How do I write pastiches?

Pastiches? Homages? Rip-offs? Or simply imitations (“the sincerest form of flattery” according to Oscar Wilde)?
I’ve written quite a few of these, taking on the mantle of four authors in my time: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), William Hope Hodgson (Carnacki the Ghost-Finder), G.K.Chesterton (Father Brown), and latterly E.F.Benson (Mapp and Lucia). All of these have been well-received.

In these stories, I have always tried to maintain the style of the original authors as far as possible. This is more than a matter of recycling stock phrases (“You know my methods, Watson”, “tarsome”, etc.). Each of these authors has an individual style, even though in many cases their periods of activity overlapped with each other – there is much more to this pastiche business than simply copying the mannerisms of a bygone age’s language.

“After the initial chalk circle and pentacle, strengthened with garlic, the Electric Pentacle was obviously the first line of my defences to be established, and I welcomed the glow from its wards once I had assembled it. I performed the the Second Sign of the Saaamaaa Ritual at each vertex, though if matters were as I suspected, and that the beings reportedly described in the lost Heptatrych of Laskaria were involved, the Ritual would have little or no effect. My faith lay in the Pentacle, along with the linen-wrapped bread placed in the ‘Points’ and the water placed in the ‘Vales’, and I determined to spend the night inside that, provided, that is, that there was no clear natural cause for any untoward event.

From my “Carnacki at Bunscombe Abbey”

However well I think I have done with the style, though, when I look back at examples of the originals, I find that I have invariably missed something – at least to my eyes. There is always some element of subtlety that I seem to miss out when writing my pastiches. Even so, the majority of readers seem to think that I have captured the spirit of the originals. I like to think that no one could ever use Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral as architectural blueprints, but they are unmistakably paintings of that particular building, in the same way that my writing is an impression of the writer whose work I am imitating. Incidentally, the hardest style of all to imitate has been Chesterton’s – he loves his little paradoxes and slices of religion to be slipped in. Very difficult to do.

“He is not a Catholic, then?”
She sighed. “He is nothing,” she said. “That is to say, he claims that he cannot prove that God exists, or that He does not. Therefore, he mocks both those with faith, and those who deny faith. Though he is a most efficient and useful addition to the household, and of great assistance in Uncle Archie’s work, I – we – feared that my uncle would give him his notice if he were to continue in this fashion. It upset my uncle considerably.”
“And yet you tell me that you love him?” asked Father Brown kindly.
“I do. I have faith – faith that I can bring him to belief and into the bosom of the Church. I pray every night for him to believe.”
This interesting conversation (interesting, that is, to the young lady at least, since Father Brown had heard that story, or one very similar to it, many times in his time as a priest) was interrupted by the entry of the young man in question.

From my “The Persian Dagger”

Characters are another matter. How far does one take liberties with the character? I like to think (and many critics have agreed with me) that my Holmes and Watson expand on the originals without changing their basic characteristics. I am not, for instance, going to make Holmes and Watson jump into bed with each other, but at the same time, I feel free to make more of the genuine affection that they feel for each other. The same applies to Mapp and Lucia and the inhabitants of Tilling. The characters are loved because of who they are, and any fundamental change to them would make them different people. They may grow and develop, but any outright change to their personalities would turn them into different people. I loved writing Mrs Weston in Riseholme – her streams of consciousness are a delight to write:

