christopher james

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Tag: Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sherlock Holmes Toolkit – 10 things you’ll need to write a new Holmes adventure

So what are the ten things every aspiring Sherlock author needs to write a convincing Holmes novel or short story?

Vicar

  1. A splendid title, preferably with a colour in it: there are no less than ten adventures in the original canon that feature a colour in the title, from The Adventure of the Yellow Face to The Adventure of the Red Circle.
  2. A reliable guide to Victorian London slang:
  3. A superb, twisty plot. If you can’t come up with one of your own, why not seek help from this work of madness: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/01/06/plotto/
  4. Some historical knowledge of the year in which your adventure is set. Your friend Wikipedia is the invaluable help.
  5. All 56 Holmes short stories and four longer works. There is simply no point starting until you’ve read all of these. You will just annoy aficionados with your school boy/girl errors..
  6. The MacGuffin – the object, person or idea that the protagonists seek and which drives the plot along. Think Rosebud in Citizen Kane. For your Holmes adventure this could be a suitably curious object of unknown providence. I used eight ruby elephants for my first Holmes adventure.
  7. Some choice vocabulary. Holmes is an eloquent fellow. You may need to brush up your English if you are to produce a truly credible effort.
  8. A brilliant villain – give him some suitably grotesque impediment, such as a missing ear or six toes on one foot. He should be a match for Holmes in strength and intellect. Don’t automatically reach for Moriarty.
  9. Some light relief – there’s plenty of humour in the original canon, so bring on some light relief in the form of some helpful nitwit or ludicrous situation. In The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants, Holmes stuffs a diminutive monocle salesman (who insists on wearing two monocles at the same time) in a large Ming vase.
  10. Some philosophical moments – some of the best of Conan Doyle’s writing is when Holmes muses on some aspect of the human condition from his lofty vantage point in 221B Baker Street.

Buy two new Sherlock adventures for a limited time only on eBay, including The Jeweller of Florence which is not officially available until 16 September 2016

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Ruby Elephants – Exclusive Extract

In the long history of my association with Sherlock Holmes there has rarely been a case of more singular interest than that of the Ruby Elephants. Leafing through my notes I am reminded that there were a number of features which also mark it as one of the most disconcerting we have yet encountered. For unlike many of our exploits it was not merely one problem, but a series that were interlinked in the most peculiar fashion. And yet despite its complexity I am quite certain that it elicited the most brilliant of all of Holmes’ feats of deduction. My friend, I know disapproves of my rating of his cases in this way. However he knows that it is for my own private amusement and need for order and for this he is prepared to turn a blind eye.

Ruby cover

It was a morning in mid July when the summer heat was beginning to impose itself on our rooms at 221b Baker Street.

‘Do you see this simple length of wire?’ Holmes asked, holding a nondescript bit of steel up to the light. I glanced up from my newspaper. ‘In two years time it will make a man a million pounds. In five years it will make him ten million.’

‘Don’t be absurd,’ I muttered.

‘I have never been more serious in my life’ my friend insisted.

‘Then will he use it to pick a lock at the Tower of London?’

‘Nothing of the kind!’ Holmes was clearly in a playful mood. ‘Shall I show you?’

‘By all means,’ I sighed. ‘My practice is somewhat sluggish of late and I’d very much like to know how to conjure pounds and shillings from thin air.’ He furrowed his brow and began to manipulate the wire, bending it back on itself until it resembled something like a hair clip. He studied it again, rearranged an angle or two, then cast it onto the coffee table in triumph. It skittered across the polished wood and onto our bear skin rug. I picked it up and examined it.

‘I fail to see how it has increased in value,’ I confessed.

‘And that, my dear Watson, is why you are not a millionaire. You are a man of inestimable qualities, but you lack the essential gift of imagination.’ Holmes lit a cigarette, took a drag, then left it smoking in the ashtray. ‘Now you are aware,’ he went on, ‘that I have a somewhat haphazard filing system.’ I surveyed the sea of papers around our feet and swamping every available surface.

‘I am,’ I confirmed.

‘This,’ he said, holding up the folded wire, ‘is of more use than a score of clerks and a hundred filing cabinets.’

He picked up a handful of papers from his feet.

‘The notes,’ he announced, ‘from that curious case of the Laughing Earl.’

‘A ghoulish affair,’ I remarked.

‘And yet one you have not committed to paper, I note,’ said Holmes with a slightly peevish air.

‘I was under the impression that you put little stock in the written records I make of our adventures?’

‘No matter,’ he said, brushing this aside. ‘Pay attention.’ He tapped the sheaf of paper into alignment on the table top, then with a little cough and the air of a practiced showman, he picked up the wire between thumb and forefinger, fixed it neatly at the top of the pages and secured all five sheets together. I stared at Holmes. ‘Rather wonderful, isn’t it?’ he marveled, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

‘A million pounds?’ I repeated, incredulous.

‘If every man in Britain bought a hundred for a shilling,’ Holmes calculated, ‘it will not take long for our inventor to amass his fortune.’

‘Remarkable,’ I said, examining the bent wire it in the palm of my hand.

‘Simplicity itself,’ said Holmes.

Read on by buying the book! Thank you.

How to write a Sherlock Holmes novel

My apologies to anyone who was following the blog only to find that I suddenly vanished into thin air. Well, I’m back. The reason for my disappearance? I was writing a new Sherlock Holmes novel, which I have now completed.

I began my preparations by reading all of Conan Doyle’s brilliant short stories and novels. Check out The Adventure of the Three Students – they’re not all about murder. You will be dazzled at the ingenuity of the plotting, the stylish trappings and the pungency of the wit. Essentially authentic Holmes is light comedy meets Hammer horror.

Holmes and Watson

I then plugged away, rattling out 500 words a day for most of the year. It’s been a bit of a slog, but incredibly enjoyable. So what’s the secret of writing a Holmes’ pastiche?

1) If you get stuck, return Holmes and Watson to 221b Baker Street, put them in their armchairs and get them to talk about something. Anything. New inventions, things in the news and so on. Then get someone with an unusual character feature (a limp, a scar, a missing ear etc.) to walk in.

2) Make Watson incredibly loyal to Holmes and keep the friendship between them to the fore at all times. It’s basically a Bromance.

3) Invent some colourful baddies, each with an interesting Achilles Heel. Don’t automatically reach for Moriarty!

4) When things get a little slow, get Holmes to practice some of his Bartitsu, the obscure martial art that combines boxing, stick fighting and kung fu. It makes for a good break between the pipe smoking.

5) Find different words for the carriages they ride in. You will find Watson and Holmes spend an incredible amount of time travelling between places in hansoms, broughams, etc. etc.

6) Introduce a feisty female with a special power that will intimidate Holmes a little. He can respect her, but otherwise will show no interest.

7) Focus on objects and tiny details – Holmes’ art is all based on the observation of ‘trifles’ to solve the crimes. Leave lots of clues for the reader, some of which can be red herrings.

8) Give Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, a couple of stylish cameos, showing his superior intelligence and large appetite, but don’;t overuse him.

9) Introduce some strangeness; real oddity; the Victorians loved this and this is what makes the Holmes’ books so memorable. Remember to include colourful and authentic food and drink, like deviled kidneys!

10) Research as many Victorian exclamations as possible. Watson utters these with astonishing regularity as Holmes calmly reveals the next plot twist. ‘By Great Gordon’s Ghost, Holmes!’ ‘Heaven’s!’ ‘Mercy!’ etc.

Good luck!