Interview and Ice Cream - Brent A. Harris
Last week I posted my review of Brent Harris's new book, A Twist In Time - a wonderful steampunk story featuring Oliver Twist and time travel. If you haven't read my review yet, be sure you check it out. I am pleased that I got a chance to interview Brent about his new book. (The book comes out on May 15, 2020.)
Where did the idea for A Twist in Time come from?
A Twist in Time came from a short story I wrote by the same name where I flung a character from the past into the future just to see what would happen. Many of the themes explored by Dickens – poverty, technology, social injustice – are incredibly relevant to today, so Oliver seemed well suited to make a return. I liked the story, but I didn’t feel he had a lot to do, so I wanted to give him a bigger adventure – and I ended up with a completely different tale.
A Twist in Time involves several characters from Charles Dickens’s popular novel, Oliver Twist. Were you nervous about writing a story involving his famous characters? Did you do any research on the characters before writing them?
In some ways, A Twist in Time is like fanfic, which can be a lot of fun to take someone’s character and thrust them into surprising situations. But on the whole, it’s no different from what I write anyway which is alternate history – change an event in the past to speculate on a different outcome. My first book found George Washington fighting alongside the British during the American Revolution. That involved a LOT of research to get the characters and setting right. The same with A Twist in Time which takes place in Victorian London with characters that are well-known. It took a lot of care to craft it right.
I deliberately shied away from Terri Pratchet’s Dodger in crafting my own take on the character, and indeed in my version he’s a she – Jack Dawkins is Jill. There were many reasons to do that but one of them was to differentiate from what had been done before by other writers while still keeping the essence of Dickens’ intent… intact. In many ways, A Twist in Time is like alternate literary history, where I’ve changed a detail in a well-known book to create a whole new world.
What sort of research did you do for the setting of Victorian London (albeit one with steampunk overtones)?
I keep a copy of J. Redding Ware’s Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase handy. And I read The Victorian City: Everyday Life of Dickens’ London by Judith Flanders and How to be A Victorian by Ruth Goodman. It also involved a franctic weekend of research in London at the Dickens house and walking the streets Dickens walked. London is a bit overwhelming and I hope people will forgive what inevitable errors I’ve let slipped by under the guise of ‘hey look at that giant steam mill over there on the Thames.’ So, there are differences which a steampunk backdrop might allow.
You name drop several other Dickens characters in A Twist in Time, so I am curious. Besides Oliver, do you have a favorite Dickens character? Who is it and why are they your favorite?
The story behind Little Nell from The Curiosity Shop is quite interesting. Dickens wrote serially like a television writer of today. The penultimate installment ended on a HUGE cliffhanger, so much so that when the last ‘episode’ arrived in the States, the ship carrying copies was overrun by people at the port demanding to know the fate of Nell.
However, the ending was so bad, and people were so disappointed with it, that it soured the whole story for them. Not that we have that problem now. I’m sure people are quite satisfied with how certain shows and series end. /sarcasm.
So, it was interesting to breathe new life into someone that was the most popular character of her time.
I noticed that you also name drop several Dickens novels throughout the story. (I leave it to alert readers to find all of these Easter eggs.) What is your favorite Dickens novel?
A Christmas Carol is my favorite. It has spirits and time-travel and an unlikely but happy ending to it. Dickens was very much into the supernatural. It’s all over his work from the ghosts of Carol to spontaneous human combustion in Bleak House.
The next book in A Twist in Time tackles this Dickens story, with a few twists of its own. As many times as Carol has been adapted, I’ve noticed a few key lines that deserve to be teased out and paid attention to. There’s more than a few surprises to A Christmas Twist coming and I’m excited to have that book coming out this fall.
You’ve created a complex character in Oliver Twist, a young man troubled by his past and unsure of who he is, or what he is to become. Are you worried that people may dislike your interpretation of one of Dickens most popular characters?
Yes and no. I mean when we last see Twist, he’s a small boy who bounced around from one horror to another, relying on the kindness of others or falling prey. He’s never afforded the opportunity find his own identity or come to terms with what he’s had to endure which he’s forced to do in A Twist in Time. I hope people come to like my older Oliver as I’d like for them to buy the next book and then demand more. I mean, not like Misery, but some fan reaction would be cool. My version of success is to see people that I don’t know cosplay my characters at conventions, so that’s my ultimate goal.
Without giving us any spoilers, what is a scene in A Twist in Time that you like the most? Why does this scene resonate with you?
I can’t answer without spoilers. So I’ll just say that the unexpected fun of writing comes when two characters cross paths and just possess chemistry. Some of the dialogue that pops up was very organic. They are all fun characters who all have very varied viewpoints of life, so conflict comes naturally to them when you stick ‘em in a room together.
What is something about A Twist in Time that you want readers to know that is not conveyed in the book’s blurb?
I’d want people to know that this isn’t a retelling of Oliver Twist but a steampunk sequel. It really does twist an element in Dickens’ novel to create this whole new story and whole new Victorian London that in many ways is just as nasty, brutish, and short as it was for Dickens. Yet, it’s a city with heart, a city with many souls worth saving. London, and Dickens himself, very much inhabit A Twist in Time.
What’s next for you? What projects do you have on the horizon?
Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder is already written and ready to go, just looking for the right home. It’s a fairly large departure from the steampunk pages of Twist as Alyx peers into the future to ask the question: What if your home wanted you dead? Speculative fiction is fun!
A Christmas Twist, which carries on the story of A Twist in Time with an homage to Dickens’ holiday classic, comes out this Fall.
And, I have a collection of short stories set to publish sometime this year, centering around alternate history with a few focusing on dinosaurs and what might have been. It will contain the reprint to “Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon,” perfect for readers who like time-traveling dinosaurs.
If somebody wanted to enjoy an alcoholic beverage while reading A Twist in Time, what drink would you suggest to pair with the book?
The type of drink, going by Victorian standards, would depend on your class. Very much beer for most everyone. Or an over-priced cocktail at a gentleman’s club if you had the access. And gin was relatively cheap and drunk widely.
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Vanilla. Cause home-brewed root beer pairs extravagantly with it.
Where can readers follow you and learn more about your books and other writing?
Thank you Brent for sitting down with us and answering our questions. You can get your copy of A Twist in Time here.