“Well, I really don’t know,” she said, after inspecting Georgie’s pieces of glass and invited to guess where he had found them. “I do declare that is just like the handle of a jug that Mr Weston used to have, which he inherited from his aunt, the one who used to live in Hastings and who married the man who invented a new kind of safety-valve to go on railway engines, and which he broke one afternoon after he came in from playing golf with the Vicar. I remember that he went round in 83 strokes, and the Vicar went round in 82, but he said the Vicar had cheated by moving his ball out of a bunker when he thought no one was looking.” She inspected Georgie’s treasure trove a little more closely. “I was just talking about this last week with Colonel Boucher when he was coming out of Rush’s and he had ordered half a pound of currants because Rush said he had no raisins, and why he had no raisins I couldn’t say if you begged me to tell you because he had some two weeks ago and Cook made a very nice pudding out of them. I couldn’t eat it all, and Cook and Elizabeth said they were the best raisins they had ever eaten in a pudding. And the Colonel said he had played golf and lost by one stroke and that put me in mind of that day and it was also the day the German Emperor made a speech about something which annoyed the Prime Minister and that was the very same day that Mr Weston broke the jug.” She paused for breath. “And how you ever got hold of that handle I don’t know, because I remember giving it to Elizabeth to throw away. ‘Wrap it up well,’ I said to her, ‘because someone might cut their hand on it and die of blood-poisoning like old Mr Marlowe who cut his thumb when he was raking the flowerbed in his front garden and he got blood-poisoning and died two– no, three weeks later, and then we’d get the blame.’ So what she did with it, I couldn’t tell you, but I haven’t seen it from that day to this when you showed it to me just now and I really have no idea where you might have found it.”

From my “La Lucia”

And then there are plots and settings. When you are writing a pastiche, you are writing for fans of the originals. If I slip up and put Mr Twistevant behind the counter of the fish-shop, or have Holmes and Watson take the London Underground Victoria Line, I would be rightly laughed out of court. Research and reference to the originals for facts and settings. And plots cannot be too outrageous (though in all the instances I have mentioned, the plots are pretty outrageous to start with) – they must be in scale with the settings of the piece. It is not impossible that the Prince of Wales, for example, sits on Mallards doorstep and smokes a cigarette. It is, however, most unlikely that he would ring dear Liblib’s belly-pelly and ask to be invited in for a cup of tea.

So, the brief answer to “how do I write pastiches” is, “I write stories that the original author didn’t have time to write”. I like to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might well have written:

As a doctor, I am sworn to protect the life of others. As a human being, I am obviously anxious to protect my own life. And as a friend of Sherlock Holmes, I was never more determined to protect his well-being than at that moment. I fired my revolver, and the wretch dropped his weapon, clutching at his arm with a sharp cry.

From my “The Adventure of the Vatican Cameos”

A new book! (well, not that new, really)

As my regular readers (both of you!) will know, I am working with Steve Emecz of MX publishing, and Steve White to produce audiobook versions of some of my stories.

I’ve taken one of my favourites – The Hand of Glory – and turned it into a radio/audio script, which has now been narrated by Steve White. Before it can go onto Amazon, though, apparently the text must be made available on Amazon as a book or an ebook (I don’t pretend to understand the details, or the reasoning behind them).

So, here is the script of Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Hand of Glory as a Kindle title, priced as low as possible.

Mary Devereux tells Sherlock Holmes that her stepfather has obtained the corpses of two executed criminals, and is storing them in an outbuilding of the family seat in Warwickshire. Unknown men visit the house on Friday nights, and depart mysteriously in the family carriage, driven by her stepfather, who also appears to be making significant inroads into the family fortune.
She implores Holmes to investigate, and as he and Watson explore the sleepy market town of Luckworth, they encounter dark and macabre secrets that shock them to their core. Along the way, Holmes loses his left canine tooth in the waiting-room at Charing-cross station, as mentioned in “The Adventure of the Empty House”.

For a very short taster of what is in store in the audiobook, try this:

By the way, you can look up the Hand of Glory on Wikipedia, but it might spoil the story somewhat if you don’t know it already. If you have read the story, and you want to know more, then by all means look it up – it is definitely a macabre and dark subject.

Audiobook available now!

My story of the Holloway Ghosts – a Sherlock Holmes adventure, brought to life by Steevin White​ – who voices all the parts. I originally wrote this as a story, but adapted it as a radio play with no narration – simply voices and sound effects. Steve and I had great fun casting the characters – and I hope you will enjoy the results. I’m delighted!

There was a lot of fun creating this from the original story, stripping out descriptive passages, and replacing them with dialogue and/or sound effects. We had to make sure that the characters had sufficiently different ways of expressing themselves for them not to be confused in listeners’ minds, and I think on the whole, we ended up doing a good job.

