Signed copies now available

I now have a few paperback copies of Mapp at Fifty.  If anyone would like a signed copy, this can be arranged easily. Simply click the button here, and fill in the form, including the “Dedication”. In other words, how do you want me to sign the book?

The price of a signed copy from here is £5.99, as opposed to the recommended price of £7.49. Pay with PayPal or credit card.

But wait, there’s more…

If you would also like a copy of my collection of slightly weird tales, Unknown Quantities (more details on the Amazon page), I have a few copies here. They are going for £3.99 (Amazon £5.99).

Postage is calculated as a Large Letter (non-trackable) and may (depending on where you live) end up being as much as the book(s). Sorry. I have no control over postage rates. With the current Covid-19 pandemic, shipping times will be longer than usual. I would estimate (and this is only an estimate) that UK delivery will be about a week from posting, and European and North American about two weeks. Australia and NZ, perhaps a little longer. So please have patience. I will try to get the package in the mail the same day that I receive an order.

The postage for your order is automatically calculated for the following countries:

  • Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, UK, USA

However, if you live in a country which is not on this list, don’t order just yet. Check on the map here or use this link to check your zone. If you are in World Zone 2, then there is a default “worldwide” setting. Otherwise, please let me know through the contact form before you order, I’ll add your country to the automated pricing system and then let you know.

Screenshot_2020-04-20 Country sending guides Royal Mail

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.

A new story – FREE download

This has been kicking around in my head for some time and to a large extent it wrote itself. I am not sure whether I’ve got it right, or whether it is depressing or uplifting – it might be seen as either.

It’s 500 words – just under – and it’s a story for these times which are currently wrenched out of joint.

In any case, it’s not going up as a page on this site, but if you want a free copy (Word DOCX format), click here. I would simply ask you to leave your thoughts and reactions as a comment here if the piece makes any impression on you.

I’ve entitled it “The Other Side of the Mirror” – which was the title of a song I once wrote and recorded with a couple of friends. It seems that the world(s) on the other side of the mirror, as in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Through the Looking-Glass, and a story by Borges, has a continued fascination for me. The cobbled-together Photoshop illustration comes close to my mental image of the story.

Bonus point (no Googling!): Where does the last sentence come from?

“Dimensions Unknown 2020: Warriors of Olympia” – John Paul Catton – Interview

John Paul Catton is a recognised force to be reckoned with in the field of Japan-based urban fantasy. I first came into contact with him some years back as a fellow-member of SWET, the Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators in Japan, and I helped produce an early edition of his alternative history, Moonlight, Murder & Machinery.

Since then, he and his imprint, Excalibur Books, have gone from strength to strength, with the next major planned release being a collection of Olympics-themed stories by a number of authors. The series was originally entitled Tales from the Unknown (as in the earlier version of a cover from the series here), but has been retitled as Dimensions Unknown.

The idea of an Olympics-themed anthology, to be published in a year when Tokyo is preparing to host the world’s athletes (though at the time of writing, this remains in some doubt) is an intriguing one, so I decided to ask a few questions about it:

Q: What’s the working title for your new Olympics anthology? How many stories and how many authors do you expect it will end up being?

A: The official title is Dimensions Unknown 2020: Warriors of Olympia. This is Volume 3 of the Dimensions Unknown series, and it will have twenty stories from eighteen talented authors, both veteran and new.

Q: How Japan-centric do you expect the collection to be?

A: About half and half. There are some stories focusing on Japan the host country, and its society and culture. Settings include both the samurai and swordplay of the Edo period, and the bizarre technology of the nation’s near future. The other stories are Alternative History stories set in previous Olympic years, such as Berlin 1936, Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984, Sydney 2000, and of course the first Tokyo Games in 1964.

Q: Do you expect the stories to have any links with each other than Olympics (characters in common, or from your other books)?

A: This is a kind of Excalibur Books Crossover event, so there will be links to other stories and characters in the “Dimensions Unknown” series and the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. Simon Grey from Charles Kowalski’s novel “Simon Grey and the March of a Hundred Ghosts” and Hina Takamachi from Cody L Martin’s “Zero Sum Game” will be reappearing. I must stress, however, that this is designed as a stand-alone volume of short stories and novelettes that can be enjoyed without having read any other releases from Excalibur Books.

