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August 24, 2018

Debut novelist Watson takes on the topic of child labor, showing children's enduring resilience in the face of hardship.

What inspired Infants of the Brush: A Chimney Sweep's Story?

Armory v. Delamirie is a case from 1722 about a silversmith's apprentice who stole a jewel from a chimney sweep's boy—a child forced to climb and clean chimneys to remove harmful soot and coal ash. When I realized that the jewel, a piece of property, was found by a child who was himself the property of a master sweep, I knew it was a story that must be told.

How do you think this book's themes of poverty, children's rights, and child labor are relevant today?

When I was writing Infants of the Brush, I realized that assigning every human life value and dignity is a relatively new concept in humankind's history, one that we have not yet mastered. Children everywhere are still subjected to unspeakable cruelty in the name of greed, pleasure, and wealth. I hope that Infants of the Brush will compel readers to take steps toward creating a society that teaches children to find value in their work and protects them from jobs that endanger their health, rob them of an education, and steal their childhood.

To what extent did you draw on the Armory v. Delamirie case and those biographical individuals in crafting the novel?

Armory's character was formed entirely in my imagination, which was influenced by newspapers, journals, and other primary accounts of the 1700s and 1800s. I remained true to the actual text of the 260-word court decision, though. Paul de Lamerie was a silversmith to King George I; his well-documented life served as an outline for his role in the story.

How and where did you conduct your research on child chimney sweeps and 1720s London? Was there an aspect of this research that was particularly interesting or inspiring?

I explored libraries, churches, and museums all over London and then filled my mind with church and government records, newspapers, city maps, art, and English myths—whatever I could find in libraries and online. Interestingly, most of the sources I found supporting or condemning child labor were written more than 100 years after Armory v. Delamirie was decided. In 1834, Samuel Roberts wrote An Address to British Females... on the Employment of Climbing Boys in Sweeping Chimneys to persuade women to use their social influence to abolish the cruel practice.

If you could pick anyone to give this book to, who would it be and why?

I would travel back in time and give the book to Sir John Pratt, the justice who decided Armory v. Delamirie, and thank him for listening to and acting upon the testimony of an impoverished child.  

What is the one thing you most want to tell readers about you or your book?

Infants of the Brush is about the worst and best aspects of humanity. In the darkest of circumstances when society is at its worst, children will dance in the rain and play games with a clump of dried mud. Their resilience and optimism never cease to inspire me.