What can you find here? Reviews of new and not quite so new Sherlock Holmes novels and collections. Interviews with authors, link to blogs worth following, links to where you can purchase my books and some reviews of my work garnered from Amazon sites. Plus a few scary pics of me and a link to various Lyme Regis videos on YouTube...see what we do here and how....and indeed why!!! Next to the Lyme Regis Video Bar is a Jeremy Brett as Holmes Video Bar and now a Ross K Video Bar. And stories and poems galore in the archives.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

An Interview with David Marcum

David Marcum first discovered Sherlock Holmes in 1975, at the age of ten, when he received an abridged version of The Adventures during a trade. He is the author of "The Papers of Sherlock Holmes" Vol.'s I and II (2011, 2013), "Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity of Debt" (2013) and "Sherlock Holmes - Tangled Skeins" (2015). Additionally, he is the editor of the three-volume set "Sherlock Holmes in Montague Street" (2014, recasting Arthur Morrison's Martin Hewitt stories as early Holmes adventures,) and the massive three-volume "The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories" (2015). He has contributed essays to the "Baker Street Journal", "The Solar Pons Gazette", and "The Gazette", the journal of the Nero Wolfe Wolfe Pack. He began his adult work life as a Federal Investigator for an obscure U.S. Government agency, before the organization was eliminated. He returned to school for a second degree, and is now a licensed Civil Engineer, living in Tennessee with his wife and son. He is a member of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, 

You have been editing the MX short story collections Vol’s 1-3, which have received great reviews. Tell us about the selection process.

First of all, thank you for asking me to participate in this interview. I’m really excited about the three books in the new Holmes anthology, The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, and this is a great chance to share some about it.

When I first had the idea for this anthology, I had no idea how big it would become, and  all in less than a year. Back in January 2015, I literally popped awake early one morning, having just had a vivid dream about having edited an anthology. I could see it, and the idea was fully formed in my head. If I’d gone back to sleep, it would probably have never happened. But I got up started thinking more about it. I emailed MX publisher Steve Emecz to see what he thought, and he liked the idea, so I began to contact some Sherlockian authors that I knew and liked.

Initially, I pictured a book of about two-dozen stories at most. I certainly didn’t know that this would become the largest collection of new and traditional Holmes tales ever assembled at one time. I started reaching out to pastiche authors that I’d either met in person or by email, as well as some that I didn’t know. The response was overwhelmingly positive. These authors suggested others, and I invited them as well. Steve and I were trying to decide how big of a book this was going to be, since it was still only going to be one volume then, when word got out about the project, and still more people became interested. We decided to expand it to two volumes, which was not how I originally pictured it. But I realized that more volumes would mean more new Holmes stories to read, and how could I say no to that? When even more people offered stories, it was easier to go to three volumes. Still, I think of it as one big book, just in three parts.

How did you set about collecting the stories from so many writers? Were they specifically invited to participate or was there a general appeal via social media, etc.?

There was never any general call for stories on social media. Part of that is because I’m not much for social media, to the consternation of publisher Steve Emecz. I write a lot of emails to people, but I take so much time over them – editing, punctuating, revising, and so on – that they end up more like letters, and they’re quite long all on their own. I’m really only on Facebook because it became necessary when putting together the anthology, and I don’t spend tons of time there.

Anyone that is involved in this project is here because I invited them, or they were suggested by someone else already involved. I didn’t want to issue a general call for stories because I was so strict about the types of stories that I would accept – traditional Holmes only, set in the correct time period, and no non-Canonical aspects, such as vampires or major character deaths, absolutely no “Sherlock and John”, and no other Alternative Universe twists. If there had been a general invitation, I would have had to read a lot of stories that I wouldn’t have accepted – and I already had my hands full reading and editing all 63 stories that did make the cut, along with some others that didn’t.

Can we expect to see more collections in the series?        

I’m currently editing stories for “Part IV – 2016 Annual”, which should appear in May 2016, and also “Part V – Christmas Adventures” for late 2016. And I already have several stories promised for “Part VI – 2017 Annual” as well! The word “Annual” is certainly meant to indicate that this project will go on as long as there is interest. So far things look very promising!

Part IV is planned to be out in time for the opening of the Stepping Stones School at Undershaw, one of Doyle’s former homes. I should explain – if people don’t already know – that the author royalties for all of these books and stories are being donated to the Stepping Stones School for special needs children. It’s located at Undershaw, which is where Doyle lived when he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. The house is currently being remodeled, after being nearly ruined over the years by former owners and then abandonment. The response from the authors contributing to these collections has been amazing, both in the quality of the stories that they came up with, new for this collection, and also for their generosity in donating their royalties to be a part of something so special.

You are a noted writer of Sherlock Holmes pastiches . . . how did that come about?

Thank you for that saying that I’m “noted”, although I don’t know how true that is. I’ve certainly wanted to contribute to the Sherlockian world for a great part of my life, and since I’m a Missionary for The Church of Sherlockian Pastiche, this is my way of doing so.