Q: Since Japan has been in Olympic hysteria mode for about six years now, there’s no need to ask about the inspiration for an Olympic anthology. But what about some “alternative Olympics”? Will there be a Yōkai Olympics, for example?

A: Not an Olympics exclusively for Yōkai, but Japan’s supernatural critters do make an appearance in Reiko Furukawa Bergman’s story. The “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy features a huge number of Yōkai as both protagonists and antagonists.

Q: Japan’s had bad luck with Olympics – the 1940 games which never were, and now there are serious doubts about the 2020 games. Almost a story in itself?

A: I wouldn’t say Japan has had bad luck, because the Tokyo 1964 Olympics was a tremendous success. It announced Japan’s return to the world as a modern, high-tech nation with an invigorated pop culture. In a wider sense, it encapsulated the “Golden Age of Modernist Science Fact and Fiction” optimism that, a few years later, was to transform into a Post-Modern pessimistic dread of approaching Apocalypse. That’s not a reflection on the Tokyo Games; it was a result of the inevitable gravitational pull of global technology and culture.

Q: And how do people submit their stories? Or are they all picked already? If any have been picked, would you like to say something about them, and a teaser about their story?

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A: We promoted the anthology guidelines for two years on social media, and the deadline closed at the end of 2019. The content is now finalized, and includes Alternative History versions of the previous Olympics mentioned. For example, there’s a Steampunk story where the modern Olympics started not in Athens 1896, but London 1860; there’s a Low-Gravity Olympics set on the Moon, in 1966; and we have a story set in 1964 Japan, which is a blend of two of the nation’s greatest film franchises – a kind of “Tora-san meets Godzilla”. Last and not least, there’s a non-fiction account of the original 1964 games, in an excerpt of J-Boys, by Shogo Oketani.

Excalibur Books has set up a Patreon to attract interest and to help pay for formatting and book cover costs. There are stories, both excerpts and full, going up on the Patreon on a weekly basis along with all kinds of bonus content, so if anyone likes the sound of this anthology then I ask them to join us on the Patreon. Let’s be positive! Whatever happens to the real-time Olympic games, we promise that this collection will be an awesome souvenir of 2020! Who wants to be part of it?

 

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”.

 

I’ve been away from here for a while…

The reason is that some pesky person down in London went and called a General Election, and my writing skills, such as they are, together with a reasonable amount of my time, have been harnessed to a political cart.

It’s been quite an adventure – the first General Election in which I have known “my” candidate (and one of the other candidates) personally – and I’m seeing many of the aspects of an election from the inside.

It’s been educational standing on street corners, handing out leaflets, and engaging with people whose political views differ from mine. Very little in the way of actual arguments, and most of my conversations have ended with a handshake and a “take care” from both sides.

But… it has eaten into my writing time. I make no apologies. The future of the country in which I live and hold citizenship is more important to me than my scribblings. Normal service will be resumed soon after December 12.

 

 

Halloween is coming

Unknown Quantities is now available for pre-order and will be on sale from Halloween (the paperback will also be available on that date ). However, I will be happy to send a free ebook copy (EPUB or MOBI) to the first ten people to contact me, in exchange for a review somewhere.Unknownback@1.5x

  • Bee-bee – a rag doll who helps her owner cope with life’s ups and downs
  • What you find in a skip – it can be surprising
  • Babysitter – something nasty in the Coopers’ woodshed
  • Time thieves – they steal time and dreams and energy
  • Ships in the night – “as night turned to day, he started to understand the truth”
  • Carnacki at Bunscombe Abbey – a sincere tribute to William Hope Hodgson’s classic ghost-finder
  • The story that wrote itself – sometimes an author gets help from an unexpected source
  • Gianni Two-Pricks – be careful what you take from others – even when they’re dead
  • Lady of the Dance – movement as message
  • Me and my Shadow – or is it really my shadow?
  • What Happens Afterwards? – when you die on the operating table, what’s next?

Another day, another genre…

I’ve written books in a variety of genres, but one I’ve shied away from, for no good reason, is the horror/weird genre.

