Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Shane Peacock

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Ten Questions with Shane Peacock

The third case in the compelling Boy Sherlock Holmes series is full of as many twists and turns as the backstreets of Victorian London. Soon, very soon, the world will come to know him as the master detective of all time.... Open Book talks to Shane Peacock about writing, his latest novel, Vanishing Girl: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His Third Case (Tundra Books), and the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes.

Shane Peacock with be at the International Festival of Authors on Saturday, October 24th. See Open Book's events page for details.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Vanishing Girl.

Shane Peacock:

Vanishing Girl is the third book in The Boy Sherlock Holmes series. This one is a bit longer and features twists and turns and a haunted manor house on a hill and man-eating beasts that growl in the night and a deadly maze and bizarre look-a-likes and that sort of thing … just an average few weeks in the life of our hero. At the beginning of the novel, a snotty 14-year-old upper-class girl, the daughter of a politically-influential Lord, is kidnapped in Hyde Park and vanishes – her abductors leave nothing behind, not a single clue, the hint of a trail, or even a ransom note. Silence reigns. Months pass as the London public becomes fascinated and the police grow frantic. Then Sherlock notices something that others haven’t and thinks he tracks the girl to the aforementioned mansion, outside of London. But there are terrifying legends about the house. Dare he cross the maze to enter it? What is making those frightening sounds on the grounds? Is she REALLY there? And if she isn’t, then where is she, and who is being kept in that dimly lit upper chamber? Characters like Irene Doyle and Malefactor return and play prominent (and surprising) roles in Vanishing Girl.

OBT:

In an earlier interview with Open Book, you described your thorough research for Eye of the Crow and Death in the Air. What sort of research did you do for Vanishing Girl?

SP:

The research process was fairly similar for this book – a great deal of reading, examining photographs and hands-on investigations – though the details I was after were different. For example, there are a number of hair-raising scenes on trains in Vanishing Girl, so I had to learn a great deal about the “iron horses” from the 1860s and how to get aboard them without paying … and off them while they are still moving at top speed! I read as much as I could about such things but also consulted Victorian railroad experts in England and watched several movies (frame by frame!) that were renowned for their realistic depictions of period trains and action inside them. I also had to learn about manor houses, Royal Navy captain’s hats, the city of Portsmouth, workhouses, the effects of opium, etc. Charles Dickens’ great novel Dombey and Son exerted a strong influence on this story, so I re-read it a number of times.

OBT:

You've been touring the country and speaking with children about your books and about Sherlock Holmes in general. What do kids think about Holmes?

SP:

First of all, they all know who he is, amazing for a character that first appeared in 1887. They like the fact that he is smart, but also that he isn’t perfect, a little dark and weird, which comes out “big time” (as kids say) in my novels. I think they also like the fact that I’ve made my character, who was a somewhat stiff and intellectual adult, into a very emotional (at least inside) and adventurous youth; and yet he is obviously at all times on the path to becoming his grown-up self.

OBT:

What are your favourite Sherlock Holmes stories?

SP:

Well, let me count them! There are many. But I generally prefer the ones that are a little twisted, that contain what critics call “the grotesque”: stories like “The Man With the Twisted Lip,” “The Engineer’s Thumb” and “The Speckled Band.” I like the ones that show the influence of Edgar Allan Poe, a writer both Conan Doyle and I admire. Of course, the king of all the original Sherlock stories, both critically and commercially, is “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and it contains the elements I enjoy in spades. Though it may not be a literary work of art, it is a masterpiece of storytelling, with some truly bizarre and spine-tingling moments, one of the best (and scariest) tales ever written.

OBT:

Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories have been popular since he introduced Holmes to readers in 1887. Many of us grew up reading the stories, and several television shows and films have been made about Holmes and Watson. This December, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes is opening in theatres. Why do you think Sherlock Holmes continues to appeal to so many people?