I’ve been reading and collecting literally thousands of Holmes stories since I was ten years old, in 1975. I read a lot of other things too, but I’m also always concurrently reading a Holmes adventure as well. Soon after I found Holmes, I received Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, and I yearned to be part of the group of experts listed in the Bibliography who had contributed to the World of Holmes. Back in 2008, I was laid off from my job as a Civil Engineer, and realized that I’d never have a better opportunity to try and write something and add to the Great Holmes Tapestry. I had an ambitious idea for a story, “The Adventure of the Other Brother”, but I felt that I wasn’t ready to jump in that deeply, so I wrote a practice story first, “The Adventure of the Least Winning Woman”, to see if Watson would speak to/through me. Then, as now, I don’t write with an outline. Rather, I just start listening to Watson, and then transcribing what he says, finding out the mystery and solution as we go along.

I ended up with nine stories, including “The Other Brother”, the one that had intimidated me to begin with. And then . . . I did nothing with them for a while. I printed them out on 8½” x 11” sheets of paper and put them in a binder with the rest of my Holmes collection, and there they sat for a couple of years, known only to me.

In 2011, I finally let a few people read my stories, and they liked them, and I got the bug to let others read them too. I initially contacted George Vanderburgh with the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, a publisher with whom I’d had some dealings, and later that year he published all the stories as a book, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes. Then, in 2013, I got in contact with Steve Emecz at MX, and we arranged to republish that book for a larger audience, but now dividing it into two volumes. Since then, it’s also been published as a re-combined hardcover, a Russian edition, and a planned edition (someday) in India. Additionally, I wrote two scripts from two of the stories that were broadcast nationwide as part of Imagination Theatre’s “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.

After that book, I wrote a novel, Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity of Debt (2013), and another book of short stories Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins (2015). The latter was named by Randall Stock of the Baker Street Irregulars as one of the five best Holmes fiction books of 2015 on his famous yearly Christmas list.

What are particular pitfalls to avoid when writing Holmes pastiches in your opinion?

As I said, I’ve been reading and collecting thousands of Holmes stories for the last forty years, and I’ve made extensive notes on all of those adventures. I maintain a Chronology of both Canon and pastiche, fitting stories into it by day, breaking them down by chapter, page, or even paragraph. By seeing the entire lives of Holmes and Watson this way, and not just by looking at the pitifully few 60 stories of the Canon, or just a few pastiches, I get a sense of the big picture, and I often see the same big mistakes jump out.

I always play The Game, that fine old tradition where Holmes and Watson are treated as real historical figures. Therefore, I like it when someone who is writing a pastiche does the same. That means we’re writing about people who were born in the 1850’s, and NOT the 1970’s. Just because some modern shows have characters with Holmes and Watson’s names does NOT mean that those characters are about Holmes and Watson.                                        

If one reads the Canon, Holmes and Watson NEVER call each other “Sherlock” or “John”. Holmes is not a barely functioning sloppy drug-addict with Asperger’s Syndrome who can only survive through Watson’s constant attentions. If you are going to write about the true Holmes, play The Game and treat them as real people, not caricatures. Verify historical facts, such as who is the Prime Minister when a story is set. Do your research and don’t make assumptions. For instance, it always drives me crazy when a story that is set in the 1880’s has Watson already publishing in The Strand Magazine, which did not even come into existence until 1891, just in time for “A Scandal in Bohemia” to appear. If a story has Watson already publishing adventures in The Strand in the 1880’s, it’s wrong.

Hugh Ashton, who I interviewed recently, does not read other pastiches. Do you? (Obviously, allowing for the fact that in your role as editor you could scarcely avoid it).

I couldn’t NOT read pastiches. I’ve been reading them, collecting them, and intensely addicted to them for 80% of my life, so far. I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop reading them just because I’ve now written a few.

The most amazing thing personally for me about editing the MX Anthology is that I get to read all of these stories brand new, straight out of Watson’s Tin Dispatch Box, before almost anyone else. When I was putting together the first three volumes, I was the only one for months and months who had read all of the stories, and knew how good they were, and how much pleasure the readers were going to have. It was like having a big secret that I couldn’t share yet.

Do you set aside a certain amount of time each day to write or edit?

Unfortunately, no. If I were to win the lottery, I would probably have a go at being a real author, treating it as a real job, and working set hours each day. But instead, I have to find time here and there, and get geared up for the painful process of squeezing out a few thousand words.

I’ve read about authors, such as Jonathan Kellerman, who scribbled his first novel in bits in pieces while he was a doctor, and when he had a moment or two here-and-there between patients. I’ve never tried to write that way, but I don’t think it would work for me. I need a big chunk of time where I can throw the door open and let the words flow for a while. I don’t have any problem letting the words flow – as you can see from these long answers – but finding the time isn’t always easy, and it isn’t exactly painless either, so it’s a commitment every time.

Do you like to write in solitude and silence, free from interruptions?