However, in the Lichfield Writers, I found that quite a few of my pieces actually were at least moving in the direction of that genre, and could be put together to make a small collection. I was encouraged in this by John Linwood Grant, who has much more experience in this field, and am going ahead with the project.

UnknownbackI’ve picked out ten stories, and the 96-page book will be on sale soon. I’ve produced it as the same pocket size (4″ x 6″ or 101mm x 152mm) as the Untime paperback. It’s cute and it’s rather friendly.

The cover is still a little provisional, but I’m pretty certain that Unknown Quantities will end up looking a little like this.

The price it will go for on Amazon is £5.99 (US $6.99). I should be able to do it for much less (including p&p). If you are interested in a signed copy, please let me know, and I’ll be able to order copies for resale.

How politically correct should you be?

When writing fiction, typically I try not to offend, but I also try not to go overboard on the politically correct side. If the situation calls for it, then I use the word or phrase that the character in question would use. Likewise, “my” characters take on their own personality as I write about them, and they surprise me sometimes with what they tell me about themselves. So if a character is a “minority” – that’s just the way they are, and it was almost certainly not a conscious decision on my part.

So, as far as offensive and non-PC language is concerned, in my Balance of Powers, I have an African-American protagonist (former USMC officer). At one point, he gets called out by a white bigot, who uses the N___ word (spelled out in full in the book) and calls him “boy”. You will be happy to know that she learns her lesson. He, by the way, isn’t shy about using obscentities when he feels the situation calls for it.  For example, in another scene:

He went out of the office, and as he was about to close the door, his frustration boiled over. “And f___ you too, you cold-hearted b_____! F___ you up the a__!” he shouted at her in his loudest Marine parade-ground tones, before slamming the door shut as hard as he could. The other workers in the open-plan office leading to Allenby’s private office appeared above their cubicle dividers, like gophers popping out of their holes, with what looked like smirks on their faces. He heard a few giggles. [all obscenities spelled out in full in the book]

In Beneath Gray Skies, I had a similar problem when referring to people of colour. US Senators and Congressmen from the southern states, right up to the middle of the 20th century, used the N____ word, even when speaking on the floor of Congress. How was the Congressional Record going to record this racism? It got round it by recording the word as “Nigra”, and that’s what I ended up doing. The word is used a lot by the Southerners in the story, the Brits use the term “colored chappie” or similar (this book was written using US spelling, hence the British using “color” rather than “colour”).

Moriarty grabs hat
Moriarty Magpie snatches his hat back from Watson Mouse.

The problems can be even more subtle. When Andy Boerger and I were developing the children’s series of Sherlock Ferret books, we had to come up with a villain. Someone who was smart, and pretty nasty. Our first thoughts were of ravens and crows, and then we started to pull back a bit. These birds are all black – by creating an all-black villain here, are we demonising black people? Possibly… But then Moriarty Magpie swum into our consciousness, and we had a black and white villain, who had an alliterative name, and magpies are, after all, renowned as thieves.

PiggybackSloth
Here’s Lestrade, who is a rhinoceros (though not a very big one) giving a piggy-back ride to Doctor Solomon Sloth,

Once more in Sherlock Ferret, we had a character called Doctor Solomon Sloth. All our characters wear hats, and with the name Solomon, we seriously considered giving the good doctor a hat of the type often worn by Hasidic Jews. However, Solomon is a sloth, and spends much of his time asleep.

“It’s been a very long and exhausting day. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I will leave you and take a nap before I turn in for the night.”

If we made him obviously Jewish, would we be giving the impression that we thought Jews were lazy? Quite possibly, we thought, and changed the hat to something a little less identifiable.

But it’s not just racial PC that an author must consider – there are sexual and gender-preferential matters to be considered. Again, in Beneath Gray Skies, I use the term “queer” to describe homosexuality, that term being period-authentic. However, Balance of Powers has one (female) protagonist who is gay, and my Untime series, although related by a man, features a female character who is stronger and more intelligent than any of the male characters. But these weren’t conscious decisions – these were just the way that the characters presented themselves to me.

