Thursday, 12 May 2011

Creating a Criminal Mastermind - Ellen Renner

I love writing villains, especially ones who aren't straightforward in their villainy.
Zebediah Petch is the villain of my second book, City of Thieves. He is the adoptive uncle of my hero, thirteen year old Tobias Petch.
 He kidnaps Toby and coerces him into training as an apprentice thief. The resulting battle of will and wits, as Tobias fights to retain his identity and determine his own future, seems hopelessly mismatched. Toby's efforts at resistance are ground down one by one. But there is a wild card in the mix, in the form of the series anti-hero, Alistair Windlass, former prime-minister, murderer, traitor and calculating adventurer. (More of him in another post.)

Although my books have been praised for their twisty plots that keep the reader turning the pages, it's my characters that motivate me as a writer. I want to know who they are and why they do what they do. Zebediah Petch was a particular challenge. What sort of person turns his own family into a criminal gang?

City of Thieves is set in an alternative Victorian England and I wanted Petch to embody the entrepreneurial spirit of that age. Zebediah constructs a network of receivers, safe houses and retailers for the stolen goods. Like most entrepreneurs, he's a bit of a control freak. It's a family business, employing his sons, nephews, cousins and in-laws. Petch looks after everyone as long as they do as they're told. He's the embodiment of a Victorian patriarch, with a strong sense of family responsibility. He's also a ruthless entrepreneur, eliminating anyone who stands in his way.

Zebediah Petch is an orderly man. He believes in hierarchy, as long as he's at the top of it. He believes in family values, as long as he determines them. He's large, dominating in appearance and manner, and possesses an iron will, suitable for a man at his prime in the Age of Iron. His ambition and ruthlessness have made him the King of Thieves, but it's those very character traits that will ultimately prove his downfall.

Ellen Renner's first book  Castle of Shadows was described in The Times as 'Gorgeously exciting and well written, with a hero as strong-minded and quick witted as its heroine, Renner's acute sense of psychology, politics and pace makes this one to revel in.' City of Thieves is the sequel. Castle of Shadows won the North East Book Award this week.

1 comment:

  1. I love the contrast between Zebediah's brute force methods and the more elegant (but increasingly desperate) scheming that Alistair employs. I thought it made the third act of City of Thieves really thrilling and I hope more tales of Quale will follow!