As I’ve written elsewhere, when I write I go into a “zone” and I’m only vaguely aware of the outside world while the story comes out. I don’t have a real plan, and I transcribe what I’m hearing Watson narrate to me. When I come back a few hours later, I’m somewhat stiff and sore, all of my coffee is gone, and I have a few thousand words on the screen that weren’t there before.      

I can generally write about 3,000-5,000 words in a sitting, over the course of a 2-3 hour period, and I can get a basic 8,000-word Holmes story down in a couple of writing sessions. Then, after I let it sit and percolate for a few days, I re-read it to improve the language, eliminate repeated words, look for loose plot threads, and so on – probably not that different from how other people do it. I have to write on a real keyboard though. I can’t use a laptop keyboard for some reason, and I certainly can’t write in longhand, since my thoughts (or Watson’s dictated thoughts) flow too fast for that. I learned to type when I was nine years old, and I’m pretty fast, so I can keyboard a conversation in a story just about as fast as they can say it.

Solitude and silence are definitely necessary. Our desktop computer is set up in our dining room. My wife and son leave me alone when I’m writing, but ideally I get up early and crank out a chunk of story while the house is absolutely quiet. I’m not a full-time writer, so I have the luxury of doing it when I feel like it, but I have to discipline myself to feel like it, since it’s a somewhat painful process. Still, there’s nothing like sitting down with nothing there, and coming back to the real world a few hours later with something that didn’t exist before.

There are probably more Holmes books being written than ever before. Too many do you think?

Never too many. When I was growing up, I was lucky to get a couple of new Holmes stories per year. Later, when I was in high school and college, I used to receive a couple of Sherlockian catalogs, and I would place one big order per year on my own, and then mark the catalogs for my parents and sister so they would know what else to get for me for Christmas. In the late 1980’s, when I was in my early twenties and started dating my future wife, she introduced me to a local bookstore that had hard-to-find Holmes items on the shelves, and I would snap them up with the proceeds from my first job. My wife is a reference librarian, so over the years she has showed me how to track down lots of Holmesian rarities.

In the 1990’s, I went back to college for a second degree in Civil Engineering and discovered the internet. That changed everything, from giving me access to fan fiction adventures (which I printed off as permanent paper copies if they were traditional Holmes stories – something that I still do to this day,) to finding new places to track down and purchase obscure Holmes books. Now it’s a rare day when I don’t add some new traditional Holmes pastiche to my collection. And I always read them, and add them to the Chronology. And I still want more!

Granted, the quality of these new Holmes stories is WAY up and down, but I try to look past the presentation, or even the grammatical and Canonical mistakes, to see the actual Holmes adventure. All of these current “editors” of Watson’s notes are accessing what I’ve described as The Great Watsonian Oversoul. Or maybe they’ve all just found different Tin Dispatch Boxes. Every new story that appears isn’t perfectly polished – after all, Watson, with the help of his Literary Agent, only cleaned up 60 of them for publication in his lifetime. The rest of these new stories might be rougher, and they might have some mistakes or inconsistencies in them, but the Watsonian essence is still there. To me, with that kid still inside who only got a few new Holmes stories per year, this is an incredible and amazing time. I’m not going to turn down a new traditional story just because it was free on a website, and not in a slick-and-shiny book that was on a shelf at a book store. What we’re living in is beyond a Holmesian Golden Age – It’s a Platinum Age to be a Sherlockian.

There is a great snobbery among some Sherlockians, wherein they won’t even consider reading a pastiche if it isn’t in a fancy published book from a big-name publisher, written by one of their pals in the same popular kids club. These people would never deign to look at stories from lesser sources, such as a shabby fan fiction. It’s too bad, because they’re only cheating themselves. Some of the very best Holmes stories that I’ve ever read were fan fictions from the internet, or in books or chapbooks or pamphlets from small publishers, and people who won’t be open-minded are missing an incredible assortment of great Holmes adventures.                                       

If you could take five original stories from the canon with you to a desert island what would they be?

Ah, the always difficult question. I suppose I’d have to pick some of the favorites that I always enjoy the most when I revisit them: “The Speckled Band”, “The Copper Beeches”, “The Abbey Grange”, “Charles Augustus Milverton”, and The Hound of the Baskervilles

But don’t ask me why I like all of these, or I might write even more. This list might be different on a different day, or even an hour from now. And if I could pick some of my favorite pastiches too, then the list would become positively unmanageable.

And the future. What’s next for yourself?

As I said, I’m currently editing stories for the fourth and fifth volumes, but it isn’t as difficult this time around as it was for the first three books. Now, there are less stories – but still about two-dozen per volume! – spread out over a longer period before the deadlines, and Steve Emecz and I worked out all the formatting when we set up the first three books, so those issues aren’t hanging over me now like before.