And as far as “bad” language is concerned, some of my characters, like some people in real life, use it a lot, and others, like others in real life, don’t.

And in the end, this is what you as an author must do, I feel – be true to the characters that you create, whether or not you like what they are or what they represent to you.

David Marcum – Interview

David Marcum is known to fans of Sherlock Holmes, at least partly as the editor of the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes series, which collect “authentic” Sherlock Holmes pastiches, published in handsome volumes, the profits (including the authors’ royalties) from which go to help Stepping Stones, the school currently occupying Undershaw, the house designed and built by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He also writes Sherlock Holmes pastiches of his own, as well as those featuring Solar Pons.

51A1-VnwqMLBut David has many other strings to his bow, and one of them is an interest in John Thorndyke. For those unacquainted with this “medical jurispractitioner”, a little later than Sherlock Holmes, Thorndyke, created by R. Austin Freeman, is a very scientific detective, with much more in common with modern forensic practice than Holmes. Starting life as a doctor, Thorndyke later proceeded to the bar (became a barrister), and brought a scientific rigour to the cases in which he appeared as an expert witness.

David, with a background in investigation and forensics, has just completed editing a collection of the original Thorndyke tales, and I asked him a few questions about this project, and related issues:

If you were an official police detective working on a case, who would you sooner have working at your side, John Thorndyke or Sherlock Holmes?

RAusti2.gifThe short answer is Dr. John Thorndyke, although it pains me to pick him over my hero, Sherlock Holmes. Having grown up around detectives and policemen (see below), I know that their disdainful attitude toward private detectives and amateurs that is portrayed in books and film is accurate. The police have a procedure that must be followed in order to document everything to make a court case that can’t be picked apart. The chain of evidence is sacred – or supposed to be that way. Also, there’s a feeling that if someone could really do the job, they’d be on the official force. Private detectives are usually a joke at best to the police in the real world.

We had a private detective in my home town, a one-armed man who had also previously been the leader of the local Ku Klux Klan group. His vehicle license plate said Im 007, and he had a house full of silly listening equipment and other tools of his trade. He would often butt in on cases to express ridiculous theories, but the newspapers would eat it up. Once, in my capacity as a federal investigator, I had to interview him. He insisted that we sit in his Im 007 car so that any listening device that I might be wearing (which I wasn’t) would be blocked. While we sat there, I began to be covered by tiny baby spiders that were crawling up out of the car seat. Without missing a beat of whatever nonsense that he was telling me, he began reaching over with his one arm and picking off the spiders and popping them, one by one, until we were done. That’s my real-life encounter with a private detective in action.

Part of what makes the Holmes stories so fun is that he sees what others don’t, and sometimes those others who aren’t seeing are the official force. When the first Holmes adventure was published in 1887, the idea of preserving a crime scene, or approaching a crime scientifically, simply wasn’t done. And yet, as time passed, the police adopted more modern methods, including some that were originally described in the Holmes narratives. By the later Holmes stories, the Yard was attempting to do things the right way, and Holmes had gone from being an outsider who was laughed at behind his back, despite his successful results, to someone that was admired. As Inspector Lestrade said at the end of “The Six Napoleons”:

We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.”

By the time Dr. Thorndyke came along, the Yard was well along toward embracing scientific detection. In the first book in the series, The Red Thumb Mark (1907), Thorndyke and his friend Dr. Jervis visit the Yard’s fingerprint department. Nothing like a fingerprint department existed in Holmes’s day. Thorndyke is still something of an outsider, able to see and do things beyond what the Yard can accomplish, but he’s also a welcome co-investigator, instead of someone like Holmes in the early days, who lamented the stupidity of the police.

I remember discussing The Body Farm with you some time ago, and so I know that some members of your family have had some real-life forensic experience. Would you like to provide a little more detail about this? And how has this knowledge and experience influenced your attitudes to crime fiction written before the advent of modern forensic practice?

 For someone who is interested in mystery stories, I grew up in a very interesting way. Or possibly the way that I grew up gave me an interest in mysteries. My dad was a Special Investigator for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, covering a multi-county area, and assisting other local law-enforcement agencies when they needed help. He had been an MP in the Army during the Korean War, and then he became a Highway Patrolman before becoming a TBI Agent when I was just two or three years old, in the late 1960’s.

