The PNR caught up with authors Steven Price and Pauline Holdstock to talk about their latest books before their Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival fundraiser reading on Nov. 18. This is our interview with Steven Price.
It was all subconscious when it came to author Steven Price’s idea for his newest book, By Gaslight. Set in London in 1885, the book follows two characters.
One of them is William Pinkerton, the real life historical figure and son of Allan Pinkerton, who founded the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
“It opens about six months after his father, Allan has died and William, who’s taking over the agency, after his father’s death, has discovered a new lead to catching the one criminal that his father never caught, this figure named Edward Shade. And so he goes to London to try to track down that lead,” said Price.
Price got into writing at a young age. He described himself as a bookish and solitary kid.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends and I read a lot of books. This was in the era before the internet of course,” he said.
“So I think I was saved by books and reading, and I had always wanted to be a writer.”
He then enrolled into the writing school at the University of Victoria, and later went on to do grad school in Virginia, which is where he wrote a lot of his first book, which was poetry.
When it comes to inspiration, Price says he’s not a big fan of the idea of it. He said he believes a lot of writing is just work.
When Price came across his latest book, he was in the middle of writing a different novel. He was about halfway through it, and sat down one day and wrote a paragraph that described a particular man, who happened to be William Pinkerton. It then ended up becoming the first paragraph in By Gaslight.
“And then when I was thinking about it, it was clear that what I was thinking about (when writing) was a book I’d read some years before, a biography of William Pinkerton…” said Price.
In the book, Pinkerton was described as a man with all the talents and natural inclinations of the master criminal, working on the other side of the law.
It said he got along better with criminals than he did with lawmen.
Price then asked himself why that would appeal to him for his writing.
He proceeded to think about a time 15 years ago after his grandfather had died. His younger brother came down from his reclusive property just off the Malahat, where he was living without running water or electricity. Price nor his family had ever seen him.
“But he had gotten so old that he came down to the city here and when he had an afternoon, we got to meet him and he told his wonderful stories,” said Price, adding that he told the story about his father (Price’s great grandfather), the first Price to come to Victoria. His name was Albert Price.
He came to Victoria as a young man in 1890 and had been trained as a gunsmith in London. He went through quite the journey, crossing the Atlantic, and got to Canada, hopped onto a train and crossed the entire country. He then got to the west coast, hopped onto a boat and reached the island, and stopped as there was nowhere further to go. Nobody knew why he’d come over.
When he reached here, he started Price’s, Lock & Safe, which is still the local security company in Victoria. It’s now expanded to Price’s Alarms and was passed on from father to son across four generations, but still, nobody knew why he’d come over.
Steven’s great uncle told the story of how he’d gotten into some trouble with the law and was fleeing the law. He said he got spooked and ran as far away as he could. This, Steven said, was similar in a strange way with this idea of William Pinkerton who flirted with the other side of the law, but lived and worked in this family business.
And so it all happened subconsciously for Price when writing the book.
“When I was thinking about where the book came from, I think there must have been a connection there,” he said.