Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Shane Peacock

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On Writing, with Shane Peacock

Author Shane Peacock talks to Open Book about the appeal of Sherlock Holmes, London in the 1860's and his new book, The Secret Fiend: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His 4th Case.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, The Secret Fiend: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His 4th Case.

Shane Peacock:

The Boy Sherlock Holmes encounters perhaps the most bizarre crime of his young career in The Secret Fiend as he tries to track down a terrifying man who assaults innocent people while dressed up in the character of a villain from Victorian sensational magazines and frightening children’s stories. The Spring Heeled Jack always strikes at night, looking like an enormous bat, committing his dastardly deeds for no apparent reason (at least, at first). The crime is brought to Sherlock by an old friend named Beatrice Leckie, a poor hatter’s daughter who is about his age and has always been fond of him – she witnesses the first attack, or so she says. Sherlock is suspicious that she is simply trying to gain his attention, but then the Jack attacks someone else … and someone else … and is soon terrifying London, all the while continuing to target young Beatrice. As fear grows on the streets and violent political unrest simultaneously shakes the whole country, Sherlock becomes obsessed with catching this elusive monster not only to help his (undeniably attractive) friend but to prevent the fiend from committing increasingly more violent crimes calculated, it eventually becomes apparent, to bring radical change to the very fabric of English life. All the while, he must deal with the affections, suspicions, and enmity of Irene Doyle, the Lestrades, and the one and only Malefactor.



OBT:

Aside from Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, what sources did you draw on when writing your book?

SP:

This novel was influenced by the work of Robert Louis Stevenson and in particular, his story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though RLS’s great work actually appeared a decade or so after my story is set, he would have been a young boy during that time, hailing from Scotland like Conan Doyle, and beginning to develop his interesting theories about the dual nature of human beings, which came to the fore in “Jekyll and Hyde,” a story about a mild-mannered man who, through his experiments, unleashes a demonic personality within his own, one that actually walks the streets and commits murder. The Secret Fiend is all about secrets, human secrets, and the fact that most of us have many, and hide other personalities beneath the one we show to the public. Sherlock Holmes is certainly a character who seethes with secrets. Victorian England was a very “dual” society, in the sense that most of its citizens projected a respectable exterior, yet underneath were hidden many desires, crimes, and indiscretions. I also did a great deal of research about the political situation in London at the time … which I believe leads me to your next question.



OBT:

Can you tell us why The Secret Fiend is set in 1868?

SP:

First and foremost, I wanted Sherlock to get older in this book, so we move forward a year to 1868, after his 14th birthday. But just as importantly, I wanted this story to take place during the year that the amazing Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister of the British Empire, then the world’s greatest super power. It was a remarkable ascension, since Disraeli (like my Sherlock Holmes) was a Jew, and had to overcome extraordinary opposition and prejudice to reach such heights. But Disraeli was a remarkable man, one of the most remarkable in history – a genius who was a very popular and influential novelist as well as a legendary politician, ground-breaking thinker, and stunning orator. Though a Conservative, it is in this very time that he almost single-handedly pushes his party to grant voting rights to many more citizens, and radically increases their numbers, including many of the poor. This signaled a great advance in history. But it would be wrong to say that he did it solely out of the goodness of his heart – though he believed in what he did, he also did so to gain votes and to quell the surge of radicalism that was running through Europe and England, so strong that it threatened violent revolution in London’s streets. In my series, the brilliant Disraeli is Sherlock’s hero. The Secret Fiend is a rare bird, a Young Adult Victorian political novel (with a frightening mystery, a terrifying villain, and a Jekyll and Hyde theme thrown in for good measure)!


OBT:

Why do you think so many writers have written about Sherlock Holmes?

SP:

I think there are many reasons, from the fact that he is just such a great character, to the flaws in his personality that appeal to modern sensibilities, the touch of evil in his soul, to his secretiveness, his boldness, his uniqueness, and to the fact that he may very well have been the first “super hero.” But to me, the biggest reason is that we would ALL like to be like him. We would all like to be this amazing personality, self-built, who catches those villains who cause pain to good people, to our friends and loved ones, and who does it would such incredible brain power! Who would not want to be Sherlock Holmes … even if just for a novel or two?



OBT:

What's your theory about the Spring Heeled Jack sightings and attacks that were reported in nineteenth-century London? Fact, fiction or a bit of both?

SP:

It is definitely a bit of both. There appears to have really been someone who dressed up somewhat like a bat and attacked a few young ladies in London right around the time that Victoria first came to the throne in the late 1830s. In fact, the police were pretty sure that they knew who the culprit was – an aristocrat who had issues with a few women, and thus women in general. The Force was never able to prove their suspicions. But after those isolated incidents, it seems that there were copycat attacks, and that eventually, the imaginations of “sensation” writers were intrigued by the original Jack’s bold and bizarre activities and they put pen to paper. The Spring-Heeled Jack then became a character in stories calculated to frighten the liver out of not only children … but children of all ages. The Jack became a towering bogeyman for Victorians, and with his “dark-side-inside-an -ordinary man” character, seemed like a natural to resurrect in The Secret Fiend … so we could see what the Boy Sherlock made of him, and find out if our hero just might be able to nab him … real or imagined!



OBT:

What is your next project?

SP:

I am at work on the fifth Boy Sherlock book. He will age at least another year in this one as well. It will appear in 2011, and promises to be just as strange as The Secret Fiend. I can tell you that The Boy Sherlock series will soon be brought to a (surprising) conclusion, in fact, possibly with the sixth novel, slated for 2012. I’m also working on a new YA novel dealing with a brand new set of characters – this one will have, for the first time in my writing career, an element of Fantasy, though it will also be Historical, with an ensemble cast of rather different folks. And lastly, I’ve been working on a novel for adults for some time and have begun to make good progress on it.


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 honours for his writing, including the Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of the Boy Sherlock Holmes series. Shane Peacock lives with his wife and three children near Cobourg, Ontario.

For more information about The Secret Fiend please visit the Tundra website.

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

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