About The Author
As a child, adventure was everywhere for Andrew Beasley; he went exploring Scunge Island and had an underground base made out of a sunken coal bunker. Now that he's grown up, Andrew works as a primary school teacher in Cornwall.
Set in Victorian London, The Claws of Evil is his first book for children and the start of a new series. You can read the first chapter here.
In addition, exclusively for Foyles, Andrew talks about his lifelong fascination with Victorian London and Sherlock Holmes, and how some aspects of life in London have not changed so very much since those times.
The Author At Foyles
Blame Sherlock Holmes.
I have always had a fascination with the Victorian era, and London in particular. There is something so fascinating, so gloriously tantalising, about those murky cobblestones and the swirling fog. I was very young when I first read Conan Doyle and I remember my feelings when I found myself in that age of great invention and glorious adventure, and yet tinged with darkness too, in those dangerous alleyways and crime-ridden tenements. It proved an irresistible combination to my young mind, and the obvious choice of setting for my series - The Battles of Ben Kingdom.
My own childhood - that endless hot summer that was the 1970s - was filled with the sort of daring-do that now seems impossible in these risk-assessed days. Other children might have had a playhouse in the garden, if they were lucky; I had a sunken base, made out of a buried coal bunker. Hand-made go karts, with matching bleeding knees and elbows; a tree house; a death slide... yes, you read that right... that was how I filled my days. And by night it was always a book, hidden beneath my blankets and read by the faint brown glow of my torch.
As a parent, a teacher and now as a writer, it seemed very natural to bring all these elements together in my book - the richness of the Victorian backdrop and the reckless escapade that was my formative years. So, over a number of years, The Battles of Ben Kingdom was born. And yes, its heroes dice with death on a daily basis, and yes, I even managed to make death slides integral to the plot. However, it is impossible to do any sort of research on Victorian London without having to confront the harsh realities of life in what has become a romanticised age.
Chimney sweep and mudlark sound like fun career choices for a ten-year-old, even Fagin's criminal gang has an appeal - possibly because of the wonderful songs - but the truth for the street children of the day couldn't be further removed. Life, if you were able to cling on to it, was tough, and as I read the history (as opposed to the fantasy) I knew that my book had to have something of this hard-edge beneath the daring-do.
Ben Kingdom leapt up off the page as I was learning about these indomitable children who survived against all odds. My stories would be about his battles; the big, cinematic ones with swords and villains with moustaches, and the deeper ones about clawing out a life in Victorian London in 1891. A key moment in the first book is the moment when Ben becomes homeless and effectively alone in the world. I tried to really get inside Ben's mind at that point and I'm sure that my readers too will pause to think about what they might do in that terrible situation.
Unfortunately, in many respects, the London of Ben Kingdom is a mirror of London today. Homelessness is on the rise. Estimates vary, but it is suggested that as many as 100,000 children become detached from their families each year in the UK and have to fend for themselves. 30,000 of those will be twelve years old or younger. One in six of them will sleep rough. Suddenly, the historical past collides with the present. I could rewrite The Claws of Evil with a contemporary setting and it would still ring true.
I know this from personal experience, because in the recession of the 1980s, in spite of my parents very best efforts, we lost our home and found ourselves in the category of 'voluntary homeless'. It is, to be honest, a terrifying position to be in, and I am forever grateful to my mum and dad for finding the strength to bring us back from the brink.
So, back to today and the Battles of Ben Kingdom.
I am thrilled that Usborne found a home for my red-headed street urchin and I am full of excitement as I prepare my first book tour. It really is a case of dreams come true and as I enjoy my visits to schools, libraries, festivals and book shops, I will still say a quiet 'thank you' every day that my life didn't go down another, much colder, path.