Living La Vida Victorian
by Will Thomas
The joke on my Facebook page (Barker and Llewelyn Novels by Will Thomas) and in my speeches is that I somehow have one foot in the present and the other in 1885. You know, my cell phone is a telegraph key, and I was a Luddite when Luddite wasn’t cool. Of course, that’s not strictly true. I wouldn’t have written six books without modern technology, and my first novel, Some Danger Involved, was written concurrently with the rise of the internet. It would be nice to jump into a time machine and to find out if April 21st, 1885 was a Tuesday, which it was, but like the rest of you, I can find the answer on Google.
The fact is, it’s necessary that I do a good deal of research for my novels, which combine elements of historical, mystery, thriller and literary fiction. I believe that many of our current society’s ills began or were first recorded in the Victorian Era, and we are doomed to repeat them, from organized crime to terrorism, anti-Semitism to White Slavery. It’s all been done before, or as my character, Cyrus Barker, would quote: “There is nothing new under the sun.” If my Windows 2010 suddenly disappears off my hard drive, I blame Charles Babbage, who first invented the Difference Engine in 1848.
I do have a secret that allows me to write my novels with something approaching accuracy: I am also a librarian. I know how to do deep research, track down interlibrary loans for obscure references, troll through databases, and scroll through microfiche. I’ve earned my elbow patches. I’m also on the front lines, covering the desk, running a teen anime club, and helping people with the plethora of services at the modern public library. We have a symbiotic relationship. I feed off it daily. By the end of the day, there are a stack of books on my desk to take home which will spur my writing that evening. There are plot ideas, biographies of famous Victorians, films to watch for research, and even a graphic novel or two.
I’m also affected by the patrons. After the hundredth patron came up to me and complained about the sex and language in modern fiction, I felt good about not having them in my novels. After all, Doyle, Dickens, Hardy and Stevenson didn’t need them to tell a thrilling tale. Day in and day out, I’m confronted by customers telling me how they felt about the latest bestseller and why. A writer can’t get that kind of feedback hiding in his ivory tower; neither can he get the exquisite pleasure of putting his own book on the shelf for the first time, or checking it out to a patron without telling them he wrote it.
The teens in my anime club don’t understand that I don’t live in the library, but not all research can be done there. I check on my daughter’s horse at the stables nearby, or go home and sit with my pack of Pekingese. My narrator, Thomas Llewelyn, keeps a horse, and his employer, Barker, shares his home with Harm, the Pekingese given him by the Dowager Empress of China. I also study Victorian Era martial arts and am partially responsible for the current worldwide interest in Bartitsu, the art of Sherlock Holmes. No fighting or self-defense technique is used in my books that hasn’t been tested in the dojo.
To relax in my all-too-abundant free time, I like watching Doctor Who, my favorite time traveler, and putting in my backyard, using hickory clubs, of course. On weekends, my wife and I scour flea markets for English china and antique books, both of which threaten to take over the house. We spend hours discussing plot twists, literary quotes, who to kill and when. Then on Monday morning, it is back to the library again.
That’s my life. If I somehow actually acquired a WABAC Machine, I’d only use it to add more hours to my day. After all, while it might be tempting to walk the streets of Victorian London subduing criminals with traditional martial arts, I’d miss the pulse and hum of modern day living. When it comes right down to it, I think I already have the best of both worlds.
Will Thomas' website is http://willthomasauthor.com/index.php
Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas. Minotaur. 2014. ISBN 9781250041043 (hardcover), 304p.