Monday, January 24, 2011

Howard Whitehouse and The Strictest School in the World series

As you long time readers of this site are well aware - I am a big fan of Howard Whitehouse's Strictest School in the World series. I've talked about them here, here, here, here and now here.

As any long time reader of this site also knows - when I like a book I can't stop talking about it. (Hello, Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge, right?!) Recently I was made aware of a special deal being offered by author Howard Whitehouse to purchase the entire hardback set from him - autographed and inscribed however you like - for $21 total. (That's $5 per book, plus good ol' S&H.) I decided to replace my non-autographed set for an autographed one and am taking advantage of the offer! You can learn a little bit more about that below, but I also asked Mr. Whitehouse a few questions which he obligingly answered.

Question #1 - What sparked your imagination for writing the Strictest School series?

HW: I’d been doing research into Victorian inventions for a completely unrelated project. I was fascinated by the number of ‘almost-right-except-for-that-part’ creations as well as the “What were you thinking?” ideas. One day the thought popped into my mind that a book for youngsters, involving a young inventor, might have potential. I decided that the pioneer ought to be a girl (because Victorian girls were supposed to live very narrow and restricted lives) and that she should have a younger boy as a partner in all her inventions.

Oh and he should be one of those ‘indestruckible’ kids you meet who can do the craziest things and never get hurt. Victorian aeronauts had a bad habit of plunging to their doom, which ended their experiments (obviously). I wanted Rubberbones to be able to walk away from many a crash.

Question #2 - Did you know that it would turn into a series when you began writing and are you hoping to write any additional books with these characters?

HW: I’m not usually one of those writers who carefully plans out stories, so I had no idea where it was all going to go, at all. But when I finished the first book I simply started the second!

I would love to write more. In fact, I have the first chapters written of a fourth book, wherein Professor Bellbuckle gets two letters. One invites him home to Savannah for the first time since he blew up the family home there. The other is from his old chum Butch Cassidy, currently in jail in Wyoming, asking the professor to help him leave said facility by means of an explosive device. It would involve a romp through the American west with Purnah accidentally becoming leader of a bank robbing gang, Rubberbones an act in a wild west show, and Emmaline showing a couple of young bicycle enthusiasts called Wright the basics of a flying machine.

Alas, the third book in the series didn’t sell well – it got great reviews but very little promotion at all – so Kids Can Press weren’t interested in it. I’d love to write more, possibly using the deranged-yet-loveable Princess Purnah as the lead. But she might be too extreme in her behaviour for anyone to take it on!

Question #3 - Which book of the three is your favorite and why?

I love all three of them, but I think “Mad Scientists” is the best. It’s very fast, with all three kids playing equal roles, and rushes about the UK like a mad thing. I was able to feature some fictional characters I like (from H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Conan Doyle) as well as real scientists, all of whom have been taken prisoner by the villain. Sigmund Freud keeps asking Rubberbones about his mother!

My favourite scene is the séance, where Aunt Lucy and Purnah are called upon to pretend to be a medium and her niece in order to persuade a rather dotty old lady to stop wasting her time dealing with charlatans who promise to bring her late husband into contact with her. Purnah can’t recall whether she’s supposed to mess it up or not, but does so anyway. Someone told me they were happy I hadn’t featured any actual occult happenings. This confused me a bit, since it had never occurred to me that A) I should treat spiritualism as an authentic element (I don’t believe in it myself) and B) more importantly (!) “How would that be funny?”

(*See Carrie's note below)

Question #4 - Do you ever attempt speaking in Chiligriti to your wife, Lori, and if so, does she put up with it?

HW: Lori is a responsible adult. She puts up with a great deal, but not my speaking in Chiligriti. Besides, most of the language seems to consist of insults and curses. I don’t sing any of Purnah’s songs, such as “I shall cut out your spleen with a spoon”.

Question #5 - You mentioned in The Island of Mad Scientists (in the Note About People and Places) that you enjoy Wodehouse. My husband and I are also fans. Which of Wodehouse's many well-loved characters is your favorite?

HW: Wodehouse actually appears in “The Faceless Fiend” as Plum, the thirteen year old schoolboy. He was at Dulwich College in London at this time. My favourite PGW character is Uncle Fred, the lunatic older relative whose demented schemes to ‘help’ lead to chaos.

