I am familiar with Elizabeth Varadan as an accomplished Sherlockian author, particularly of the children’s book Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, which is my favorite pastiche for young readers that I’ve ever read. As a result, I was intrigued when I heard about her new book The Carnival of the Animals, an anthropomorphic animal fantasy with ties to the composer Camille Saint-Saëns. I am thrilled to present my interview with her and to discuss her new, adventurous work.
1. I know you as an accomplished Sherlockian author. What brought you inspiration for this different genre?
Actually, I wrote early drafts of Carnival of the Animals before I wrote my Sherlock Holmes mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls. I’ve always loved music, and Camille Saint-Saëns’ musical fantasy inspired the book one night when my husband and I heard it on the radio. Semi-jokingly, I said, “I should write a set of stories based on this music.” And then we both became quite enthused over the idea. But each story was so distinct and called for so much research, it was like writing 14 separate storybooks. It took a long time and lots of rewrites.
Meanwhile, I’ve always loved reading mysteries, especially any that involve Sherlock Holmes. While I was pondering rewrites of Carnival, I started toying with the idea of a Sherlock mystery for children. And, like the Carnival stories, I was suddenly hooked on the idea and just ran with it.
2. As a reader, I feel like Carnival of the Animals could appeal to any age of reader. What do you think?
It’s nice to hear you say that! I like to say it’s for children ages 7 to 70. 7-year-olds may need to have the stories read to them, but by 8 they can probably read the stories themselves. The stories are told in fairytale/folktale style, which makes Carnival clearly a children’s book. But they are also layered with themes that appeal to older readers and adults as well. There are references to literary classics as well as using legendary figures from myths of other lands. It was great fun to work in so many levels.
3. How do you get into the minds & personalities of animal characters? Is it different from humans?
That’s such an interesting question. I suppose I just treated the animals as if they were humans. More and more, scientists are discovering that animals have emotions, communication systems, even cultures that go far beyond mere instinct. They may not be able to do mathematics, but apparently quite a number of species “problem solve”, which was once thought only a human characteristic.
It helped, too, I suppose, that I read Aesop’s Fables and some aboriginal stories around the world, where animals speak and think and do very clever things.
4. If you only had a few lines, how would you introduce the book to a new reader?
If you like animal stories, stories that take place in other lands and other times, and stories that involve a little magic . . . this book is for you.
5. Finally, do you have any Sherlockian plans for the future?
Yes, I do! Several readers have said they hope there will be a sequel to Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls. So, I’m working on one now. I have about three more adventures in mind.
As Elizabeth elaborated on above, Carnival is a collection of stories that feel timeless in their stylistic similarities to animal-based folk and fairy tales of the past but are entirely new and fresh at the same time.
Elizabeth brings a Sherlockian emphasis on detail and a luscious but accessible writing style to each of her books, and this one is no exception. Children and adults alike will be enthralled by her beautiful and encompassing world and the charming animal characters she introduces.
Readers of tales like Kipling’s or Aesop’s will find much to love, but this book is also an excellent entry point for any young animal lover who has yet to discover the treasure trove of animal fantasy literature.
This book will delight young and old minds and provide an accessible challenge for very young readers, while being fun for the whole family as a read-aloud book. Highly recommended.
You can purchase Carnival of the Animals here
A copy of the above-referenced work was provided for consideration by the author, but all opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.
How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:
(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.
(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.
(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.