Photograph by Gentry Bowles
Will Thomas is the author of Some Danger Involved, the first novel featuring Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, and now a Barry and Shamus Award nominee. He lives with his family in Oklahoma.
Q & A with Will Thomas
Eventually, most of Barker's secret past will tumble out. As Llewelyn moves from apprentice to journeyman agent, he will face increasing dangers and grow. Both men must rely upon each other to survive and will go through trials and changes in their personal lives. Beyond that, Llewelyn hasn't told me yet.
2. You write your books using pen and paper rather than on a computer. Why? Does the pen and paper spark more creativity in you?
Pen and paper binds me closer to the characters. Sometimes I draw a character in the margin before I create a word portrait. In fact, the drawing left by Inspector Bainbridge in The Limehouse Text began as an actual sketch I made when I first plotted the novel.
3. How much do the highly developed characters drive your storylines? What other factors help determine which plotline comes next?
My characters provide good vehicles to move the plot along, but ultimately, it is social issues which drive my novels, such as anti-Semitism, terrorism, and child safety, issues we are still struggling with today. At the same time, the entire series could be considered a bildungsroman of Thomas Llewelyn, as he grows from callow youth into full adulthood under Barker's tutelage.
4. What was your inspiration for the plot of The Hellfire Conspiracy?
I came across a quotation while researching Some Danger Involved, something about every Jewish mother in the East End fearing their children would be snatched by white slavers. When something like that intrigues me, I always ask myself what's the worst that could happen. Then I throw that threat into Barker's lap.
Photograph by Julia Thomas
Will at Craig's Court in 2006.
5. Is the character William Stead based upon a real person from history? If so, is he someone you admire?
Stead's final moments were aboard the Titanic, helping women and children into the lifeboats, and calming those around him. He was a paradoxical mixture of Socialist and Christian, as well as a newspaperman known for shocking headlines and verbal hyperbole. It was his efforts that finally produced a law against child prostitution. He was real, and yes, I admire him very much.
6. Whose view in this exchange between Thomas and Barker do you sympathize with the most and why:
Thomas: "I thought this was a Christian country."
This question cuts close to the bone. Do I think we live on a mean, sinful planet which shall get worse before it gets better? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying to change it, or give up all hope that it can be improved.
7. Why did you introduce Beatrice Potter into the story?
When I first read of Miss Potter's thorny involvement with Joseph Chamberlain, I said to myself, here's another way to break Thomas's heart. I cannot recall another story in which a fictional character actually dates an historical figure, so I wanted to try it. Most of the characters in The Hellfire Conspiracy were real people, so it was a challenge to bring them into the story and yet to faithfully render them.
Beatrice Potter should not be confused with children's author Beatrix Potter. She eventually wed Sydney Webb and the duo were famous political radicals during the 1980's and early 1900's, responsible for the passage of several laws on welfare and labor issues.
8. The role of Jews in socialism and social causes is highlighted in The Hellfire Conspiracy. What inspired you to focus on this topic? What are some little-known aspects of social change or the socialist movement in the late 1800s?
The Jews have a long tradition of doing good works for the community, both through donations to public works and through championing causes. The East End of the 1880's had several social problems, such as poverty, crime, poor working conditions and crowded tenements, which the educated Jews worked to improve. I chose to focus on this after studying the historical Jewish figures Israel Zangwill and Amy Levy. Also, most people don't know that Christian organizations such as the Salvation Army were militant members of the Socialist movement of that era.