This week we are talking with Henry Walton, author of The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Henry, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Henry Walton: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
AA: Let’s start off chatting about your two books. What is the story of Thaddeaus Shockpocket all about in Albion 77 and Victoria?
HW: At its most basic, The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket is a humorous account of an eccentric turn of the century family of inventor/explorers and their miss-adventures as they try to make new discoveries and invent devices to better the world. It is presented as a series of journal entries that Thaddeaus began writing when he thinks the family may soon come to an end due to a series of unfortunate mishaps that include accidentally presenting his young son Sherlock as a gift to an Amazon tribal chief and losing his wife in a family airship accident.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
HW: I grew up on movies such as such as First Men In The Moon, The Great Race, and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and always enjoyed the mash-up of Victorian/Edwardian society, science fiction, and absent minded inventors. When I set out to write a collection of humorous stories about an eccentric family of scientists it was an easy decision to place them in that world.
AA: What was the motivation for creating Thaddeaus Shockpocket?
HW: Thaddeaus Shockpocket actually had an accidental inception. I was midway through a writing a serious novel about the suspicious death of a teenage girl and how the case is miss-processed and false assumptions are made due to her alternative lifestyle. In the midst of doing research on the history of mental health treatment and how society has historically labeled and segregated people, even to the point of lobotomizing them simply for being different, I found myself in need of something to take me from that dark place. I started a series of humorous short stories about a family of misfits that weave their way through society, creating useless inventions and making crazy discoveries along the way while being totally oblivious to their own unique nature. As the stories of the Shockpocket family emerged, they just became more and more absurd and I would laugh at the end of the day instead of cursing society. I showed the drafts to other writers and publishers and they told me to backburner the novel and complete the journals.
AA: That’s a nice way to start a new project! Certainly a more positive emotional experience.What can you share with us about the main characters?
HW: All of the characters in the journals face personal challenges but persevere in spite of them. Thaddeaus is brilliant but has a short attention span and would have been called absent minded in his day or battling ADD today. His twelve year old daughter, Tweak, can’t sit still and is always spinning and twirling. In Victorian times she would have been labeled a fidget. Now we would say she is hyperactive. She also happens to be a genius and, more often than not, is the true brain behind Thaddeaus’ more successful inventions. Thaddeaus’ teenage son Sherlock never fit in with his school mates. He is reclusive and prefers to read books to being outdoors playing. Other characteristics of his behavior would indicate that he probably has Aspergers. He has a fantastic memory and an affinity for detail that becomes critical to developing some of the family inventions. Thaddeaus’ wife Katherine is the solid rock in the group. While chaos spins around the family, she remains calm and subtly guides the ship that is the Shockpockets.
AA: Those are some great characterizations, and I’m sure there will be something in each one which readers can identify with. Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story? Ships, devices, etc?
HW: The journals are packed with inventions and devices. Many of these are less than stellar, such as the buffler, a device that Thaddeaus invents to deal with young Sherlock’s proclivity to create noxious smells after a rich meal. Others will shift the entire direction of the larger story arc, such as the time wave synchronization device.
I would say that ALBION 77 is the one invention that runs through the journals and plays the largest role. ALBION 77 is an airship of Thaddeaus’ design that employs new means of creating lift that enables it to make the journey around the world with fewer stops for refueling. ALBION 77 becomes a key element in book one when it breaks its moorings and takes Katherine on a run-away flight around the world.
Another key device is Thaddeaus’ typo-telegraph. This apparatus permits users to send Morse code using a modified typewriter so they do not need to learn the patterns of dots and dashes. The typotelegraph enables Katherine to communicate with Thaddeaus from the run-away ALBION 77. Typing out messages on the home typotelegraph also becomes a favorite pastime for Nana, the family’s sign-language talking chimpanzee. Nana spends hours-on-end sending random thoughts out into the aether. Her broadcasts develop quite a global following and her chimpanzee jokes are re-communicated throughout the short-wave community.
AA: Nana was ahead of her time! Today, she’d be all over social media. What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Thaddeaus Shockpocket?
HW: The world of Thaddeaus is really that of Britain’s Victorian and Edwardian societies. The scientific community is highly active and new discoveries are being made on a regular basis. At the same time, both the social and scientific realms follow strictly adhered to mores and the Shockpockets are labeled as a non-conformist and criticized for their non-conventional ways.
AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
- Qiuliqtunga is Inuit Inuktitu for ‘I am cold’
- The weight of a pygmy goat is ideal for airship ballast. County Durham Teeswater Longwool sheep are too heavy.
- A boiled solution of thistle and wild flowers creates pink hair coloring. (I tried it on my golden retriever and it worked)
- Miniature trebuchets make excellent launchers for nuisance rabbits in your garden.
And on that note, we’ll end part one of our chat with Henry Walton.
Keep up to date with Henry’s latest news on his website.
Also, check out his exhibit page at The Steampunk Museum.