Because he covered a number or rural counties, his office was in our home. There he kept all of the equipment that he’d need, including his fingerprint kit, crime scene investigation tools, blank forms, and evidence collecting items – and also the files of all his cases, in two big filing cabinets. He would let me read those files, starting when I was around eight years old, pulling one after another out of the drawer, as long as I was careful with them. I was probably much too young to see that stuff, but I don’t regret it. (One of his most lauded cases was the murder of a rural country doctor by way of a sawed-off shotgun fired close-range at his head. The extremely graphic photos were all in the file, and when I read about the same type of murder in the Holmes adventure The Valley of Fear a year or so later, I knew exactly what it looked like.)

In addition to letting me read his casefiles, he would occasionally take me on investigations with him. He taught me how to obtain a subject’s fingerprints, and to lift them from an object. I saw him conduct interviews – and in hindsight I wonder how it was managed that I could sit in on them – and once he took me to a murder scene. While there, I found what I thought was a blood stain well away from the action and was sure that I’d discovered an alternate route as to how the body was removed. I went and pestered the “blood expert” to come look, and he informed me that instead of a blood stain, it was the droppings of a bird who had been eating berries. Thus ended my big Ellery Queen moment on one of the Inspector Queen’s cases.

For a while as a kid, I established my own detective agency in a big walk-in closet in our basement. Some neighbors actually “hired” us, and the little money that we earned was rolled back into the business in the form of office supplies. To help us, my dad gave me a bunch of his official forms – blank fingerprint cards, evidence collection stickers, and so on. He also regularly received FBI Wanted Posters in the mail, and he passed those on to me. I hung them in our office.

Later in his career, my dad became the first TBI polygraph (lie-detector) operator in the state. When he would give demonstrations to public groups, he would take me along as his guinea pig and hook me up as his subject to avoid the liability of asking strangers questions. When we would demonstrate at my school, I usually received very embarrassing questions yelled out from my peers about which girl that I had a crush. That wasn’t fun, and also it was usually very revealing to the girl.

body_farm_skull.jpgMy dad had several notable cases over his career, and one was written up in a “True Crime” type magazine, but one big career accomplishment was that he was the first to use Dr. William Bass, the world-famous forensic anthropologist, as a consultant related to dead bodies, back when Dr. Bass was simply a college professor. When he retired, my dad received a commendation from the state for his entire career, including having that idea to involve Dr. Bass in a case. This involvement led to more work of the same type with other agents, and eventually Dr. Bass became so intrigued that he created “The Body Farm”, a world-famous site where decomposition of human remains can be studied under all types of conditions. It’s located about fifteen miles from where I live.

I’m very glad for this experience growing up, and how some of it helped prepare me for my first career as a federal investigator with an obscure U.S. Agency, now long defunct. Personally, seeing all of these things in real life has really given me an added perspective when reading crime stories – whether it be the Great Detectives like Holmes, Nero Wolfe, et al, or other books that focus more on police procedures. I understand that, even as investigation becomes more and more about gathering evidence, there is still a human component that can’t be ignored.

Connected to the above, I was talking to a former police officer the other day who was bemoaning the fact that (in the UK at least), most crimes are solved and convictions obtained, not through detective work, but through DNA analysis or CCTV footage. In your opinion, could this be a factor for the enduring popularity of the more “human” detective story, which may use psychology as well as forensic science in order to determine the perpetrator?

That might explain the enduring popularity now, but I’m not sure that it adequately explains the popularity of those stories through all the years before DNA and CCTV. I think that people look for a hero that is always one step ahead (or two or three like Holmes!), and also who has a sense of justice. He should be something of a guardian angel, or a Court of Last Resort. However, I have seen a very disturbing pollution of Holmes in recent years, as many people add in various flaws in stories about him that were never in the original Canon – extreme drug addiction, sociopathic or murderous behaviours, attempts to put him on the Autism scale, or to make him manic-depressive, a total lack of social or grooming skills, a general inept disfunction, etc – in an attempt to have a broken Holmes with whom they can identify. Holmes doesn’t need to be broken. He is a hero. And we don’t need to drag him down to identify with him. In the original stories it’s Watson that we identify with – a brave, steadfast, and intelligent friend, doctor, husband, and former soldier –the everyman that shows us Holmes through his lens. That’s how I want to see Our Heroes, and not as something sad and struggling.

