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Author Interview with Will Thomas

Author Interview with Will Thomas by Jerelyn (I-F-Letty)

Jerelyn: Will Thomas is one of my personal PBS success stories, I saw his book The Hellfire Conspiracy and wanted to read it.  One of the things I have learned when finding anything on PBS is to check the back list, I realized that the book was fourth in the series.  So I ordered the first book and when it came, devoured it.  Then of course I had to have the others.  There are so far five books in the series beginning with Some Danger Involved.  So please let me introduce you to Will Thomas, author and creator of  the Barker and Llewelyn  Mystery Series.

Mr. Thomas thank-you for agreeing to this interview.

I always wonder if writing isn’t more of a vocation than an occupation.  Is this how it is in your case?

Will Thomas: If by vocation you mean a strong internal inclination, then I certainly agree.  A novel is the pearl in my shell that I can’t help adding to layer by layer.  If I didn’t have that bit of grit to begin with, I’d probably have to inject it there myself.


Jerelyn: Was it always your intention to become a writer?

Will Thomas: My first interest was theater, but eventually I grew tired of acting in other people’s plays.  By that time, I’d had several pieces published, so I got an English degree and began working on my first novel.  Why not a play?  Because I know that novel will still be on a shelf somewhere a century from now.


Jerelyn: One of the members after reading your first book said that it had a “strong Sherlock Holmes flavor”.  Is this a fair statement?

Will Thomas: It’s funny how no one ever says Conan Doyle has a “strong Will Thomas flavor.”  Actually, I grew up among the various Sherlock Holmes societies and might be writing pastiches now if I hadn’t reached critical mass.  I became a purist, believing that only Doyle can render Holmes perfectly.  By that time, I’d memorized Victorian London minutely.  I had to do something with that knowledge.


Jerelyn: Why did you choose to write mysteries, and why this time period?

Will Thomas: One writes what one loves to read.  There was no question in my mind that I would write a mystery.  As for the Victorian Era, I don’t believe one chooses it.  It chooses you.


Jerelyn: I love your characters will you tell us about Cyrus Barker, and Thomas Llewelyn?

Will Thomas: Cyrus is six foot two, two hundred ten pounds of muscle, trained in martial arts, and covered in tattoos from various secret societies.  He’s a Scot who grew up on the streets of China, forced to wear dark spectacles to hide his European ancestry.  He was a soldier, a ship’s captain and a prize fighter from somewhere (he won’t tell me).  He returned to Britain with a fortune and became a private enquiry agent in Craig’s Court, Whitehall.  He is a Baptist, and permanently engaged to a widow who lives in Sussex.  He’s known in London for throwing himself completely into whatever case he is investigating.

Thomas Llewelyn is Barker’s assistant, and at twenty, is half his age.  He’s already spent time in prison, unjustly, and took the position because it was the only one offered to him.  He’s only five foot four, but a good looking lad.  Women are his Achilles heel.  He tends to put them on a pedestal, where they generally fall off, to his chagrin.  He uses humor to hide a sensitive nature, and while he talks a blue streak, he thinks still more.  Before becoming a detective, his chief aim in life was to be a don or a poet.  If left alone, he would read in a chair for the rest of his life.


Jerelyn: Intellectually, I know that London was, and is a great international city, but the history of the immigrant groups that did most of the work of the empire have gone unsung.  Why have you decided to intertwine their histories into your work?

Will Thomas: Each successive wave of immigrants adds a new flavor to the melting pot, a term invented by Israel Zangwill, who I have written as Llewelyn’s best friend.  Who isn’t intrigued by Limehouse or Little Italy or the Jewish quarter?  These are where crimes were committed and revolutions begun.  A private enquiry agent living in London would need to know every street and the languages of the inhabitants, or he’s no better than a common beat constable, who sees things imperfectly.  Ethnicity is the garlic in the marinara, and the powder in the curry.


Jerelyn: Do you see any parallels between the modern day and the late Victorian period?

Will Thomas: I see nothing but parallels.  All the “isms” of today’s society: terrorism, anti-Semitism, Socialism, Communism, etc., got their start in the 1880’s.  Whenever one of my books is published, I’m able to go to the local headlines and find the subject I wrote about is still occurring.  Often, it’s thriving.


Jerelyn: You pretty much tell Llewelyn’s story from the beginning, but Barker’s emerges more slowly and by book five he is still mysterious.  Are you still discovering Barker yourself?

Will Thomas: Barker is still revealing himself to me or rather I’m still discovering things about him.  He’s not really helpful in that matter.  From the beginning, Thomas has been fully available, but then he’s changing.  Barker’s character is set, but being revealed, like peeling the layers of an onion.  He reveals himself at the oddest moments as I write.


