Airship Ambassador: Hi Harold, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Harold R. Thompson: Thanks for the opportunity.
AA: Some readers may already know you for your Empire and Honor series of historical adventure novels, which include Dudley’s Fusiliers, Guns of Sevastopol, and Sword of the Mogul. You also have a number of shorter science fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy works in print. Now you have The Tunnels of Madness in Clockwork Canada. What is it about?
HT: The story is a combination of real history and fantasy, and takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during the American Civil War. Halifax was a neutral port at the time and was often crawling with Confederate agents. My heroes become embroiled in a Confederate plot to smuggle a diabolical new weapon out of the city using the secret tunnels that have long been rumoured to lie under the streets.
And then things go horribly wrong.
AA: I was fairly captivated while reading the story, imagining those network of tunnels and the secrecy around them. Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
HT: I work in the heritage field and have studied the Victorian era, in particular the British Army of that period, for over twenty years, so I drew on some of that knowledge. The steam era, the era of the Industrial Revolution, is fascinating because it’s a bridge between the old world and the modern. It’s that juxtaposition that I think is appealing, and the sense of power that all that industry brought, that sense of change and endless possibility… with a cost.
AA: What was the motivation for creating Tunnels?
HT: I was interested in exploring the relationship between history and folklore. There’s an old legend or rumour in Halifax that the British Army built tunnels under the streets connecting the forts, including a tunnel under the harbor to Georges Island. There’s been a lot of speculation about how these tunnels could have been built using the technology of the 1860s, and that was my starting point. I wanted to explore the possibility of that idea. I was also inspired by the works of A. Conan Doyle, who liked to include weird technologies and strange rumours – stuff he read about in the papers – in his stories. So Tunnels takes these old Victorian urban legends and asks, “What if these things really existed?” I should also mention that I’m a fan of the US Civil War, and wanted to set my story during that period.
AA: That’s a great way to use actual history, and the mysteries, in any story, especially steampunk. What can you share with us about the main characters, Captain John Frame, Jacob Dorian, and Major Edward Blackburn?
HT: Frame is a retired British Army officer and a veteran of the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny. His experiences have convinced him that war is terrible and to be avoided at all costs, but also that people have a right to determine their own destiny, free of meddling empires. Jacob Dorian is an ex-Royal Navy warrant officer and an escaped slave from the American South. He works for Major Blackburn, but it’s clear he has his own agenda. Major Blackburn is a serving officer in the Royal Engineers who designs strange and innovative weapons for the British Army. His daughter Alice, who is a tinkerer and inventor, also figures prominently in the story.
AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?
HT: Two key objects and one large infrastructure figure in the story, namely a kind of early poison gas bomb, gas masks, and a linked subterranean tunnel system partly built out of immense steel pipes.
AA: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Tunnels??
HT: It’s a very military world, and also a world that embraces science and technology, particularly technology that can be applied to defence. We have a harbor filled with steamships, and taverns and coffee houses filled with sailors, soldiers, and those who catered to sailors and soldiers. The streets are lined with barracks, and cannon seem to sprout from every hill. There’s a great deal of fear and tension in the air, thanks to the great war to the south.
AA: The details presented in the story paint a clear picture of that, and the cost to almost everyone. Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
HT: They will encounter danger, a little mystery, a little adventure, and a little tragedy. Not so much comedy.
AA: How did elements of your own life and experiences play into Tunnels?
HT: As I mentioned, I work in the heritage field, and was able to draw on my familiarity with the material culture of the 1860s, and also the history of the setting. I’ve never encountered any tunnels. Yet.
AA: Sounds like an opportunity for exploration! What kind of back story is there for Tunnels which didn’t make it into the final book?
HT: I hint at quite a bit of back story for all of the major characters, and all of that made it to the final edit. There could be more to those stories and the relationships they describe. I’ve thought about writing more stories featuring these characters, actually, some that take place before Tunnels and some after.
AA: Can readers look forward to other stories with John, Jacob, or Alice?
HT: Following up that previous answer, yes, very possible. The story ends with what could be a new set of relationships between these characters. Maybe a team?
AA: Teams would be good, and with the world and technology you’ve already used, I’m sure I’d be pretty engrossed in reading them. When people read Tunnels, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
HT: Anything they see in there that strikes a chord. I’d be happy if everyone who read the story reacted in a different way. Maybe, if I have to pick something, I’d like it if readers came away thinking about how easily one’s beliefs and philosophies can be influenced or even changed by personal experiences.
We’ll pause here in our chat with Harold. Join us next time when he talks about the writing and publishing of The Tunnels of Madness.
Keep up to date with Harold’s latest news on his website.
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