I’ve completed (as of this morning) about 60,000 words of a new Holmes novel, and I’m also writing four new Holmes short stories, two for the next MX Anthologies, and a couple for two Holmes collections coming from Belanger Books next year. I have a lot of loose Holmes stories that I’ve written, now placed in various locations, and I hope to collect them into a new book in a year or so. And the other day I had an idea for yet another type of Holmes anthology, so I’ll see where that goes as well.

Through all of this, I’m still so fortunate to be able to read all these new Holmes pastiches that are appearing every day. I’m extremely lucky to finally be able to play in the Holmes sandbox that I first became aware of when I read Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, forty years ago. (Wow – where did that time go?!?) And I’m incredibly blessed to have met some really great people through this whole process, and I thank them so much for all that they have done through this whole process. You’re all great!

Thanks David

David Marcum can be reached for questions or comments at:

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Sherlock Holmes meets Laurel and Hardy

This is  a slight re-write of an earlier piece, Posting it again because...well, just because!!

The Laurel and Hardy Incident

            When I glance over my increasingly copious notes and records of some of the cases that my good friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes has been involved in to some degree, I am faced by a surprising amount that are out of the commonplace and present so many singular, strange features that it is no easy task for this humble chronicler to decide just which narratives to put before the public.
            The incident I am about to relate involved no known crime and the puzzle, although trivial, it presented to Holmes had no solution nor in fact required one. Yet it begs to be recalled as one of those whimsical moments that can occur when six million people are jostling together in a great metropolis.
            We had both broken our fast early for the heat in our Baker Street rooms was stifling. The morning sunshine bathed the street in a golden hue, the light danced and dappled its way down the thoroughfare. The morning murmur of the city coming to life was now bursting into a symphony of noise. A paean to the rich, varied life that abounds in London.
            Holmes was busy reading The Times and I was attempting to write up the case of The Gondolier and the Russian Countess when we heard the doorbell, followed moments later by hurried footsteps ascending the seventeen steps.
            Holmes looked up from the agony column which had been occupying his attention.
            ‘Two men, Watson, one certainly taller and larger framed than the other, but even so just as nimble and fleet of foot as his companion.’           ‘I had no time to indulge Holmes’s deduction with my usual ‘How?’ for the door opened wide and two men, such as Holmes had described entered the room. The larger of the two men, who towered over his companion was the first to speak.
            ‘Pardon me, gentlemen for the intrusion, but we appear to be lost.’
            ‘Yes that’s right and we don’t know where we are either,’ announced his friend.
            ‘You are in Baker Street,’ I stated.
            ‘Baker Street where, sir?’ asked the ample proportioned one.
            ‘In London of course. Do you not know even what city you are in?’
            ‘London? London?’ He turned to his thin friend. ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.’
            His response was to burst into tears. ‘I didn’t mean to…I couldn’t help it….I only touched the button.’
            ‘You can’t leave anything alone can you? Pardon me, gentlemen, allow me to explain.’
            ‘Yes, please do,’ said Holmes, ‘for beyond the obvious facts that you are both down on your luck, have both been in the US Navy, have bought a boat recently, have wives who hen-peck you and are regularly harassed by a balding Scotsman, I assure you I know nothing about you whatsoever.’
            ‘Say, does this guy know us, Ollie?’
            ‘He most certainly does not and don’t call me Ollie. Gentlemen, I am Oliver Norvell Hardy and this my friend, Mr Laurel.’
            ‘My name is Sherlock Holmes and this is my friend and colleague Doctor Watson. Now pleases explain, if you can, the nature of your predicament.’
            ‘Well, it’s like this. We were sweeping a chimney at the home of a mad scientist and he asked us not to touch a particular machine he was working on. Stanley accidentally pressed one of the buttons, pulled four levers, turned three dials and engaged six of the gears and now we find ourselves in another country.’
            ‘I just wanted to know the time,’ said Mr Laurel.
            ‘Then why did you have to interfere with the machine?’
            ‘He said it was a time machine, recomember? Say, did you say another country, Ollie? Is this London, England?’
            ‘Why, certainly,’ Mr Hardy replied.
            ‘That’s swell. I had an uncle once who was building a house in London, but he died.’
            ‘I’m sorry to hear that Mr Laurel, what did he die of?’ I asked.
            ‘A Tuesday or was it a Wednesday,’ he replied, taking off his hat and ruffling his hair so that it stood on end.
            ‘No, my dear fellow. I meant what caused his death?’
            ‘He fell through a trapdoor and broke his neck.’
            ‘While building his house?’
            ‘No, they were hanging him.’
            I looked at Holmes intently, hoping to convey to him a silent message that one of us should make an excuse to leave and bring back the nearest constable for clearly we were in the presence of two lunatic who have escaped from Colney Hatch asylum. To my surprise, he was laughing in that peculiar silent fashion of his and was displaying no alarm at all.
            ‘Do you have often get into scrapes like this?’ he asked.
            ‘No, I reckon this is our first mistake since that fellow sold us the Brooklyn Bridge.’
            ‘That was no mistake, Stan. That bridge is going to be worth a lot of money to us one day.’
            ‘Well, gentlemen,’ Holmes said, his eyes twinkling merrily. ‘I have a reputation for solving the most abstruse cryptograms, puzzles and conundrums, but I fear that this particular problem is beyond even my powers.’
            ‘Say, Ollie, I have an idea.’
            Mr Hardy’s face bore a look of complete and utter amazement at this remark from Mr Laurel.
            ‘You do?’
            ‘Sure, I’m not as dumb as you look.’
            ‘You certainly are not,’ replied Mr Hardy, twiddling his bow tie. ‘We will leave you in peace gentlemen. Come, Stanley.’
            ‘Goodbye,’ shouted Mr Laurel as they left.
            ‘Good day to you both,’ I called after them.
            ‘Quick, Watson. There is not a moment to lose, we must run after them.’
            I was most gratified to hear that Holmes had not been taken in by our visitors and had seen them for the madmen they were.
            ‘If we are to overcome then, Holmes, shall I bring the police-whistle to attract the nearest bobby?’
            ‘Overcome them? I have no intention of doing so nor asking the assistance of the police.’
            ‘I do not understand. Then, why pray, we going after them at all?’
            ‘Elementary, my dear fellow. I have not laughed like this for a long time. Come, Watson.’