Jerelyn: You really get the socio-political mood of London at this time period.  What kind of research brought you to your view of London in the last part of the 19th century?

Will Thomas: The trick to making a modern reader care about an obscure English law or movement is to make a character suffer unjustly because of it.  It’s not as if we’ve perfected society since then, so we can relate to whatever a character has been put through.  I like dealing with firsts: the first bombing by political terrorists; the first child kidnapped by white slavers; the first recorded serial killer.  It is up to the writer to give the reader something recognizable to hold onto.


Jerelyn: Barker is very much a man of many contradictory parts he is very Zen but then a warrior.  I know that you have an interest in the martial arts of this period will you tell us about this I find it fascinating.

Will Thomas: I began martial arts when I was fourteen and still attend classes every week.  When I first began Some Danger Involved the art I wanted to use, Bartitsu, no longer existed.  I created a forum to help locate the original materials, with the help of Tony Wolf and dozens of other historical martial artists, and we’ve been able to compile the Bartitsu Compendium, Parts I and II and film a documentary.  It really has taken on a life of its own.


Jerelyn: Then there is Harm, would you like to introduce us to Harm?  I kind of see him as Barker in a fur coat.

Will Thomas: Harm is a black Pekingese, brought illegally from the Forbidden City.  Pekingese (I have three around my ankles as I write) are generally one person dogs, and as far as Harm is concerned, Llewelyn is not that person.  Harm is one of the challenges he must face every day, and there is the hope someday that the dog will bend and accept him and stop biting his ankles.  But I doubt it.


Jerelyn: Thomas has suffered a great deal; what drew Barker to him?

Will Thomas: Thomas Llewelyn is an Everyman.  His lack of size and an occasional hang-dog attitude makes him nondescript.  Other men don’t give him a second thought.  However, he’s very intelligent, and has a wealth of information stored in his brain.  Also, he is being trained in various skills by Barker which allows him to compensate for his size.  In each novel, he becomes more competent, and is on his way to becoming a top notch enquiry agent.


Jerelyn: Are there any parts of Barker or Llewelyn in you?

Will Thomas: It’s more like are there any parts of either that aren’t me.  Llewelyn is much like I was in my twenties, highly voluble and sensitive.  Barker is an idealized version, how I would like to be, if only I could.  Actually, much of Barker’s character is borrowed from my father, especially the gravelly voice.


Jerelyn: How did you come to know late 19th century London so well?  I mean parts survived the blitz but so much has been lost?

Will Thomas: Obviously, I read a lot of Victorian history and literature.  I like to collect books on London from the 1910’s and 20’s, prior to the war, books by authors such as Sax Rohmer, Thomas Burke, and H.V. Morton.  I especially like the dialogue.  The English language has evolved since then, so the books become a kind of time capsule.


Jerelyn: Barker is Scots and Llewelyn is Welsh, both were groups looked down upon by the English is that why you chose their nationalities?

Will Thomas: First of all, detective work was one of the few trades available to Scotsmen.  Thank Alan Pinkerton, for example.  Many of the people Barker associates with at Scotland Yard are Scots, as well.  As for Llewelyn, he is a storyteller through his DNA.  The main reason I’ve had them be a Scot and a Welshman, however, is that it makes them outsiders, and thus able to voice some of the criticisms concerning the problems of the age, such as Imperialism and xenophobia.


Jerelyn: I love the supporting characters it seems that Barker likes taking in strays, do you have a favorite supporting character?

Will Thomas: You’ve hit the nail on the head.  Barker does take in strays, many of whom have seen time in jail.  I have trouble keeping his chef, Etienne Dummolard, from taking over each novel.  He roams about the kitchen in Newington every morning like an ill-mannered bear, smoking innumerable cigarettes and experimenting with recipes while his wife opens their restaurant.  He likes Barker’s all-male household.


Jerelyn: What is up next ?  I am anxiously awaiting the new novel.

Will Thomas: I’m working on the next Barker and Llewelyn novel and also have part of the next one done, as well.  If you’ve been keeping an eye on the year in each novel, we are getting closer and closer to the day of Jack the Ripper.


Jerelyn: Will you be branching out from Barker and Llewelyn?

Will Thomas: There is a certain gentleman waiting his turn in the queue.  Well, come to think of it, he’s not much of a gentleman, and he isn’t very patient, but he’ll have to wait his turn nonetheless.


Jerelyn: When you get a chance to read for pleasure what and who do you read?

Will Thomas: I love reading about the Victorian Era, but I tend to study more obscure places such as Meiji Era Japan or Colonial Hawaii or Indian Territory.  I never thought of myself as a political writer, but the injustices I read about make me want to seize my pen and write.  Grrr!


