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Gormenghast protagonist 'influenced by concentration camp'

5th July 2011

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books were influenced by the author's visit to Nazi concentration camps, according to his son.

In an interview with the Radio Times, Sebastian Peake revealed how Steerpike, the protagonist from the novels, was probably inspired by a meeting the author had with a man called Peter Back, who was sentenced to death for killing a US airman.

'Going into the condemned cell just a few hours before Back was hanged certainly influenced aspects of Steerpike. It must have haunted my father,' Sebastian said.

According to the author's son, sketches of Back created by Peake were very similar to illustrations he later drew of Steerpike.

This year will mark the centenary of Mervyn Peake's birth, with the occasion being celebrated with the publication of a new Gormenghast book, Titus Awakes, partly written by Peake's widow, Maeve Gilmore.

However, Sebastian said the book, which was never finished by Peake and instead completed by Gilmore 18 months after the author's death in 1968, is not considered an official sequel to the first three Gormenghast novels.

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