What about the role of sidekick in the Holmes and Thorndyke series? Watson versus Jervis. Who makes the better narrator, and who is the more appealing character, in your view?

Inverness and DeerstalkerNo question, I choose Watson as the better narrator, because before Watson appeared, there had been nothing really like that, and all that follow are just imitators. There’s a reason why so many of the other narrators of The Great Detectives’ adventures – Dr. Parker, Captain Hastings, Archie Goodwin, Dr. Jervis – are referred to as their Watsons. Even Dupin’s unnamed friend and narrator, who came before Watson, pales when compared with Watson. There are quite a few who argue that The Canon is really Watson’s story, since we see it all from his perspective, and he’s such an interesting, brave, compassionate, and decent character. We need him to filter our view of Holmes. I don’t think anyone will ever argue that some of the Poirot stories are actually Hastings stories.

And while Dr. Jervis is most often associated with Dr. Thorndyke, there are actually a number of other narrators of the various Thorndyke stories besides Jervis, including Doctors Berkely, Jardine, and Strangeways, lawyer Robert Anstey, and even Nathaniel Polton, Thorndyke’s crinkly-faced assistant. (Polton is something between Thorndyke’s Q and a forensic house elf). In many cases, Freeman seemed to need to use a different narrator because he’d already allowed Jervis to meet his wife in the very first book, and in order to have a romance bloom in subsequent tales, he needed new and unmarried narrators. (None of these other narrators can equal Watson either.)

If you were a TV producer making a series of Thorndyke episodes, closely based on the originals, who would you pick to play Thorndyke (and the other principal characters)?

That’s a tough question, because I don’t usually pay attention to actors. Instead, I’m interested in characters. I’ve never in my life watched a film because it had a certain actor in it. I either watch because it’s about a character that I care about, or because the story sounds interesting. In so many cases where a film has been made about one of my “book friends” (as my son called them when he was little), the actor simply isn’t right. He or she may get close, but it’s never completely true, for various reasons – physical variations, choices by the screenwriters/adapters to service their own swollen egos over the original material, etc.

Dr. Thorndyke was born in 1870, and his adventures span from when he’s in his late twenties to his sixties. However, when he’s about thirty is when he’s in his prime, so we’d need an actor of around that age. Often when an actor is cast as Holmes, he is far too old for the part. In every Canonical adventure but one, Holmes was under fifty, and for a good many of them he was in his thirties, with Watson only a couple of years older. The elderly versions of Holmes and Watson portrayed onscreen are often simply wrong.

Thorndyke is described as very handsome, and he’s usually in a good mood, smiling easily. He generally knows more about what’s going on than those around him, and the actor playing him needs to have a twinkle in his eye when watching others try and figure out the solution. John Neville played him in a rare 1970’s televised version of one of the stories, and he was somewhat close, but still not quite right. (There’s something about Neville, as seen in his portrayal of Holmes in A Study in Terror [1965] that’s a little to breathlessly enthusiastic.)

Jervis is about the same age as Thorndyke – they were friends in school. We don’t know a lot about him, except that he’s tall and apparently handsome too, although life had beaten him down a little bit before he began working with Thorndyke. Marchmont, a lawyer who appears frequently, is seemingly in his sixties, and Superintendent Miller is probably a few years older than Thorndyke. Polton is older – he seems old when we first meet him, and he stays that way – and is a small fellow with a crinkly-faced smile. Then there are the other doctors (and a lawyer) who sometimes narrate the Thorndyke adventures – Berkely, Jardine, Strangeways, and Anstey. They are all a bit younger than Thorndyke, and would need to be cast as well.

