Monster Odyssey: an Interview with Jon Mayhew

Teen Librarian is proud to feature an interview with Jon Mayhew, author of Mortlock, The Demon Collector, The Bonehill Curse and the soon to be published The Eye of Neptune, first book in the Monster Odyssey series.

monsteroddcover1. You have chosen a young Prince Dakkar – better known as Captain Nemo as the (anti?) hero of your story. Is there any particular reason you chose a pre-existing character in the public domain rather than creating someone new for the story?
I have a bit of a track record for using past works of literature as a springboard for my writing. The character of Sergeant Major Morris in The Bonehill Curse is taken from WW Jacobs’ story The Monkey’s Paw. I quite like imagining the characters before the events of a story and the best characters allow you to do that. I’ve always been fascinated by the character of Captain Nemo and so when Bloomsbury asked me to do an adventure series, he sprang to mind straight away. I wanted to write undersea and historical so inventing anew Captain Nemo, seems a bit pointless. There’s also the challenge of doing something new but something that has a ring of truth about it.
2. Obviously in his youth he was merely Prince Dakkar, will your series touch on how he became Nemo (no-one) and eventually refused to step on to inhabited land? Or is it going to be a swash-buckling tale of derring-do and adventure?
Both, I hope! What intrigues me about Nemo is that he had a past. It is referred to in Mysterious Island. He returns to India at the age of 30 and marries but becomes embroiled in the Indian Uprising of the 1850s. His wife and child die and he goes to an island with some compatriots and builds the Nautilus. But that doesn’t really explain how he knew how to build a submarine, or why he was so driven to save the oppressed or why he wept bitterly whenever he killed men. It didn’t tell us how he became educated, where he got his encyclopaedic knowledge of the sea or his love of Art from. I wanted to explore how his character forms. For example, he is obviously an inspiring leader, so in one book he may encounter famous generals, emperors and politicians of the time. It would be a shame to miss such an opportunity for swash-buckling tales of derring-do and adventure, though!
3. There is also (according to the Amazon page) a Girl but she is only referred to as ‘a Girl’ – is her identity going to be a surprise or can you share a bit more information with us?
She is a fictional character. Georgia Fulton, a niece of one of the other characters, she’s a fist-fighting, All-American girl who generally acts as a foil to Dakkar’s Princely pomposity. In other words, she punches his lights out when he gets too big-headed!
4. I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island when I was a youth and loved it (also the Disney Movie which I enjoyed as a child) and did not give the character any thought for years until I read Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. There is a Nemo graphic Novel by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill due out in February focusing on the captain‘s daughter. Have you read any of the works featuring Captain Nemo (apart from the Verne originals)?
There is a lot of Nemo-inspired material out there! I loved the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but wondered why Moore made him a Sikh. Dakkar would either be Hindu or more likely, Muslim. I’ve read a manga Captain Nemo which was great fun but I’ve avoided other texts. I also enjoyed the films and various cartoons that have popped up through the years.
5. Prince Dakkar was portrayed as being virulently anti-British and anti-imperialist in general, will your novels be showing how he became this way?
I hope so. It is interesting to look back at how Dakkar was portrayed because in early English translations, he came to England to improve his country, in American translations of the time, he came to ‘learn the ways of his oppressors.’ In the original versions of Verne’s books, Dakkar was Polish and hated Russia. This was quickly changed when France and Russia became close allies. All fascinating and the reason why MY Prince Dakkar is mentored by a Polish nobleman in exile from his home country!
6. Apart from Prince Dakkar will any other literary characters be making an appearance in the series?
Probably not literary characters but certainly historical characters from the time I have set the books. So in Book one, Dakkar meets Jean Lafitte, notable American/French pirate, he meets Robert Fulton, real inventor of the first Nautilus submarine. In the second book, Napoleon crops up amongst others!
7. You are currently working on a sequel to Monster Odyssey, will this series be finite in length or is it going to be more open-ended?
As open-ended as possible! I have an ending in mind and a broad character arc for Dakkar but anything could happen on the way!
8. How much research went in to developing the story?
Obviously, I needed to reread the originals and then it’s a question of interrogating the year I set the first book. Dates and chronology proved tricky as there were inaccuracies in the originals which I discuss here: It also involves reading around certain key events such as the Battle of Waterloo and getting a feel for that time. Verne wrote speculatively at the time but he pinned a lot of his work down with what he believed to be scientific fact. The beauty of writing in Verne’s world is that you have an essentially recognisable world but tinges of fantasy. A good example of this would be the fact that Verne thought it plausible that undersea craft could survive much deeper below the sea than we now know is possible. So we can go deeper.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions
Thank you for asking!

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