Interview with Caroline Lawrence, Award-Winning Author of Historical Children’s Fiction
Caroline Lawrence is an English American author, best known for her ‘Roman Mysteries’ – a series of 20 historical novels for children. Recently, Caroline has begun another series of books, this time about a 12 year-old detective, P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye. Set in Nevada in 1862, these are stories of prospectors, saloonkeepers, gamblers, hurdy-girls, desperados and – worst of the lot – newspapermen.
Book Walrus caught up with Caroline Lawrence after reading and reviewing ‘The Case of the Good Looking Corpse’ . We asked her a few questions about her new series and about P.K.Pinkerton, the unique main character.
How do you make your dialogue sound so realistic?
To research my P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries, I read lots of Mark Twain’s letters and listened to his early books on audio. I also listened to some other readings of books written in the 1860s. One of the best is George Alfred Townsend’s contemporary account of Lincoln’s assassination, The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth.
As for P.K., I just make him tell the truth and avoid contractions apart from ain’t. (For more about how I used audiobooks, go HERE.)
How do you find out so much about the places and times your characters live in?
Research is my favourite part of writing. I read books, listen to books, watch movies, travel, go to re-enactment events and even try out the artefacts when I can. One of the most fun was Cowboy fast draw shooting in Nevada. (For more about How I Do Research go HERE)
We loved PK with his Thorns and his Foibles. If he existed today, he would probably be diagnosed with autism. Would you agree with that diagnosis?
Yes, PK would probably be somewhere on the autism scale. But to create him, I just magnified my own Thorns and Foibles by a hundred! I have trouble remembering people’s faces and I also get obsessed with concrete details like the sights, sounds and smells of a place. (For more about Autistic Detectives, go HERE)
Do you think life was easier or harder for ‘different’ kids like PK in the days before doctors and psychologists were able to diagnose conditions and syndromes?
I wonder if it mightn’t have been easier! One great thing about the American West in the 1800s is that they appreciated or at least accepted eccentric behaviour. But it’s always good to understand how you tick!
What do you think it is about PK that makes him such a great detective?
Actually PK is a bad detective… but a great character!
PK doesn’t go to school in the book. Do you think children would learn more if they didn’t go to school?
Many of the greatest writers left school before they were 12. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to name but two! But they read a lot and the worlds they lived in were highly literate. As an ex primary school teacher I think we teach ourselves. Teachers and parents just facilitate that. I always say a week of travel is twice as good as a week at school! Having said that, British schools are among the best in the world, especially the independent sector.
What was the most interesting fact you learnt about life in the Wild West of the 1860s? And the funniest fact?
I was trying to think what would surprise us the most if we travelled back to that time. I think the answer is tobacco! Almost everybody smoked, sniffed or chewed tobacco. Public rooms would have been dimmed by blue clouds of tobacco smoke and permeated with the rank stench of spittoons, full of tobacco-tinted saliva. As it says on the splash page of my P.K. Pinkerton site “We are now in the regions of slavery, spittoons & senators – all three are evil in all countries, but the spittoon is the worst.” Charles Dickens http://www.pkpinkerton.com/
One horrifying fact about the American West is how many women died when their hoop skirts caught on fire if they got too close to a stove or naked flame!
Would you have liked to live then?
I would love to go back in time for a fortnight’s holiday, but then I’d be ready to return to London, the cinema, household appliances, my iPhone, British healthcare and my vermin-free apartment! (Well, almost… I saw a mouse in our kitchen last night!)
We thought your book was funny. Do you think the best children’s books are funny?
Some of my favourite children’s books aren’t funny. For example, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis don’t have many yuks.
But I love the sagebrush-dry humour of the American west; it was one of the aspects that most attracted me. Not just Mark Twain, but Dan De Quille, Artemus Ward and Alf Doten. Try reading some Bret Harte short stories. They are delightful! And even A.J. Marsh’s account of the territorial legislature of 1862 is a joy to read! (For more about Bret Harte, go HERE)
Adios for now, pards! It’s been bully!
Book Walrus found Caroline Lawrence a fascinating source of information about two of the most interesting periods in history – The Roman Era and the American Wild West of the mid nineteenth century. To find out more, we recommend a visit to her website http://www.carolinelawrence.com/