Friday, 11 December 2015

An Interview with Dan Andriacco

Dan Andriacco discovered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories at about the age of nine. Not long after, he became acquainted with such greats of the Golden Age of detective fiction as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner, and many more. He has been a member of the Tankerville Club, a Cincinnati-based scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, since 1981. That connection is reflected in many ways in his book Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings. He is also a member of the Illustrious Clients and of the John H. Watson Society.
Andriacco's Sebastian McCabe - Jeff Cody mystery series, set in a small town in Ohio, is very much in the tradition of his Golden Age favorites.
Andriacco, known to friends as "Doctor Dan," holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. He was born in 1952 in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, Ann. They have three adult children and five grandchildren.     

How did your first book come about? Why, what and when?
My first published book in the Sherlockian field was Baker Street Beat. At some point I realized that I had written a lot about Holmes over the years. I assembled them into a book of essays, radio plays, and short stories just to have them all in one place. I planned to self-publish but I couldn't figure out how to do it. Then Joel Senter of Classic Specialties told me about MX Publishing. Amazingly, the book was in print just a few months after I sent Steve Emecz the manuscript. That was in 2011. I've had two books a year published ever since.

Your McCabe-Cody series of mysteries go from strength to strength. Did the idea come to you fully-formed?
Thanks! I think I started with wanting to have a "Watson" that had a built-in conflict with the amateur sleuth protagonist for the sake of dramatic tension and also for comedy. So I came up with the idea of a small Catholic college public relations director hose best friend and brother-in-law was a professor who created PR problems for the college. It didn't work out exactly that way because there isn't really that much tension between Jeff and Mac, but that's how I originally saw them.

And was it a conscious decision to have the Holmesian themes?
To some degree, the Holmesian element is automatic. It's just so much a part of me that it comes out in all my mystery writing. But my publisher specializes in Sherlock Holmes so some of it is put in with malice aforethought. The second book in McCabe-Cody series, Holmes Sweet Holmes, originally had a different title and the Holmes element wasn't nearly as strong. I wrote the first version many years before it was rewritten and published.        

    How do you see the series and characters progressing?
There have been some changes and there will continue to be. I'm not sure that Lynda's job at the media company is secure. Tere's a major change in another character's job at the end of the next book in the series. And at some point a continuing character will turn out to be the murderer. I don't want the series to stagnate, so there has to be some changes - but not enough to ruin the sense of familiarity. Readers tell me that when they open one of my books it's like revisiting old friends. I don't want to ruin that!

The Enoch Hale series in collaboation with Kieran Mc Mullen is a recent innovation. Is that series set to run and run?
It's over! Kieran and I decided to make it a trilogy. I think I had the basic plotlines of the second and third books finished before the first was published. The third ends with a shocking surprise. I think that was a good conclusion to the series. The last line of the book may read like we're setting it up for another book, but that wasn't the idea.

Any plans to write a full length Sherlock Holmes pastiche?
No! I will leave that to others. It's hard to make a Holmes novel seem like the Canon. To be authentic - at least to me - a Holmes novel has to be relatively short (45,000-60,000 words), have Holmes missing for about half the book, and be an adventure story as much as a mystery. Even The Hound of the Baskervilles follows that pattern - Holmes is gone for much of the book, and the killer is revealed way before the end. And of course the first and last ACD Holmes novels are divided into two parts, with the second part set in America in the past and Holmes is nowhere in sight.

Are your family very supportive?
Yes! My wife is one of my four beta readers. Our grandchildren are great readers, so I look forward to them meeting Sebastian McCabe and Jeff Cody some day.

