By Leslie Lindsay
Sinister and intense story of melancholy and loneliness with an imaginative 9-year-old boy at the center in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE. Plus, it’s just been picked up by New Agency for film!
Stephen Giles is here chatting about his love for country homes, his distaste for the dentist, and how he misses an old cubby house in the backyard when he was a kid.
Locked doors. An atlas. Attics. Cellar. England. Mystery and, maybe murder.
Samuel Clay is living in a crumbling old estate in England with his housekeeper, Ruth Tupper. He’s missing his mother terribly, who has ‘gone away’ to America for the last 119 days (he’s been keeping count). Mrs. Clay is now widowed and the family’s finances have fallen to disarray–perhaps there’s some money or bankers in American who will help her get the ‘capital she needs.’ What’s worse, is Samuel’s mother left in the middle of the night, without so much as a word of good-bye to her son, leaving him in the care of the housekeeper.
Beyond sporadic postcards from his mother in America, Samuel hears virtually nothing of his mother. He’s lonely, yet highly imaginative and inquisitive. Samuel’s only friend is Joseph and a little rabbit in the garden he calls Robin Hood.
THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE is a precarious dance between truth and perception, childhood and adulthood, ‘there’ and ‘not-there,’ and so much more.
I found the writing absolutely glimmered. I was immediately thrust into this drab world created by Stephen Giles and wanted to know what happened to Samuel’s mother. This is a perfect, swiftly-paced novel for this dreary time of year as we become a little more turned inward, a little more contemplative, and the fear of little deaths around.
Please join me in welcoming Stephen Giles to the author interview series.
Stephen, it’s a pleasure. I always want to know—what question were you hoping to answer in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE—and did the answer satisfy or lead to more questions?
This is such an interesting question. I suppose the most elemental question I had to ask myself was why. I had the basic plot outlined and I knew where I was heading but I didn’t know all the whys. Why did Samuel’s mother go away? Why is the housekeeper Ruth the way she is? Why is Samuel so psychologically fragile, so fixated on his mother’s absence? The wonderful thing about questions like these is that they often lead you into places that take you by surprise and demand more of the narrative and that is incredibly exciting for a writer. I think ultimately I was satisfied by the questions though there is no doubt that this is a story that throws up more questions than concrete answers. Rather like life, it seems to me.
I understand this is your first book for adults. In what ways do the forms differ? Plus, I can see a nice cross-over between readership. I’d imagine some ambitious YA readers might be intrigued. Can you speak to that, please?
I think the primary difference between adult and middle grade fiction is one of tone. My middle grade books were primarily comic adventures and writing for a readership of 9 – 12-year-olds informs both the type of story I am telling and the way I tell it. So the tone is light and breezy. The challenge with writing my first book for adults with a child as one of the main protagonists, was telling a much darker and very adult story through the eyes of nine year old boy. Your observation about the book crossing over into YA is very interesting and I did wonder about that as I was finishing the book. It’s always hard to know what will appeal to YA readers but I’d be delighted if that happened.
“A fiendishly efficient, gorgeously written, nasty little thrill ride of a psychological thriller. I couldn’t put it down, and it’s entirely possible that I’ll never sleep again. A true tour-de-force of a debut novel.”
—Lyndsay Faye, author of The Gods of Gotham and Jane Steele
I’m a sucker for old homes, estates, mansions…you name it! Was the house in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE modeled after any actual estate? Did you play around with setting, or was it always to be set in England?
I’m a sucker for isolated country houses too and I’ve written one into every book I’ve ever written which is probably a little excessive. The house in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE wasn’t modeled on any particular estate, it only lives in my imagination, but I’m sure it was informed by countless 19th century novels like JANE EYRE or UNCLE SILAS. In terms of the English setting, I did toy with a few other locations including the Hudson Valley but having just finished a middle grade trilogy set largely in England, I felt more comfortable sticking with the same setting. Which is incredibly lazy!
Samuel is a 9-year-old boy longing for his mother. But also his father’s old toys and things are in the attic—which he sometimes drags down into the house to play with. Is there anything from your childhood that you long for, even occasionally—and what is it exactly about these old things that stirs such nostalgia?
It’s not a toy but the house I grew up in had a cubby house in a far corner of the backyard – it was a ramshackle structure that was barely standing but it had a blackboard along one wall and a bunch of old discarded bits and pieces and I spend countless hours playing there. I can still picture it in great detail and sometimes as the adult world crowds in on me, I long for the simplicity and comfort of that cubby house. I think the power of old things or old memories is that they are assure us that there once were better days or less complicated times. Which probably says more about the deceptively warm glow of nostalgia than anything else.
What’s on your to-do list this week? What are you most looking forward to and dreading? It doesn’t have to be literary.
This week I have a bunch of interviews to get through in my hometown and I’m also up to my neck in writing a new book, so that is where my real focus is. I’m most looking forward to seeing Crazy Rich Asians and catching up on my reading. I’m dreading the dentist and the feeling of utter defeat at week’s end when I realize I’ve failed yet again to live mindfully or be even slightly in the moment.
Stephen, it’s been a pleasure. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
I’ve enjoyed all of your questions, so thank you. What should you have asked me? Well, if you were like every other interviewer on the planet you would have asked me what advice I would give to aspiring writers. And as I’m never sure how to answer that adequately, I’m very glad you didn’t!
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE BOY IN THE KEYHOLE, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Giles is the author behind the Ivy Pocket children’s series, which has been translated into twenty-five languages. He lives in Australia. The Boy at the Keyhole, now out from Hanover Square Books, is his first work for adults.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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