SP:

Well, we all like superheroes and want to be like them, and he very well may have been the first. And what’s great about his character is that he was very “real,” not some guy who just happens to be (fortuitously for the writer) from the planet Kryptonite and thus possessed of powers that no one else can possibly have and with which criminals cannot compete. When one reads Sherlock Holmes, one always thinks that maybe, just maybe, with a great deal of studying and hard work, one might just become like him and right wrongs and bring evil to heel. We all also know that none of us is perfect. Neither is our superhero, Mr. Holmes: he is wonderfully fallible, a wacko who is eternally entertaining, sometimes rather a bad boy, but never swaying in his belief in justice.

OBT:

In addition to writing The Boy Sherlock Holmes series, you're a biographer, playwright, screenwriter and journalist. What led you to write books for young adults?

SP:

I don’t think writers decide ahead of time who their audience will be or even what form their work will take. Stories simply come to us and we write them appropriately. A little more than 10 years ago I visited a little island called Ireland’s Eye off the coast of Newfoundland and it entranced me. It was deserted, a ghost town on an island nearly out in the ocean, with abandoned, broken-down homes, a school and a church … and a cemetery that had almost disappeared into a forest. I stumbled over a headstone of a little boy and a story came to me. It simply was a kids’ story. It chose me. So, I wrote it, The Mystery of Ireland’s Eye, and it did very well, and I wrote more novels for kids. I still often write for adults, but truly enjoy becoming a 13 or 14 year old boy again, living in truly formative years, full of doubts and energy and ready for any adventure or mystery that comes along.

OBT:

Which books made a great impression on you when you were a child?

SP:

When I was a kid I wanted to play hockey, not read. But certain stories enthralled me, pulled me in, and eventually made me want to experience many others. I read lots of Hardy Boy books and Agatha Christie mysteries as a kid but what truly floored me was when my parents would read from Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol took me into wonderful, sometimes frightening worlds and showed me things that made me understand life a little bit and caused me to want to be a writer. I realized that this was great writing and the power of true art. To this day, there is nothing better than Dickens … unless it’s Shakespeare, but that’s a whole other story … or stories.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

SP:

I’ve been on a Robert Louis Stevenson kick for a long time and recently finished Kidnapped and Treasure Island. I’m amazed at how brilliantly flawed his characters are, very modern. Long John Silver is just a wonderful creation. I usually have many books on the go, and I’m also reading a non-fiction work called The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, about a mass murderer and an architect and how their paths crossed in the late 19th century United States. Lovely stuff!

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

SP:

Young writers need to understand that they will fail on their way up, we all do, and that the ones who succeed are the ones who keep going. They also need to learn as much about the business of the industry as the art. And they should also get into the habit of finishing what they write. Never give up on a story. If it’s bad, keep going. When you are finished, it will show you how NOT to write, illuminate all sorts of things for you (though the chances are you will figure out how to make it better if you stick with it), and you will have also strengthened your ability to write a story through to the end. That is invaluable.

OBT:

What is your next project?

SP:

I have completed the first draft of the fourth Boy Sherlock novel, entitled The Secret Fiend, in which Sherlock becomes desperate to find a frightening man who dresses up as a bat (based on a real Victorian villain, LONG before Batman) and terrorizes young women in the London nights. This guy is truly bizarre! I’m also developing a brand new YA novel and a novel for adults. Tundra Books and I are considering a few more Boy Sherlock mysteries after The Secret Fiend too. Kids (and many adults) out there REALLY seem to like them! Stay tuned for news on that front. I think it is going to happen.


Shane Peacock was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and grew up in Kapuskasing. A biographer, journalist and screenwriter, he is also the author of several novels and plays. He has received many honors for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series. Shane Peacock lives with his wife and three children near Cobourg, Ontario.

For more information about Vanishing Girl please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com.

For more information about Shane Peacock, visit www.shanepeacock.ca and for information about the series, visit www.theboysherlockholmes.com.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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