Jerelyn: Do you feel comfortable with all the marketing authors have to do now to see their books get noticed?

Will Thomas: It’s part of being a writer these days, but at the same time the blogging, tweeting, and face booking slows the writing process.  It’s all too easy to lose the rhythm, not to mention half an hour trolling the internet.  Wasn’t it originally designed to speed the process along?


Jerelyn: How do you feel about sites like PaperBackSwap.com?

Will Thomas: Sites like yours are a boon to authors as well as readers who want to know who to read next.  It’s better than word of mouth.  I appreciate getting the opportunity to speak to a larger audience and tell them about Barker and Llewelyn.


Jerelyn: Are you a fan of e-readers?

Will Thomas: E-readers are certainly convenient in this day and age where convenience is everything, but they just don’t go with a pipe and smoking jacket, you know?


Jerelyn: What books did you read to your children, and what was your favorite book as a child and teen?

Will Thomas: My wife, Julia, and I read to our daughters from Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne.  I liked the way our eldest daughter lisped the word “disconsolately” from The Tale of Jeremy Fisher at two years old.  My favorite books as a teen were The Hound of the Baskervilles and Kidnapped. Around that time, I also discovered Dickens and devoured everything he’d written.  Doyle, Stevenson, and Dickens are giants, as far as I’m concerned.


Jerelyn: Thanks Mr. Thomas for giving us a bit of your time.  For those interested in reading more about Will Thomas http://www.willthomasauthor.com/ or on face book http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=100001223661952


Will Thomas books in date order:

Some Danger Involved

To Kingdom Come

The Limehouse Text

The Hellfire Conspiracy

The Black Hand


Will Thomas has generously offered a copy of The Hellfire Conspiracy to a member who comments on this interview. A winner will be chosen at random. Good Luck!

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16 Responses to “Author Interview with Will Thomas”

  1. Maria (SassenachD) says:

    Great Interview! Thanks for making me Read outside what I am used to.. I have ordered the first one Some Danger Involved!

  2. Stephanie G. (thestephanieloves) says:

    Hi Will!

    Mystery is one of my favorite genres. The Hellfire Conspiracy sounds like a great book. Can’t wait to read it… or the first books in the series, for that matter!


  3. Vicky T. (VickyJo) says:

    I heard about this series right here on PBS, and have since acquired all five books. I love them! Great interview; it’s always fun to hear from the author about his/her characters. I can’t wait for the newest adventure!

  4. CJ K. (greatbuys4less) says:

    I am currently reading Some Danger Involved and just love it! Have purchased all the other in the series from PBS and look forward to them all!

  5. […] Author Will Thomas was the founder of the Bartitsu Forum email list (where all the cool kids hang out) and was among the interview subjects in the recent documentary Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes. Cyrus Barker, one of the protagonists of Will’s “Barker and Llewellyn” series of Victorian mystery novels was partially based on Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright. You can read a new interview with Will here. […]

  6. Deb B. (bookzealot) says:

    Great interview — thank you both!! I love the Victorian Era and love mysteries — so these are right up my alley. I have read the first two and found them truly delightful. What I particularly like is Llewellyn’s sense of humor. Looking forward to reading the other books.

  7. Bowden P. (Trey) , says:

    I’ll admit I’m curious here.

  8. Cheryl M. (hannamatt52) says:

    Okay, now it looks like I have just discovered yet another wonderful mystery series to start reading. Thanks Letty and Mr. Thomas (I think!)

  9. ANNA S. (SanJoseCa) says:

    Can’t wait to start SOME DANGER INVOLVED. I’m ready for an intriguing page turner!

  10. Nikki G. (nikkig224) says:

    great interview! thank you for the giveaway!

  11. R E K. (bigstone) , says:

    Enjoyed the interview and author comments very much. Mysteries are a relaxing genre for me and HF mysteries are particularly intriguing. Here’s hoping for many more from you Mr. Thomas.

  12. Jill Hunter says:

    Once again Jerelyn you ask questions that show both your knowledge of the author and his work, and still dig deeper into both why they write what they do, and where it comes from. Excellent!

  13. (reacherfan1909) says:

    I bought Some Danger Involved when it was first released, but it was my brother who fell in love with Barker and Llewelyn – and he is very picky about his historical mysteries, a genre we both enjoy. This series, along with SPQR by John Maddox Roberts, Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith, and the Falco series by Lindsey Davies are the hands down favorites. Hope to see a new Barker and Llewelyn soon!

  14. Edward Brennan says:

    Thanks for the interview, love the series, can’t wait for the next one.

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    Author Interview with Will Thomas « PaperBackSwap Blog

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