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Story Notes for “Let This Heart Be Still” December 22, 2010

Posted by Me in Let This Heart be Still.
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Recently, at the recommendation of a couple of friends. I read the Richard Sharpe series of books by Bernard Cornwell and watched the related TV DVDs.  I took to this series like a duck to water, devouring the books and DVDs available from my library in the space of two months or so.

My friends assured me that if I liked Jason Isaacs as Colonel William Tavington, then I’d surely like the equally handsome and audacious Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe.  They were right, I quickly became addicted to the stories taking place in India and Europe during the Napoleonic era.

But completely unexpected to me, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t Sharpe himself, though a thoroughly fascinating character, who most interested me.  No, it was Sharpe’s main nemesis, Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill who drew me in.  I’ve always had a thing for villains; the bad boys of any book, TV show, or movie.

And Obadiah Hakeswill is truly an original when it comes to an antagonistic character.  For those who take him simply at face value, he’s evil, he’s crazy, or feigns being crazy to advance an evil agenda.  For those who look beyond the surface, he’s a man who survived a traumatic childhood horror and despite suffering PTSD because of it, managed to survive in the British army for thirty years by learning how to work the system to his benefit.

In every book he’s in, Bernard Cornwell tells the story of his horrible childhood, specifically that of surviving a hanging at the age of twelve that left him with an vivid purple scar around his neck and a periodic uncontrollable facial twitch.  In other words, the man suffers from a major case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which largely explains how he ended up the way he was.

Cornwell never explains exactly how Sharpe and Hakeswill became enemies, but he tells the reader that Sharpe and Hakeswill came from startlingly similar backgrounds; from the dregs of society where neither man knew his father or a happy childhood.  The main difference between the two men is that Sharpe never was subjected to the trauma of being hanged as a child, and he was able to depend on his charm and good looks to find mentors and friends at key points in his life, where Hakeswill could not.

So, the books made Hakeswill an interesting character to read about, but before seeing the DVDs, I was not inspired to write a story about him.  Indeed, Cornwell had gone above and beyond the call of duty in making Obadiah as physically repulsive as possible.  In the first two books written with him in it, not only was he hugely fat (which seems rather unlikely when combined with descriptions of some of the antics he engaged in), he was dirty, with rotted teeth, lank hair, bad breath, and perpetually with spittle on his chin.  Ugh.

If not for the DVDs, the Sharpe series would have simply remained an entertaining series of books with a more interesting than usual antagonist, but that’s about it.  Before the DVDs, I was not inspired to write a story in this series.

Enter Pete Postlethwaite, the brilliant character actor whom Steven Spielberg once dubbed “the best actor in the world”.  I don’t know who made the decision to cast Postlethwaite as Obadiah Hakeswill, but the man was born to play the role.   And better yet, while not being a conventionally handsome man, Postlethwaite is a vast improvement over the repulsive Hakeswill of the books.

Pete Postlethwaite did a masterful job bringing Obadiah to life, clearly hinting at the damaged little boy buried underneath the unmitigated bastard. He took a character teetering on the edge of being a cartoon bad guy and fleshed him out. In essence, Pete made Obadiah human.

Bernard Cornwell apparently agreed.   He’s admitted that the three books taking place in India, written after Sharpe’s Company and Sharpe’s Enemy had been filmed, had Obadiah written with Postlethwaite in mind.  He’s even expressed regret for killing the character off, as he now considers Hakeswill as Sharpe’s most interesting adversary.

Another Sharpe video, Sharpe’s Peril, reveals that Obadiah Hakeswill left behind a son, who is shown in this episode.  Peril takes place four years after Hakeswill is executed by firing squad in Sharpe’s Enemy.

After learning of his son, who bears his father’s surname and is in the army in his father’s old unit, the wheels began turning in my head.  Because the young man bore the surname of Hakeswill and was in his father’s old unit, it seemed highly unlikely that he was simply the product of a rape.  It seemed logical to assume that there had to have been some sort of a relationship between Obadiah and the boy’s mother, if not a marriage.  I began to wonder how that relationship came about, what the nature of it was, and what eventually happened to the woman who gave him a son.

But it wasn’t until I saw Steshette’s excellent Hakeswill YouTube video, which supplied me with the title of this story, that everything fell into place and I knew I had to write a story about Obadiah.  Even the words of the accompanying song fit Obadiah to a T.  The video can be viewed below.  Readers should note that Obadiah is thirteen years older in this video than he is in the beginning of my story

While Pete Postlethwaite can never be considered the leading man type, there’s a certain quality about him that ignited the chemistry in me and I was hopelessly besotted.  I sometimes have weird tastes in men, having been attracted to the “bad boys” in TV and film since my earliest years. I love Obadiah to pieces. So sue me.

I’ve written this story with the idea that love isn’t just for the beautiful and the popular, but that there’s someone for everyone  Even Obadiah Hakeswill.

I hope you will enjoy it.

Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill

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