purpose is.

Modesty Blaise

Modesty Blaise newspaper strip 1988

So Calypso will age and will change as the series develops. Experience will give her pain but also joy. Friends will come and go, though some will stay. Perhaps the same will be true of lovers. The beliefs and desires she holds dear at the age of eighteen will not be the same as those she cleaves to when she is thirty. But many of them will be. She is both an individual and a child of her time, and she will have to make her way in a difficult world in which not all her options will be easy ones. And sometimes she will have no options at all.

Once I had some idea of Calypso, the setting came soon after. The 1930s certainly — but where? My first thought was of a fictional Mediterranean island republic, a kind of amalgam of Corsica and Sicily, Franco-Italian in its culture, but fiercely independent, like Venice at its peak. As appealing as that briefly seemed, it clashed with the historical realism that I wanted to evoke.

Valentina poster

Valentina poster 1977

I knew that Calypso would be an artist, initially an aspiring one, though not to the exclusion of all else. So I decided to make France the primary setting. It was still the capital of art in that decade and still the country where artists from all over the world came to prove themselves. Calypso herself was French though, I was sure. Choosing France also gave me a rich historical setting. And of course, the continent of Europe was headed for war in that turbulent decade, and that would give further possibilities for mysteries and adventures

As the series evolves, Calypso, despite her desire to put her art first, will realise that she cannot simply be an observer of the events of the time. Nobody can escape political turmoil and war. There will be hard choices to made, and as the decade progresses, no doubt the mood will became darker. But now I’m getting ahead of myself. These are the early days in the series. Let’s see what happens to Calypso one book at a time.