What constitutes a normal day for you?
That  depends a bit on what stage I'm in with a project, but basically I work on writing or editing or plotting for an hour every morning after I work out at the gym. Then I do my day job as director of communications at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which involves a lot of writing. I also write or edit my own projects at home after work, but how long I do that depends on how much energy I have and what needs to be done that day. I'm pretty focused, which is how I wrote two books a year four years. That pace may not continue. 

How does your faith work in your life?
It impacts every area of it - at least, I hope it does!

And the future? What can we expect from you?
At the moment I'm reworking a comic detective novel set in 1991,  which is when I originally wrote it. Re-reading it makes me laugh out loud. It's so "high-concept" that I don't want to say anything more about it right now. My wife and I also plan to write a mystery series about an early twentieth century vaudeville clairvoyant - her grandfather. The first book is largely plotted. Neither of these efforts is Sherlockian and so probably will not be published by MX. But friends of Jeff Cody will be happy to know that I expect his adventures to continue, at least one a year, for a long time to come.

               Visit Dan's website: HERE

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman

Christmas is coming.....

What to buy for those young, budding Holmesians?

May I suggest.......

Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman!

This is what one reviewer said:                                             

This richly-illustrated children's book is a delightful story of a little girl who had lost her snowman. Naturally, she and her mother visit the famous detective Mr Sherlock Holmes at his lodgings at 221b Baker Street.
Much to Dr Watson's astonishment, the World's foremost consulting detective takes the case and pursues it with his legendary sagacity and tenacity. He discovers - but no, I will not spoil the ending.
The writing is simple enough for a small child to follow, but, as one would expect from veteran Holmes pastiche author David Ruffle, it feels right.
The many detailed illustrations, by Rikey Austin, are superb. We see Holmes sitting by the fire in his slippers reading The Times, while Dr Watson looks out on a snowy Baker Street; Mrs Hudson shows little Henrietta, their five-year-old client in; Holmes examines the scene of the crime through his magnifying glass, and so on. The characters, especially Holmes and Watson, are very well portrayed.
Adults too will appreciate the lovingly-crafted illustrations.

And another:

Move over adult Sherlock Holmes fans, the younger set now get their own version of our favourite intrepid detective, Sherlock Holmes. Written in a gentle yet classical Holmes style, Holmes does what he does best, solve a mystery for a young girl whose snowman has mysteriously vanished. Would definitely recommend this book for children of Sherlock Holmes fans as it's bound to be a classic. The manner in which Holmes solves the mystery should spark the imagination of a younger reader and lead to thoughtful discussion. Just how did Holmes solve the mystery? Discover it yourself in the pages of this well written book. Lovely illustrations much in keeping with the gentle style of the story round out the book nicely.            

Buy it on Amazon UK HERE

Buy it on Amazon USA HERE


Monday, 30 November 2015

An Interview with Sherlock Holmes author, Hugh Ashton.

Hugh Ashton was born in the UK, and moved to Japan in 1988, where he has remained since then, living with his wife Yoshiko in the historic city of Kamakura, a little to the south of Yokohama. Recently, however, his lifelong interest in Sherlock Holmes has developed into an acclaimed series of adventures featuring the world's most famous detective, written in the style of the originals, and published by Inknbeans Press.
In addition to these, he has also published historical and alternate historical novels, short stories, and thrillers.
Together with artist Andy Boerger, he has produced the Sherlock Ferret series of stories for children, featuring the world's cutest detective.

What prompted you to enter the world of Holmesian fiction?

This is all going to sound rather silly. I was invited round to a friend’s house for dinner, and after dinner we started playing Cluedo. Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick. Actually, it was the American edition, so there was no library (changed to a “den”) and no candlestick (changed to a “trophy”). But I digress. We started talking about detectives, and I mentioned that we all knew about Sherlock Holmes’ smarter older brother, Mycroft. But what about Sherlock’s smarter younger sister? We never know about her. So my reaction was to go away and write a story about her. And so the next day (I am pretty sure it was only one day) I sat down and wrote “The Odessa Business”, and put it up on Smashwords. It was liked by those who read it, and I thought, “That was fun”.
So the next day or the day after, I sat down and worked out how Isadora Persano came to be found stark staring mad, with a matchbox on the table in front of him, containing a remarkable worm, said to be unknown to science. That was an enormous amount of fun to write and it went up on Smashwords, and got rave reviews from friends.                                                    

I had a contract with Inknbeans Press to publish my short stories about older Japanese people, Tales of Old Japanese, and Jo, my editor, looked at these two stories, and told me if I wrote a third one, Inknbeans would take them and put them out as a book. So the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant came to be. The whole thing went incredibly fast. My Cluedo game was on January 2, and we had the paperback of Tales from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD (my choice of title) out on Amazon by the end of the month.
Obviously, I’d always loved Holmes and ACD’s style, and had even written a couple of unpublished pastiches, as well as some advertising copy in that vein, but these were the first ones that I felt were good enough to show the world, and more importantly, that were entertaining, and not merely five-finger exercises in writing.

Were you a little apprehensive as to the reaction that your first Holmes book would receive?

