The mystery of the house filled with clocks
3rd Feb 20

The mystery of the house filled with clocks

Helena lives in a house that's filled with clocks, and it's her father's job to keep them working. If even one clock stops, they will lose everything... Author AM HOWELL tells us more!

Q: Can you tell us what your book, The House of One Hundred Clocks, is about?

A: It's a historical mystery set in a clock-filled Edwardian house and the protagonist, 12-year-old Helena, must unravel the strange goings on before time runs out, including a ghostly figure in the clock rooms, strange notes and disappearing winding keys!

Q: The book is set at the turn of the century. What draws you to writing historical fiction and why did you decide to set this book then?

A: Historical fiction is such fun to write as you already have a whole world to research and explore. I love feeding in real historical details, for example in this story the owner of the clocks summons an early vacuum cleaner, invented by Hubert Cecil Booth, from London to clean his house.

Q: As with your earlier novel, The Garden of Lost Secrets, The House of One Hundred Clocks is also set in the early 1900s. Is there something that draws you to this period?

A: I think the early 1900s were a time of great invention and social change which makes it an interesting period to write about. I think I might set one more story in this period then I've an idea for a very different period in time so watch this space!

Q: There are some lovely details in the story, including a rather gruesome hat collection. How much research to you do into the period before you begin writing?

A: I tend to read a lot about the period, both fiction and non-fiction, before I start writing to get a feel for what people wore, how they spoke and what was happening socially at that time.

The dead birds on Miss Westcott's hats are very gruesome, but there was the beginnings of a real movement against them in the early 1900s, as the RSPB had been founded not long before, something I touch on in the story.

Q: There is a big focus on clocks in this novel, was there one thing you saw or read about that sparked this idea?

A: The clock collection at Moyse's Hall Museum in my hometown of Bury St Edmunds was bequeathed to the town by Frederic Gershom Parkington as a memorial for his son who died in the Second World War. I've been to visit the clocks a number of times and on one visit I wondered why Gershom Parkington had collected so many timepieces.

While I think he just really liked collecting them, this made me wonder about writing a story about an obsessive collector of clocks and the book idea developed from there.

After I had the idea for this book, the museum staff very kindly let me meet their resident clock winder who showed me how the different clocks were wound, and I even got to wind one myself!

Q: If you could have any one clock that you describe in this book, which one would it be?

A: I think it would have to be a chronometer invented by John Harrison, a famous 18th century clockmaker. He devoted his working life to solving the problem of longitude - how far east or west you are from your home port while at sea.

He developed many clocks to try and solve the problem, but they failed to work. He eventually found a solution in 1765 when he was in his 70's and he was awarded a substantial prize.

The chronometers are now on show at the Clockmakers' Museum in London and at Greenwich Observatory in London - they are really worth a visit!

Q: How well do you know your characters before you start to write them?

A: I map out a rough profile of the characters before I start writing, but I find they only really reveal themselves after the second or third draft of the book.

It's a bit like peeling back the skin of an orange sometimes and it does take me a while to make sure the characters all have different wants and needs and that their paths all result in personal changes at the end! I think Miss Westcott was the most surprising character to develop - but I don't want to say too much in case I spoil the story!

Q: Orbit is fabulous - was he based on any parrot you know?

A: My children were fascinated by a large Macaw we used to see in a local pet shop, which gave me the idea for a parrot as a companion, particularly as they were so popular as pets in Edwardian times.

After doing some online research I settled on an Amazon-Blue parrot for the story, a stunning species. I decided I could have a lot of fun developing Orbit's character as he's quite mischievous!

Q: Why did you set the novel in Cambridge?

A: I lived and worked in the city for a few years after graduating from university in Manchester and I spent days just wandering the small side streets and colleges and looking up at the historic buildings in wonder. Kings College is stunning and I used to cycle along the river and past it on my way to work - it was the best start to the day.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: I'm currently working on another historical fiction story inspired by two spectacular buildings in my hometown and an event that isn't often written about - that's all I can say for now!

Q: Are there any other children's books you've read this year that you'd like to recommend to our members?

A: There are so many! I love reading historical fiction and very much enjoyed Emma Carroll's latest book The Somerset Tsumani. I also really like Katherine Woodfine's books and am currently working my way through The Sinclair's Mysteries. I also absolutely adored my fellow Usborne author Sophie Anderson's book The Girl Who Speaks Bear, which is inspired by Russian folk tales and is enchanting.

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