Airship Ambassador: Hi Arthur, thanks for joining us for this interview. I feel like it’s long overdue since I first read The Hunchback Assignments.
Arthur Slade: You’re welcome. I’m always ready and waiting to talk about steampunk and all that!
AA: This is a series that one of my nephews enjoys. Would you share a bit what it is about?
AS: It’s the story of Modo, a young hunchback who has been trained since birth to be a secret agent for the British Empire. He does have a rather special ability, he can change his shape and look like other people. But only for a few hours at a time.
AA: There are four books now – The Hunchback Assignments, The Dark Deeps, Empire of Ruins and Island of Doom, the first of which won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award in 2010. What was the motivation for creating the series? How did the initial idea develop?
AS: It really came from fusing two different ideas. I had been toying with a Sherlock Holmes-type series and was generally interested in Victorian times. But I just couldn’t find that “hook.” I happened to be reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame and got the idea of combining the two stories. It gave me that spark I needed.
AA: You’ve written other series in other worlds. Why steampunk for this one?
AS: I’m just fascinated with all things Victorian. But it also was a way of paying homage to writers like Verne and Wells, who started the science fiction/fantastical fiction genres. At the time I started the series I just envisioned it as a continuation of their work with my own twist, of course.
AA: Did any elements of your own life make their way into their stories? Are there any inside jokes, or references to other books, characters, or people that you admire and enjoy?
AS: I think I may have named a couple characters after band members from Iron Maiden. I also have been to London (actually researching another book) but many of the places I saw while I was there ended up becoming a part of the book. At the basic level Modo is a reader and a little shy and I suppose those are aspects that I’m drawing from my own personality.
AA: What kind of back story is there for the series which didn’t make it into the final book?
AS: Oh, the things I’ve had to cut out! Honestly, I don’t keep charts or too many notes once I’m finished a book. I did plan on having Modo visit India at some point and China…but those may come in the future, if the muse and the publishing gods are willing.
AA: Are there any plans for another series or spinoff?
AS: Yes, but in graphic novel form. We’ve just started a crowdfunding campaign for Modo: Ember’s End (ends Nov 13. 2013). It’s the story of Modo and Octavia when they strike out on their own in the wild west. It takes place in an odd town called Ember’s End. Designed by a rather mad scientist, Dr. Ember.
AA: As other young readers enjoy The Hunchback Assignments, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
AS: I guess at the most basic level it would be to never give up. Modo doesn’t ever give up–he may get bruised a lot but he does get things done in the end.
AA: What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating The Hunchback Assignments world?
AS: It was madness all of the research. I read so much Dickens that it was pouring out my ears. And I concentrated on historical accounts that covered both the big picture of Victorian times and the small picture (even as small as what food was popular or which dances). Everything from the music of the period to the various articles that appeared in papers at the time. That all helped me understand the Victorian mind.
AA: What elements did you include so readers could feel the reality of this world?
AS: I stuffed everything in that I could…then my editors asked me to maybe cut back in the amount of detail. So it was a real balancing act of giving just enough info so that the reader feels they are in that actual world without overpowering them. As one editor said, “the reader doesn’t want a description of every bolt in every steamship in old England.”
AA: After four books, what are some memorable fan reactions to The Hunchback Assignments which you’ve heard about?
AS: I get so many letters asking me whether Modo and Octavia will get married. I keep pointing out that they’re only fourteen and fifteen when the series starts. But I also get letters about characters who were killed off or other plotlines that I could explore. Always fun to read.
We’ll break in our talk with Arthur Slade.
Join us next time for the conclusion where Arthur talks about his writing journey and process.
And participate in the a crowdfunding campaign for Modo: Ember’s End (ends Nov 13. 2013).