To be honest, no, I wasn’t, other than the first-night nerves that any author feels when his work is viewed by the world. I had very little knowledge of the Sherlockian/Holmesian world outside the Canon. I knew of the Adrian Conan Doyle pastiches (I didn’t even know they were called “pastiches” in the jargon!) and had read them along with the Canon. I’d heard of House of Silk, but never read it.
So I had nothing with which to compare these stories, really, other than the Canon. I suppose that if they had been slammed by the critics or the readers, I wouldn’t have continued. I’d have told myself that writing ACD pastiches was not for me, and I’d have moved to other things.

Several successful titles later, do you think you have mastered the art of pastiche writing?

Define “mastered”, please. I am writing adventures which capture a certain nineteenth-century mood and style. It’s not quite ACD, but it’s close enough to deceive at a first glance. There are elements of ACD in my writing, but sometimes his Holmes comes up with some sort of aphorism or bon mot that mine can only just begin to approach. I do try to slip in one or two of these every so often, but I think I fall short most of the time.                                                                      

My Holmes and Watson are described in greater depth than ACD’s. I don’t think I move away from the original characters, but I do see and expose different sides to them. My writing provides more 20th/21st century depictions of character than the Canonical descriptions, though I do hope that the characters themselves are firmly planted in the late 19th century. But I don’t give Holmes a sex life or anything like that. That’s not Canon.
One thing about pastiches – you must always give a reason why Watson didn’t publish the account of the story. Was there a political or social reason why the story remained in the tin box? Would it have embarrassed the Establishment? Was there a reason it might have embarrassed Holmes? Or even Watson? Or simply it was too slight a case to be considered (I’ve written two rather lightweight, and I think amusing, pastiches, which still manage to show off Holmes’ skills and his character)?

The reviews of your Holmes books are generally excellent, but does that mean you have a lot to live up to each time you begin a new mystery?

I mentioned character just now. Plot, of course, is the driver to each adventure. But the plots write themselves. What I mean by that is that I will usually start with the few canonical words that introduce an Untold, and take it from there.
I try to choose the right sort of names where they’re not given in the Canon (though ACD had some very strange names for some of his characters – Hilton Cubitt, for example – who was ever called Hilton in those days? Or Sherlock, come to that?). And most of the time, I become Watson when I’m writing. By that, I mean, I listen to the client’s story, I am puzzled as Holmes works his detective magic, and I am suitably impressed as enlightenment dawns.
Very often, when I start a story, I don’t even know exactly what the crime will be, let alone the identity of the villain. These things reveal themselves, sometimes at four in the morning, when I wake up and say to myself, “So that’s what happened, and why and how!”.
The style is the easy part. I have moved away from all the adverbs that ACD used, but still use a lot of tags (“retorted”, “replied”, “cried”, and even “ejaculated”). There are the odd inversions, and tricks of speech that I try to incorporate.
Above all, the devil is in the details. If Holmes and Watson take a train, it must start from the correct station, and that station must have existed at that time. Once I found myself stuffing three people into a hansom cab. I managed to change that before it hit my editor! A very tricky element is the social class structure of those days. How was a cook addressed? A parlour-maid? A scullery-maid? And were these modes of address different depending on the social class of the employer? This is something it’s almost impossible to research accurately, other than reading contemporary literature, which for the most part ignores servants, at least in a way that’s useful to my research.     

So that’s what I have to live up to.

Is it easy to balance the demands of work with your multi-faceted writing career?

My work is writing, and I’m self-employed. Not all my writing is fiction, though. I write advertising and advertorial copy for a large international business magazine. There isn’t a lot of work from there in terms of volume, but it is very intensive and detail-oriented work. It pays the rent. There are also a few other small gigs, but these don’t take up a lot of time, so I have time to write, and to work on promotion together with Inknbeans. So the answer is, yes, it’s easy. And I write fast. My personal best is an 8,000-word pastiche in a day. If a short (7-8,000 word) pastiche is taking me more than a week to complete, then that’s too slow. It probably will bore the reader, as well. So throw it away and start again.
As you say, I don’t write just Holmesian material, but I consider myself a chameleon as a writer, capable of producing material in a number of different styles. I can actually write advertising copy interspersed with a pastiche, while attending to my busy Facebook feeds.
Like ACD, I would like to be known as an author with strings other than Sherlock Holmes to his bow. That’s why I’ve written a couple of contemporary thrillers, Leo’s Luck and Balance of Powers, as well as a 19th century science fiction novel, The Untime. I would love my pastiche readers to try these. The Untime would especially appeal to them, I think, written as if it had been translated from the French of Jules Verne (actually, some of the dialogue initially popped into my head in French, and I then translated it).

How do you write? In silence? At the same time of day?

