In real life, I witnessed him begin the slow process of death by many mini-strokes. In the novel, he represents Moses’ right-hand man.
His name is a direct reference to Joshua of the Old Testament, the man who led the Israelites into the Promised Land after forty years wandering in the wilderness. That man was known as Joshua, son of Nun. The Hebrew name ‘Nun’ means either ‘fish’ or a type of fish. I simply modernised and translated it to Joshua Fish.
As a contemporary friend of Lydia, he tells her about his unusual childhood, raised by an old guy acting as an informally adoptive guardian. That unnamed fellow, who we learn used to ‘lay down the law a bit’, is a reference to Moses, to whom Biblical Joshua was chief aide from early in his career.
When Joshua of the Old Testament neared the end of his career as military leader of the Israelites, he wrote up a history of it and made a covenant with the people that they should stay true to the faith. There, in Sechem, he set up a great stone next to an oak tree as a memorial to that covenant. Hence the name of the birthday-party pub, The Oak and Stone.
The character of the man in the novel, and his physicality, was heavily inspired (forgive the pun) by an old workmate at a mental health and homelessness project near Hammersmith. His name was John Reddy. He was a very sweet man and could be very funny and foul-mouthed – Joshua much less so, of course.
I don’t think he looked after himself very well. One morning, we were sitting alone together, waiting to open up the project, and I actually watched him have a mini-stroke. We didn’t know what it was at the time, but I insisted he go home and see a doctor. I never saw him again. He was hospitalised and had several more mini-strokes until it killed him a couple of weeks later. I have a couple of low-quality photos of him, but I can’t show them here because I don’t know whether his family would mind. I don’t really want to impose his image on readers’ imaginations, anyway. You’ll have to make your own Joshua.