Question #6 - I understand that you are model soldier enthusiast. What drew you to that hobby and how safe is your cat, Ursula, from the inevitable battles between the mini warriors?

HW: The cats show no interest in model soldiers, although they have on occasion knocked over displays. Model solders don’t taste good, and often have sharp pointy bits like swords and bayonets. Collecting them has been my hobby since I was a boy in England in the 1960s. From about the age of twelve it’s been a ‘serious hobby’ (!) for me, and I’ve made most of my living in recent years either working for a couple of model soldier companies or making custom scenery (like those big model railway displays you may have seen) for collectors. Yes, I am a Big Kid.

Question #7 – You’ve done other books for young people, correct?

HW: My most recent book is “Bogbrush the Barbarian”, also from KCP. It’s very much a book for ten year old boys rather than twelve year old girls (as I have always seen the Emmaline books). Bogbrush is a massive, dim-witted boy determined to be a great hero. His intentions are good, his brain-power tiny. It’s a fantasy quest book with broad, slapstick comedy, some very cartoony violence and a bit of mild bathroom humour, such as the thief with a very tiny bladder. It also features lots of fake ‘educational’ bits (pop quizzes, “Word for the Day” etc) that are obviously not useful advice. A lot of adults like this book for its sheer comic foolishness.

Question #8 - I also understand that you have a special offer for anyone who might enjoy reading The Strictest School in the World series. Would you please tell us about that?

HW: In December KCP informed me that they weren’t going to do any more hardback copies of the books, and that if I wanted to buy copies at a very reasonable price indeed I could. So I put some announcements up on various groups and websites (mostly the toy soldier folks, who know me well) and took enough orders that I could pay for their books and more besides. In the past I had found that there’s always someone who asks for a book ten years after you parted with the last one, so I ordered quite a lot. Then the company I was working for imploded suddenly (and owing me back wages) so I thought, “Why don’t I contact those nice children’s blog people who have liked my books and see if they’d like some”

I’m offering sets of the three books at $15 for all three (plus $6 for mailer and stamps) or $5 a book for individual books (and marginally less shipping, because it’s all weight-based). Within reason, you can have as many as you like (!)

The books are "The Strictest School in the World : Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken" (2006) - a Victorian prison break tale set at a boarding school involving flying machines and pterodactyls.

"The Faceless Fiend, Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, His Masked Minions and a Princess with a Butter Knife, Involving Explosives and a Certain Amount of Pushing and Shoving " (2007) - in which a master criminal plans to kidnap loveable-yet-deranged Princess Purnah, with Sherlock Holmes, a Belgian Birdman, and an elderly dog.

"The Island of Mad Scientists , Being an Excursion to the Wilds of Scotland, Involving Many Marvels of Experimental Invention, Pirates, a Heroic Cat, a Mechanical Man and a Monkey " (2008) - where our adventurers are pursued madly, and a whole collection of Victorian scientists (some real, some not) and held captive.

For information on how to take advantage of this offer, e-mail me at – professorbellbuckle (at) yahoo (dot) com

I hope that works for you. Please tell me who you’d like the books inscribed to, and any special wishes (etc)

Thanks so much – I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!


Thank you, Mr. Whitehouse, both for your time and your talents!

*I specifically addressed the issue of the seance in my review of The Island of the Mad Scientist and you can see my brief thoughts on that by clicking the link there.


Annette W. said...

You'll have to direct me to a link about Wodehouse.

Great interview! I love fun and unique questions!

Annette W. said...

I forgot to say that I already intend to send my check to Mr. Whitehouse today or tomorrow! Can't wait.

Stephanie Kay said...

Sounds like a fun series I'll have to check into in a few years.

Shonya said...

How fun!! You talked me into it. :) Hope the kids and I enjoy it as much as we did the Mysterious Benedict Society at your recommendation!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I've corresponded with Mr. Whitehouse and will be ordering my books as soon as my book budget is replenished!

Sky said...

Wow! Thank you Carrie!

Krista said...

Oh, it looks like I shall have to spend future boys birthday money on these! Exactly the kinds of things I would want my boys to be reading in 7 or 8 years! :)

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