In my second novel A Light Shining, Josh Gittings is a special assistant to Prime Minister Peter Bolting. And in his case, “special” means “political.” Gittings does what Bolting needs him to do, and much of that is ruthless. Gittings has been involved in Labour Party politics and working for Bolting since he graduated from college 20 years before.
He’s a character who understands what his value is, what his role is, and what’s expected of him. He knows he’s often called “Rasputin,” and he’s self-aware enough to understand that it’s a justified nickname. He watches everything. He pays attention to small details. He can deal with political friends and enemies alike, and he sees little difference between them, because who’s your political friend today will be your political enemy tomorrow.
Josh Gittings is a man of the political 21stcentury.
When the royal family is assassinated in Britain and Michael Kent-Hughes is shot in San Francisco, Gittings, 41, is dispatched by the prime minister to California to be his man on the ground. He’s there to do the PM’s bidding. If Michael survives the shooting and surgery, Gittings is there to assist and guide. If Michael dies, Gittings is there to help Sarah Kent-Hughes and her newborn son. He’s there to make sure the world knows that the PM is with the new royal family.
It’s a cold, calculating, and rather bloodless job. And Gittings is perfectly suited for it. And it all goes according to Gittings’ playbook, until he meets and begins to work with Sarah, as Michael remains unconscious after surgery. Within two days of meeting her, he’s beginning to question what he considers the fundamentals of his career and of his life. When she speaks at her press conference, calling passionately for an end to The Violence in Britain, he finds himself in tears.
The third novel in the series, Dancing King, opens with Gittings leaving San Francisco with Britain’s new royal family. It is seven weeks after Michael’s discharge from the hospital; Gittings has spent those seven weeks working with Michael and Sarah, helping them in innumerable ways. And in the process, he has discovered that being with them has begun to change his own life profoundly. As he tells them later in the book, “I began to learn what’s really important in life.”
For those seven weeks, Gittings lives in Michael’s old apartment at St. Anselm’s Church, across the plaza from Michael and Sarah’s loft. He has ample opportunities to talk with Father John Stevens, the church’s head pastor and Michael’s boss. Father John plays a critical role as well, mostly in telling Gittings stories about the church and stories about Michael.
During the trans-Atlantic telephone conversations, Josh’s live-in girlfriend, Zena Chatwick, can hear the change that’s happening in Gittings simply by listening to his voice. When he arrives with Michael and Sarah in London, he tells Zena he’s moving out of their flat in Chelsea. And he asks her to marry him, “to make an honest man of myself.” He helps Michael interview and staff various palace positions, eventually submitting his own application for chief of staff. That such a ruthless character as Gittings becomes one of Michael’s closest confidantes raises questions in the minds of many. Michael doesn’t care; he knows how his new friend has changed.
The character of Josh Gittings is fictional, but there are elements of two people who contributed to his creation. One was an individual much like Gittings – political, ruthless, prepared to do whatever was required to achieve the desired ends. The other is rather more famous – Charles Colson, President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” Colson was one of the most ruthless of political operatives, until the Nixonian world collapsed, he went to prison, and people reached out to him in love and faith. Colson became a profoundly changed man.
And that’s what happens to Josh Gittings in A Light Shining and Dancing King.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.