I have to confess that I don’t know Bookmate, but there are far more five-star than one-star reviews of the app and the service on the App Store, despite the fact that the three featured reviews seem to be one-star. Sounds worth a go, anyway.

AppStore GooglePlus

 

Lend me your ears…

There’s a very interesting development coming up soon. One of my Sherlock Holmes stories for the MX Collections, “The Holloway Ghosts” was written not in my usual first-person Watson narrative style, but as an audio play.

Steve Emecz, the publisher behind MX, had been quietly asking for some time for me to make my works available as audiobooks, a field in which MX Publishing has quietly been making significant progress.

Accordingly, the Holloway Ghosts made their way over to MX, where they have been recorded and produced by another Steve (White), and Steve W and I worked out some of the production issues (including some of my stupid errors in the script) by email until we were both happy with it.

Audio is more than just the words

As we processed the script, I discovered that there is much more to making a successful audio drama than merely the right words. It helps to have a little atmosphere in there – a ticking clock and a crackling fire summon up the atmosphere of the rooms in 221B Baker Street. The clip-clop of horses’ hoofs brings us outside into a Victorian street, and a little reverberation added to the effects and dialogue places us with Holmes and Watson in a deserted empty room.

And then there’s the voice in which the accents are spoken. Steve, without going into a ludicrous falsetto, can portray the female characters in my story. However, I had envisaged one of my characters as being much more strident, and probably not a Londoner, than Steve made her. So we changed her to be a Midlander with an attitude, and I think we’re much happier with her now.

Steve surprised me with his Lestrade, who seemed to be from Norfolk. However, once I had got over the surprise, it worked, and made a great foil to the stolid Cockney PCs who play a role in the story.

And we also had fun with Otto Sussbinder – a German character who is not all that he appears.

And next…

This is one of the problems I encountered with regard to a voice play – transitions. I could have taken the easy way out, and had Watson do a voice-over.

We left Baker Street and made our way to Holloway by cab. During the journey, Holmes informed Lestrade of his conclusions regarding the recent theft from Westmereland House.

But I felt that was cheating. Accordingly, I wrote these scenes either as dialogue, or as a spoken cue by one of the characters:

Come, let us take a cab to Holloway, and we may usefully pass the time by my informing you, Lestrade, of the conclusions I have reached regarding the Westmereland rubies.

I also found, in scenes where more than one character is present, that I needed to throw in names in order to indicate who is being addressed:

Lestrade, if you would be good enough to call one of your constables, and Watson, follow me to the rear of the house.

All very technical, but necessary to the ultimate success of the production.

So… Keep a lookout for the Holloway Ghosts – appearing soon in a little over 30 minutes of glorious  audio. And at least two more of my longer stories are on the stocks, being adapted in the same way – no descriptions – simply dialogue. It’s an exciting venture.

I’ll be writing more later, when these hit the “shelves”.

 

The sound of silence…

…or how to describe without description.

Aspiring writers are told to “show not tell” – in other words, to allow the reader to do a little work in setting the scene for themselves. Don’t say “he was angry”, say “his face grew red as he pounded the table with his fists”.

Thomas Love Peacock satirised the over-telling in the stage directions provided for a fictional (doubly fictional, since the “author”, Scythrop, has never written it) play in Nightmare Abbey.

The princess is discovered hemming a set of shirts for the parson of the parish: they are to be marked with a large R. Enter to her the Great Mogul. A pause, during which they look at each other expressively. The princess changes colour several times. The Mogul takes snuff in great agitation. Several grains are heard to fall on the stage. His heart is seen to beat through his upper benjamin.

If you’ve never read the book, I strongly recommend it – it’s a lot of fun if you’re into the early 19th century (if you’re not, then you’ll find it boring).

But there is one genre where showing rather than telling is a must, and that’s a radio play. It is possible to cheat, and basically write a straight story, with actors reading out the parts in quotation marks, but the purest form of radio drama (in my opinion) has no narration, and all is explained through the dialogue.