First thing is that I write at home. I hate writing on a laptop, so the whole “Go to a coffee shop and ‘Look at me, I’m a writer’ thing” is out of the question for me. I find that pretentious, anyway. My working setup is a Mac mini with two 24” screens, a Happy Hacker mechanical “clatter-clatter” keyboard, and alternating between an ergonomic mouse, a trackpad, and a trackball. The software is Scrivener.
I usually work either in silence or with classical music (sometimes other genres). Music with words I can understand are out – that means French, German, English or Japanese – I don’t speak Italian, so most opera is OK.
I work when I can, but my most productive time seems to be any time after 3pm. A danger with being self-employed and working from home is that you can end up working/writing all day, and spending all day in front of the computer if you’re not careful. So I am pretty careful to stop work in the evening, usually about 7, and not work after that unless there is a real deadline to be met. But as I say, sometimes writing fiction is a whole-day thing.
I edit as I go along. My first draft is very close to being the completed adventure.  

When writing Holmes tales, do you revisit the canon to soak up the atmosphere and re-acquaint yourself with Sherlock Holmes?

I write with both Annotateds (Baring-Gould and Klinger) beside me, as well as the Bantam complete for quick reference. I also have the complete Canon on my Kobo, which is searchable.
Do I revisit the Canon? Of course, but not as a regular part of the routine. I’m actually more likely to watch a Jeremy Brett adventure. My inner Holmes looks like Brett and sounds like either him or Benedict Cumberbatch. I have a cinematic imagination, though I watch very few films or TV shows, and seeing the Granada series, which come very close to the original Canon in so many ways, and add to it and sometimes even improve on it (heresy!), acts as inspiration.
By the way, I don’t read other pastiches. Not because I’m a snob or think I’m so much better than other writers, but because I’m frightened of accidentally borrowing ideas or even characters from other people. The last thing I want to do is to plagiarise, even though I’m writing pastiches.
I think I would make a good detective – or a good criminal. It’s generally reckoned that the two are different sides of the same coin. I am probably more Watsonian than Holmesian in character, but I can identify enough with Sherlock Holmes that he is alive in my mind and he acts in my stories without too much assistance from ACD.

How has living in Japan changed you, if at all?

How long have you got? Briefly, I always say that I can’t write contemporary fiction set in the UK. I left in 1988, and things are very different now. I suppose I have become more detached from the UK and see it more objectively. However, Leo’s Luck takes place in a sort of UK setting (though the society in which the protagonist moves is somewhat different from the typical UK society). It’s a black comedy/fantasy/romance or something. Not sure.
I’ve definitely become more tolerant of many things. Just because something is different, doesn’t mean I will automatically reject it. How does that affect my Holmesian tales? Not sure.
On the linguistic front, because many of my clients are Japanese, I am very careful about using words correctly. I remember one meeting where we spent something like ten minutes discussing whether “more than two years” meant the same as “over ten years”. So it’s made me a better writer. 

What new projects are in the pipeline?                                               

As far as Sherlock is concerned, I want to get up to 56+4. So far I am at 35+2. I think it would be disrespectful to do any more than the Canon.
At the time of writing (November 30, 2015), there are two new Sherlock Holmes books coming out very soon (like this year!). One is the Dispatch-box hardcover compilation. Eighteen adventures, two published by Inknbeans for the first time, and one for the first time ever in print. There’s also a collection of six adventures we’re calling 1894. It won’t even have my name on the cover. And a new pastiche for David Marcum’s new anthology (Volume IV).
Non-Sherlockian tales. I’m nearly through the first draft of a sequel to The Untime, which goes into an examination of madness among other things. Some Lovecraftian, some Wellsian, and some Verneian elements in this, which exist in The Untime as well.
There’s a novel which has remained unfinished for about three years, and it’s alternative history, dealing with Siberia and Mongolia in 1917-1920. The real-life mystery of how the Tsar’s gold got lost somewhere along the Trans-Siberian Railway started this one off. I really must get round to finishing Gold on the Tracks (same hero, Brian Finch-Malloy, a 1920s James Bond, as Beneath Gray Skies and Red Wheels Turning).
And then? I don’t know. I’ve left it too late to rival Edgar Wallace in terms of the number of books written and published, but maybe I can catch up with ACD.
One thing is for sure – without Inknbeans Press and the constant support of Jo and the other Beans out there, I wouldn’t be writing so much. Thank you. And sincere thanks to all those Holmesians/Sherlockians who’ve been kind enough to say nice things about my pastiches. Without your encouragement, I wouldn’t bother writing.

I'd also like to mention the Sherlock Ferret books. Like you, David, I have taken Sherlock Holmes into children's lives, but I've given him a fur coat and a tail. Watson has become a mouse, accompanying Sherlock Ferret in his adventures, and together with Lestrade, who is a rhinoceros (though he is not a very big one), they work to foil the plans of the nefarious Moriarty Magpie. People who see the paperback editions of these books usually buy them – Andy Boerger's illustrations are delightful, and seeing them online on Amazon doesn't do them justice. They've been written to be read by 7- to 10-year-olds, or read by parents to slightly younger children.

Thank you for your time, Hugh. We all appreciate bit very much

Go to Hugh's website HERE