Cathy Macleod interviews a brat, Oct 7, 2010: THE sense of humour peculiar to Bryce McBryce was nurtured during his childhood in the British Army. Born to follow the flag, or more precisely his father who was serving that flag, he discovered the weird adult world in remote outposts of Empire.
“It’s a neglected side of history,” he told me when referring to the army’s human baggage, the wives and children of servicemen. “Top brass has to take them into account when planning a campaign, a social event or housing. It’s been like that since forever, and today there remain attitudes that have lasted since pre Roman Empire. I don’t know who first termed the children brats, but that’s the accepted nomenclature.”
McBryce dedicates Wee Charlie’s World, his funny record of the British Raj at its peak, to ‘Brats then and now, the children of serving personnel, the children history ignores’. He subtitles it Glorious tales of the Bratish Empire, which probably was not a good idea.
“The book data people thought Bratish was a misprint and listed the book as British. I got them to change it but nobody understood the joke until a librarian who had grown up in the Air Force told her colleagues that she, too, had been a brat.”
The book relates the misadventures of Wee Charlie, from age 4 to age 9, during Empire’s twilight in Ceylon, now the republic of Sri Lanka. Prior to World War 2 it was a colony. As a social caste the occupying British army was supreme, and within its own structure preserved an additional pecking order. From the Officer Commanding Far East Land Forces the class strata descended through officers and other ranks to the lowest of the low, the brats.
“It occurred to me this was a good setting for a laugh. Ego and pomposity meets the innocent sincerity of a child. I used Wee Charlie to show up some of the peculiar ways of the world, and frankly these haven’t changed at all today. As Charlie himself declares: There’s nothing harder to learn than People.”
With this in mind, each chapter of the book presents a different problem for Charlie and a fresh discovery about adults. While trying to be an obedient brat he makes himself a bigger headache than militant Japan.
The threat of warfare and native activists is ever present. However, being the son of a low-ranked soldier, Charlie’s main enemy turns out to be his father’s colonel. The narrative begins on the troopship rushing to defend Trincomalee, Britain’s major naval base in the Far East. The opening chapter headed ‘Brat Overboard’ reveals the kind of thing to expect. Upon arrival at an ancient fort that previously served invaders from Portugal, Holland and France, Charlie continues to confound the grown-ups and to ponder the mysteries of existence.
I felt better after a chuckle over Charlie, because this kid sees adults as they are ─ a puzzling oddity. I love it. This is different, it’s brilliant, it’s how we are and ever were, the Adult Species, eternal bane of childhood.
“Delightfully amusing and nostalgic,” Bookpress News described it on first release. “A literary gem.” It certainly highlights many of Life’s perpetual hurdles. This is adult fiction with a child protagonist, and here lies its unique appeal. With each mischance the brat, a thinker, learns something new about humanity. Author Bryce McBryce plants this serious philosophy in comedic disguise. He has a gentle wit and ironic insight.
First published 2006 by Darling Newspaper Press, Wee Charlie’s World is now released as an ebook, $6.99. Or pay $4.99 at Smashwords by quoting coupon AC58A, this month only.