I set out to do just that with a Sherlock Holmes adventure, and using the BBC radio drama template in Scrivener, produced the first draft of a thirty-minute (or so) drama in one day, and though I say it myself, I am rather pleased with it.

It was a real challenge at times to provide the settings and the explanations with no narrative, other than that provided in the dialogue:

Screenshot 2019-06-27 09.33.18.png

Bear in mind, if you would, that this is a draft – but I think this illustrates how I tried to set the scene with a minimum of description. A very interesting technical exercise, and even if it doesn’t get bought and produced by the BBC, I feel it has been worthwhile.

The Bloody Steps

BloodyfrontOn June 17, 1839, the body of Christina Collins, who had been raped and murdered by the crew of the canal barge on which she was travelling from Liverpool, was carried up “The Bloody Steps” in Rugeley, Staffordshire.
Several decades later, the famous consulting detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, was called to Rugeley to investigate the alleged sighting of Miss Collins’ ghost by the wife of the Rector of the local church. What he discovered was much darker and more sinister than any ghost.
BloodybackToday, June 17, 2019, being 180 years after the discovery of Collins’ body, the story of Sherlock Holmes’ Rugeley investigations is officially published and available for sale. The story has been edited by Hugh Ashton, widely regarded as one of the most accomplished narrators of the exploits of the celebrated sleuth.

Currentl;y available in paperback from Amazon or contact me for information about ordering a signed copy.

For more on the story of the Steps, see this page. It describes the murdered woman as already married and on her way to meet her husband, while I had always believed her to be meeting her intended husband. But of course, I may well be mistaken.

A Study of Fear

Yes, I’ve conflated the titles of two Sherlock Holmes novellas here (“conflated” – did I really write that word?).

I confess to not having read The Valley of Fear for a long time, and it’s been some time since I read A Study in Scarlet. There are some real similarities, though. Both involve a murder of a particularly unusual kind, and both involve a flashback sequence to an American past.

What is really striking about the central portion of both books is the attitude of Conan Doyle to American society.

Continue reading “A Study of Fear”

The Man who Would be Sherlock – Christopher Sandford – REVIEW

This is in some ways a strange book (click here for the Amazon page). Sandford explains at the beginning of the book that this is not a biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, nor is it a minute reexamination of the Edalji and Slater cases – the two criminal cases which Doyle regarded as miscarriages of justice and worked to right wrongs.

However, the book does go into some details of ACD’s life, and also provides a summary of both cases as it concentrates on the almost obsessive side of the man’s life which wished to see “fair play” in all things. Continue reading “The Man who Would be Sherlock – Christopher Sandford – REVIEW”

Christmas Gifts for Sherlock Holmes fans

Doctorfront.jpgMy wartime (that is, the Great War of 1914-1918) adventure of Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Deceased Doctor”, which first appeared in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part V, and was subsequently published in Notes on Some Singular Cases of Mr. Sherlock Holmes (j-views) is now available as a free download from here in both Kindle (MOBI) and iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc. (EPUB) editions.

But wait, there’s more!

If you’ve already read, or bought this story, but are missing some of my other Sherlock Holmes adventures, from now to Christmas 2018, there’s a 25% discount on all my other Sherlock Holmes titles (excluding the box sets) bought through this site. I’m using PayPal as the payment method, and a service called SendOwl to ensure secure delivery of the books.

See them at:

Simply use the code SHER-UN-LOCK-2018 when you check out.

And please let me know if you encounter any problems with the purchasing or payment process. I will never take over from Amazon, but it’s very nice to be able to offer a small-scale alternative to the big boys, and I want it to work as well as possible.

If you’re not sure how to “sideload” an ebook onto your reader, click here for instructions.

(the original of the header image from Aussie~Mobs is to be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/16698026584/ and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence)

It’s new font time…

Anyone who knows anything about the booky side of me knows that I love fonts. I try not to be too gimmicky about them and I avoid a lot of the “script” and “brush” fonts, as I’m not really a graphic designer doing posters, but I do try to find a font for a book body that suits the content.

For example…

Continue reading “It’s new font time…”