If he weren’t already in his sixties and retired, Daniel Day Lewis would make a good Thorndyke. (I’ve long made the case elsewhere that he should play Holmes in the World War I years. Just take a look at him in 2017’s The Phantom Thread to see how right he physically looks for the part.) However, after giving this way too much thought, I simply can’t pick anybody. I don’t know actors that well, until they get cast in something that I want to see, and then I judge whether they’re right or not.

Stephen Moffat, co-creator of the BBC SHERLOCK series says that other detectives have cases, Sherlock Holmes has adventures. Where does Thorndyke fit on that scale?

Thorndyke is much more on the “case” end of the spectrum. Those stories are generally very workmanlike, with Thorndyke gathering evidence that is in plain sight of the narrator and the reader, but refusing (with a smile) to interpret or explain it before he’s ready. Then he lays it out, often in a Coroner’s Court, and suddenly it’s very obvious. When something adventurous happens – such as Thorndyke being sent a poisoned cigar by a murderer, or being trapped in a locked secret chamber with a container of gaseous poison that might kill him at any minute, it’s much more of an unexpected treat, as one is conditioned to expect that he’s simply going to be steadily gathering evidence to build his case.

What augments the pleasure of reading these evidence-gathering stories is that in a number of these cases, we already know who committed the crime, and we’re simply seeing how Thorndyke builds his web, one strand at a time, undoing what the criminal thought was unsolvable. The author, R. Austin Freeman, invented the “Inverted Detective Story”, in which the reader sees the crime occur, and the real mystery is how will Thorndyke uncover the truth. This was later used by Columbo in that long-running television series.

Any thoughts on who will be the next “Marcum discovery”?

First up is finishing the re-issues of the Thorndyke books (along with the various ongoing Holmes projects that I write and edit). Later this year, three more volumes will arrive (to complement the first two volumes from late 2018, which consisted of the first half of the short stories and three novels.) The next set will be the rest of the short stories, and six more novels. Then, during 2020, I plan to release the final twelve Thorndyke novels in four more books, making it a nine-volume set of The Complete Dr. Thorndyke. That, along with all the Sherlock Holmes writing and editing on my plate, should keep me busy.

After that . . . I have an idea. I reissued all of the Martin Hewitt stories back in 2014, although some people didn’t like it, as I reworked them into early Holmes stories, set in Montague Street before Holmes moved to Baker Street. Then I spent much of 2018 to bring back all of the original Solar Pons stories. After that came Thorndyke, and now I’m thinking about doing the same for another detective who has faded from the limelight. However, he’s less like Sherlock Holmes and more like Ellery Queen, one of my other heroes – that may be a clue – and I don’t know what the reaction to that might be from Sherlockian publishers. Hewitt, Pons, and Thorndyke all have strong Holmesian connections, so that was an easier idea to sell. However, there’s plenty of time for that later. First I have to finish up Thorndyke – but what a great way to spend some of my time! I invite everyone to wander to his chambers at 5A King’s Bench Walk and get to know him!

Thanks very much for this opportunity!

Thank you for all these answers.

To find out more about David Marcum’s work on detective fiction, simply type his name into your local Amazon site.

 

 

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.

Apologies (and a free gift)

I’ve been settling into a new role for the past month or so. On May 2, much to my surprise, I was elected as a City Councillor. It sounds very grand, but in fact the City of Lichfield is really a parish, and most decisions are made by the Lichfield District Council, and matters concerned with roads and education are largely decided by Staffordshire County Council.

However, being a City Councillor, although it is an unpaid position, does carry some responsibilities, and there is a learning curve attached to doing the job properly – and I certainly intend to do that. So far it’s been interesting and exciting, and even though the novelty may wear off, I will always consider this to be a serious and responsible position to hold, and I will do my best to represent the people of Garrick Road Ward.

There are minutes and agenda, the details of how meetings of planning committees, etc. and a few rather nice quaint historical ceremonial events such as the Lichfield Bower, the Sheriff’s Ride, a world champion Town Crier (Ken Knowles, pictured above), who also acts as sword-bearer on ceremonial occasions together with two mace-bearers, and so on. But… learning takes some time, and my writing, including my blog, has been affected.

