Book Talk: Hauntingly English superhero Candleman is born

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Up until now Britain has lacked it’s own credible superhero and those looking for feats of supernatural prowess tended to turn to the United States, but Candleman may be about to change that.

Author Glenn Dakin in an undated photo. REUTERS/Emont/Handout

Theo Wickland spent childhood confined to three rooms by cunning, malicious captors, and was told that he had a debilitating illness that necessitated unpleasant medical treatment.

But an intrepid rescue by the secretive Society of Unrelenting Vigilance freed Theo from his virtual prison and flung him into a timeless London which incorporates a weird and wonderful mix of the modern and the Victorian.

Soon Theo discovers his devastating powers -- the real reason he was kept locked up -- and finds himself battling the foul smog-dwelling smoglodytes and teaming up with the secret society.

Candleman’s author Glenn Dakin, who has already written for characters such as “Postman Pat” and “Spiderman,” spoke to Reuters about where the inspiration for his first original creation came from and the state of British publishing.

Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?

A: The spark for it came of the Hobbit. There’s a line in it where Gandalf the wizard has a sword that glows in the presence of danger or murder.

I liked that idea. It sounded whimsical and old-fashioned, almost Victorian. It led me into writing a story about a modern-day boy who’s inherits the creepy baggage of a Victorian crime-fighter.

Q: Was Sherlock Holmes also an influence?

A: I was asked by a magazine company to research Sherlock Holmes for a magazine it was thinking of launching. I spent every train journey reading just about every Sherlock Holmes story that there was. I think it primed my mind for creating something a little bit in that shady world.

The book is a shadowy version of the modern world where it feels like you’re in a timeless gothic London that could be somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter.

Q: What is your routine for writing?

A: I am a restless, wandering writer. I wrote an awful lot of the story on a train on my laptop going in and out of London and I wrote lots of it at a Cambridge internet cafe. It seems to help. We’ve got a work computer at home but I only ever use it to pick up emails. I immediately come and sit in the kitchen and then I go off to a cafe.

I think it makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere. It makes you more purposeful and sometimes it gives you some inspiration and gets you looking at the world.

Q: What, when out and about, gives you inspiration for your stories?

A: It certainly helped me going in and out of London on the train on the laptop because a lot of the atmosphere and settings. A slightly mythologized version of London is part of the atmosphere I soaked it up.

Q: Why did you set the story in the British capital?

A: I grew up in London. A lot of the settings of the story are based on my childhood impressions of London. When you go into the Underground for the first time it seems like this world of wonders, this extremely strange shadowy world of wonders. When you grow up it becomes part of your mundane routine. When you’re taken there for the first time, you can’t believe this thing exists. I tried to bring out that mythology of London a bit in the story as part of the backdrop.

Q: Are you bringing some of your background in the comics industry into the book?

A: I wanted to create a hero that is British. It seems to be quite hard for the comics industry to create a British-based hero that isn’t totally naff. We have great heroes that go further back like Sherlock Holmes. But when it comes to costume superheroes it seems to have been quite hard for them to pull it off for some reason.

Candleman is a teenager but he inherits the mantle of this shadowy Victorian figure the Candleman and I’m creating a mythology with other baddies and creatures like smoglodytes. I’m hoping I can establish an English superhero mythology, like an English Batman.

Q: What do you make of the publishing industry in the UK?

A: It’s hard to get new things out there. Everybody’s copying things or recycling things or sticking to formulas. If you go to bookshops there are about a million books with pants in the title.

There are loads of books about pirates, dinosaurs, vampires. There’s a formula and buzzwords that publishers seem to be looking for. I do think we should try to lead people rather than just try to cream off profits from well-trodden commercial pathways.

Reporting by Simon Falush, editing by Paul Casciato