I very often find it hard to find the time to write, but you have a young family, now extended by one to care for. How do you find the time?
I hold it up at gunpoint! It helps that the three eldest are at school and pre-school five days a week, and I’ve gotten very good at typing one-handed with the baby on my knee.
Are you a structured writer, writing at a set time and place? Do you just open up the laptop and let it come to you?
Not structured in the least, but my family always knows where to find me: constantly tapping away on my laptop at the dining room table, one of the few spaces available for writing. I hate to feel like I’m not achieving anything, so I usually keep several projects on the go at once. If I run out of steam for one, I can switch to another. I also make sure to carry pen and paper with me if I’m going out anywhere.
Why Sherlock Holmes?
You know how certain characters just stay on your radar all your life, and you can spot a reference to them a mile off, no matter how slight? For me, Sherlock Holmes has always been that character. The very first Holmes story I ever read was ‘Silver Blaze’ when I was still in primary school. It was in a book of various mystery stories: Father Brown, the Thinking Machine, and so on. I must have read that book a thousand times while growing up – it’s probably still in my parents’ attic somewhere. Funnily enough, the next major ‘Holmes moment’ that I recall was at 10 years old, watching Michael Caine blunder about beside Ben Kingsley’s Watson in ‘Without A Clue’!
I love Sherlock Holmes because of his brilliant mind, but also because he is so obviously not a mere ‘brain without a heart’. His humanity is clear in every story, despite the cold, logical façade he tries to present – which itself is such a very human thing to do!
Your novel 'A Study in Regret' has now made its way into the world. How did the premise of this work come to you?
To answer, we have to travel back in time to the beginning of 2012. I had recently found a certain fanfiction website, and was blown away by not only the sheer quantity, but also the quality of some of it. After reading Discworld for several days straight, I turned on a whim to the Sherlock Holmes section in the hope that it would be just as good... and oh, it was! Some of those authors, I could barely tell the difference between their writing and Doyle’s, and I loved being able to read all those wonderful new adventures. With one particular writer, ‘Aleine Skyfire’ (who is now my best friend and co-author!), I was waiting impatiently for each fresh installment of the Holmes serial she was writing. After reading one chapter in floods of tears, I found myself idly wondering what it would be like for Holmes if Watson hadn’t survived Reichenbach...
The prologue from ‘A Study in Regret’ was the immediate result of that idle thought. It literally poured out of me, I’d never written that fast before in my life, and I’m not ashamed to admit I was crying my own waterfall from start to finish. And that was all it was ever going to be, a one-shot scene. But then before posting it up on my fanfic page, it occurred to me that it would be polite to at least show it to the author who had inspired me to write it, just in case she felt it was too much like her own work. I was astonished by Skyfire’s enthusiastic response: she loved my one-shot, and begged to know what would happen next. By that point, I was curious as well, so I decided to keep writing and see... I never dreamed then that a published novel would be the outcome!
I think my other main reason for the book’s premise was perversity. Sherlockians often opine that the death of Watson would automatically be the death of Holmes, and I wanted to prove that theory wrong, at least in my own head-canon. I felt there needed to be at least one Hiatus story where Holmes could show himself to be Watson’s equal in that regard: eventually pick himself up after the loss of his dearest friend, with the help of his remaining loved ones, and carry on – keep the faith, however much he might dislike that duty at times.
Like myself, you have dabbled with putting Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who together. What prompted you to do this?
Actually, it was Sky’s idea – and when she suggested it, I was over the moon! After all, which of us Doctor Who/Holmes fans hasn’t daydreamed about those two meeting and working together? We’ve had loads of fun since then torturing ourselves and our beloved characters (well, I say ‘our’!). We’re about halfway through the first season, with a second planned for next year. It isn’t all fanfiction, either – we’re also working on our first fantasy novel. One of the main challenges we have in writing together is that I’m in New Zealand, and she’s in the States – two different countries and time zones. Thank God for the internet!
Is there another Holmes novel on the cards?
Oh, yes – quite apart from the sequel to ‘Regret’, I have a separate Holmes novel in progress, set during the 1908 London Olympics. Let’s just say that a retired Holmes and Watson will learn a great deal about a certain English colony...
In general, is your family understanding of your, shall I call them 'obsessions'?
That’s a very good word for it! Mostly yes, although the dirty looks can pile up at the same speed as the laundry and dishes. I have a bad habit of shutting out reality in favour of fiction at the worst possible times – the main reason I write in the dining room, I’m forced to keep a connection with the real world during the day.
When not writing yourself, which writers do you immerse yourself in?
Terry Pratchett – I love his Discworld fantasy series. Georgette Heyer is another favourite, with her lighthearted Regency romances. I have a very large soft spot for children’s books – the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series got me through two bouts of post-natal depression, reading them always makes me feel better about life in general.
If you have such a thing as a typical day, how would it go?
When I get one, I’ll let you know. Seriously, in a house with three adults, five children, and one Cairn terrier, mostly with conflicting schedules, Chaos reigns supreme!
How do you see your writing future?
Much the same as the present, although I do dream of having my own study one day... I would also like to try writing for younger children, which I’m reliably informed takes even more skill than writing for adults. Luckily, I have my own test audience!