By way of a little compensation, let me give you a short (untitled) story that I wrote for the Lichfield Writers:

Yes, I was frustrated and annoyed. We’d got on like a house on fire for the whole evening, and I was ready to go home with her, or take her home with me, when she looked at her watch and told me she had to be up early the next morning, so goodnight, thanks for the drinks and see you soon.

So I needed something to cheer me up. Didn’t feel like the chippy, and we’d had an Indian together before we’d settled into the pub for the evening. I knew I’d had enough to drink – too much, if the truth was told, so that wasn’t an option. And then it started raining, so I turned my up collar and kept walking.

It caught my eye from some distance away. A hand, sticking out of the skip outside the department store they were doing up. What looked like a woman’s hand and arm, bare to the elbow. Visions of lurid headlines spun through my mind as I approached. “Lichfield man’s macabre midnight find” was a good one, as was “Grisly garbage in city centre”.

I actually laughed out loud when I got close to the skip. The arm was a mannequin’s arm, plastic or plaster, or something. I pulled at it, and it came away, leaving me holding it like a trophy. “You look armless enough to me,” I said to the now dismembered body in the skip. “Nice of you to give me a hand.” (Don’t worry, I get a bit like this after a few drinks. It could be worse – I could turn into a raving violent monster)

So there I was, walking back home, hand in hand in hand with my new friend (or part of her). When I got in, I put the arm on the table, and noticed for the first time that there was a slim chain round the wrist, which looked like gold. Not only that, but there were three pieces of glass, two red and one white, in gold settings halfway along the chain. Pretty, but not my style. I decided to take it along to my friend Julie who runs the antique and curios shop to see if she’d give me anything for it.

I left it for a few days, and took it in to show her. To my surprise, she didn’t immediately dismiss it as junk.

“Where did you get this?” she asked, peering at the glass with a jeweller’s loupe screwed into her eye. She sounded suspicious.

“I just sort of picked it up somewhere,” I told her. Well, that wasn’t a lie.

“I’m not going to take it,” she said.

“Why? Not worth your while selling it?” I asked.

“Out of my league, dear. If I were you, I’d go down to Birmingham and go to one of those little shops in the Jewellery Quarter and see what they have to say.”

And that was the end of that conversation.

As always happens to me with this sort of thing, I left it alone for a month or two, but one day I was going into Birmingham, and I had a few hours between meetings, so I decided to use the time to do what Julie had suggested.

I had no idea which shop to go to when I got off the train at Jewellery Quarter, but picked a small dingy little place – something in the way Julie had talked had made me cautious about going into one of the bigger more glossy stores.

The man behind the counter asked the same question as Julie had done.

“Where did you find this?” His tone was more accusing than curious.

“I found it on the street,” I said.

“And you didn’t feel you needed to hand it in to the police?” If the tone of his voice was anything to go by, he didn’t believe me.

“A cheap bracelet and a few pieces of glass?”

“They’re not glass.” He handed the chain back to me. “Now bugger off, and be thankful I haven’t called the cops. I’m not touching this.”

I buggered off, as requested, the bracelet burning a hole in my pocket. The next shop I went to was a little more helpful.

“Hmmm… Two rather nice rubies and a very pretty diamond. Nice setting. Are you selling?”

“What’s it worth?”

“I’ll give you a couple of thou.”

Wow. Two thousand pounds for something I’d found in a skip? Which probably meant he could sell it for five. “I’ll think about it.”

“Two five, and I’m not asking any questions about where it came from.”

I had a sudden thought. “Tell you what. I’ll give you five hundred if you do what I ask.”

“Go on…”


 

All this happened fifteen years ago. The two rubies and the diamond now adorn my wife’s custom-made engagement ring. And yes, she was the one who left me in the pub that night I found the bracelet, telling me she had an early start the next day. She really did have an early start, and she called me that evening to apologise for running away. By the time I’d found out the truth about what I’d discovered in the skip, I’d decided, and she was on the point of deciding, that we were going to get married.

The ring clinched the deal.

“How on earth did you manage to afford this?” she asked me when I gave it to her.

“You really don’t want to know.”

But what I really want to know is what happened to the person who threw out the mannequin with that expensive bracelet still on its wrist. Let me know if you find out, will you? I won’t tell anyone else.