Tony Abbott has written dozens of books for children. Indeed, to date he’s published just over one hundred children’s titles. He is best known for his forty-four volume series, The Secrets of Droon. I recently started reading his new series The Copernicus Legacy; the first volume was included on Amazon’s 2014 list of best books for children. Tony Abbott recently agreed to an e-mail exchange with me about the Legacy series.
DM: The Copernicus Legacy is a fantastic new series. I’ve been recommending it to children looking for a good adventure/mystery. How did this story find its way onto the page?
TA: I was approached by HarperCollins, the publisher, with an idea to write a series with an historical element that would involve characters from another time. I immediately thought of the strange and mysterious era of Renaissance science and culture. That time of human observation with its amazing centers of learning and culture in Europe, the advances in technology in the Far East, and the trove of interesting cultural figures of the time, suggested to me a mystery that could span five hundred years, beginning in the early 16th century and ending in our time. Since Copernicus was a true Renaissance scholar as well as a revolutionary astronomer of that time, it made sense to make him the central character of the series. Also, because I have been forever intrigued by time travel, The Copernicus Legacy was born. In my series, beginning five hundred years ago, Nicolaus Copernicus discovers an ancient time machine and uses it. In the book, we discover that Copernicus had to take the machine apart in order to keep it out of the hands of an evil group.
DM: What is your goal in writing these books? How many books are you planning for the series?
TA: My goal is to make the past come alive for readers and to give them an adventure that spans centuries. Also, as you have probably discovered, the Legacy and the mystery created in them is very big, arcing from one book to another over a planned twelve-book series. I do believe that there are readers out there who are committed to a long multi-year series. I think the stories will find their way to readers who want to know the past and who will enjoy getting deeply into characters of all ages.
I’m planning six big novels, the Legacy books, as well as six smaller, first-person Archives about Wade, Becca, Darrell, Lily, and then, maybe Galina Krause and Copernicus himself. The next Archive to be released is Becca and the Prisoner’s Cross, which will be out in June. It takes place in London, and what a treat it was for me to be able to use my interest in history to make those old streets come to life! The third title in the Legacy series, The Golden Vendetta, will be released in August. I’ve now begun sketching out the storylines of the next Archives which is the Darrell story, and I’ve also been working on the next Legacy book. I enjoy being able to switch back and forth between the third person enormity of the Legacy books and the more intimate first-person narratives of the Archives.
Readers of The Golden Vendetta will have quite a surprise in store for them at the end. The thriller aspect of the series is one of the things that attracts me to this project. I absolutely love thrillers and have been reading tons of them for quite a while now.
DM: I’m curious as to whether you’ve traveled to some of the places you’ve been writing about in The Copernicus Legacy.
TA: I’ve wanted to get to each and every place I write about, and I do travel, but often I’m writing from memory of having been to certain places: Berlin, Rome, Paris. The latest book takes place in Monte Carlo, Nice, and the Chateau country of France. I would love to be able to travel as I write these books, but that possibility is limited due to my demanding writing schedule. I did spend several days in London scouting down settings and doing some on-the-ground research for The Copernicus Archives #2: Becca and the Prisoner’s Cross, which takes place in London and Bletchley, but that was a great luxury and not something I’m able to do as a matter of course.
I think as writers, we get around such limitations—like writing a historical novel—by using electronic and printed research and photographs, and much of that can be very successful. What travel offers in the way of sights and smells and aura and vibes, to say nothing of accidental discoveries that turn out to be perfect for the story, is or should be one of the great delights of being a writer.
DM: Among the thrillers you’ve been reading, what are some of your favorites?
TA: I admire the Kurt Wallander books by Henning Mankell. They’re so bleak and gray, and the detective himself is so morose, but there’s a strange kind of comfort to be found between the covers of any of these books. I especially like The Dogs of Riga and the early cases collected in The Pyramid. Also I enjoy reading the 1930s and 40s espionage thrillers of Eric Ambler, who virtually invented, along with Grahame Greene, the between-the-war spy genre. Ambler’s books are charmingly written, have the virtue of being short, and are electric in an old-school style. John le Carre, of course, is another brilliant writer. Also, I’m having a great deal of fun with The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K. Rowling under her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. She has done a first rate job, and for all people branded as children’s writers, she is an inspiration that we might all spread our wings across the whole of the publishing industry.
DM: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview with me, Tony. I am pleased that you’re writing this new series because they are truly a delight to read! I look forward to recommending them to children who love adventure and mysteries.
TA: Thanks for the very nice words, Dominique. It’s been a pleasure.
Dominique McCafferty is a children’s librarian at the Grace Mellman Community Library in Temecula, Calif.