christopher james

Poems and prattle

Tag: Sherlock Holmes

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

10 great adversaries of Sherlock Holmes

moriarty

Holmes aficionados know there’s more to life than Professor Moriarty. The Sherlock Holmes stories contained an astonishingly colourful cast of cads, crooks and show boaters (most frequently wayward colonels for some reason). Indeed Conan Doyle was often at his best when drawing pen sketches of his villains. It is of remarkable how he can conjure them into life with just a few deft strokes.

                                             Sherlock silhouette      Top hat
                   

Here is a list nine memorable scoundrels from the original canon, plus a surprise at number ten from my own, new Sherlock Holmes novel: The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants. Beware of some spoiler alerts, however, as some of these are not revealed as the villains until the end of the stories. You have been warned!

  1. Irene Adler, A Scandal in Bohemia

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes, she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.

‘What a woman – oh, what a woman!’ cried the King of Bohemia.

  1. Colonel Lysander Stark, The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysander Stark rushing forward with a lantern in one hand, and a weapon like a butcher’s cleaver in the other.

  1. Charles Augustus Milverton, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

He was a man of fifty, with a large intellectual head, a round, plump, hairless face, a perpetual frozen smile and two keen, grey eyes, which gleamed brightly from behind broad, golden-rimmed glasses.

‘Mr Holmes, Mr Holmes,’ he said, turning the front of his coat and exhibiting the butt of a large revolver. I have been expecting you to do something original.’

  1. Professor Coram, The Adventure of the Golden Pinze-Nez

It was a gaunt, aquiline face which was turned towards us with piercing dark eyes, which lurked in deep hollows under overhung and tufted brows. His hair and beard were white, save that the latter was curiously stained with yellow around his mouth. A cigarette glowed amid the tangle of white hair. ‘Tobacco and my work – that is all that is left to me.’

  1. Baron Gruner, the Adventure of the Illustrious Client

The fellow is, as you may have heard, extraordinarily handsome, with a most fascinating manner, a gentle voice and that air of romance and mystery which mean so much to a woman. He is said to have the whole sex at his mercy and to have made ample use of the fact…The Baron has little waxed tips of hair under his nose, like the short antennae of an insect.

  1. Mr Culverton Smith, The Adventure of the Dying Detective

With a shrill cry of anger, a man rose from a reclining chair beside the fire. I saw a great yellow face, coarse grained and greasy, with a heavy double chin, and two sullen menacing grey eyes that glared at me from under tufted and sandy brows.

‘What is this?’ he cried in a high, screaming voice. ‘What is the meaning of this intrusion?’

  1. Colonel Sebastian Moran, The Adventure of the Empty House

It was a tremendously virile and yet sinister face which was turned towards us. The brow of a philosopher above and the jaw of a sensualist below, the man must have started with great capacities for good or for evil.

  1. Colonel James Moriarty, The Adventure of the Final Problem

He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve and his two eyes are deeply shrunken in his head. He is clean shaven, pale and ascetic-looking, retaining something of the professor in his features. ‘It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing gown.’

  1. John Clay, The Adventure of the Red Headed League

‘John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher and forger. He is a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a Royal Duke and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. He’ll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I’ve been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet.’

  1. The Archangels, The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants

I awoke in a room that was perfectly dark. The floor was cold, and the air was damp, like that of a cellar.

‘Stand up, Dr Watson,’ came a voice.

‘Who are you?’

‘My name is Michael.’ There was a light in the form of a single flame. I heard another voice.

‘I am Raphael,’ it announced and another torch was lit.

Then behind me, another:

‘Uriel.’  And at the fourth point of the compass:

‘I am Gabriel.’ I was at the centre of the four flames.

The four of them wore identical black frock coats, top hats and strange, round spectacles with darkened glass. At the far end of the room, they gathered themselves into a knot, with blades flashing at the end of their canes, their eyes gleaming like demons.

‘You are vampires, not angels,’ I cried.

Ruby elephants cover

Holmes comes to Haverhill

To Haverhill’s leafy East Town Park on a balmy summer evening for The Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s splendid production of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. As far as I could make out, this is an original play and a fine one it is too. Tightly constructed with stylish, snappy dialogue, this is close to the spirit of the original. Flocks of swifts dart through the sky and soundtrack of twittering birds makes for an evocative setting.

show5

Holmes and Watson are summoned to a nunnery to investigate the mysterious Eye of God, an ancient talisman that has been protected within the nunnery for centuries. Holmes is acted with some aplomb, both masterful and eccentric, capturing his infuriating brilliance. (The performance is another reminder of the sizable debt Dr Who owes to Holmes and Conan Doyle). Watson is equally good, unusually robust, and less deferential than he is in the original stories. Both actors are magnificent speakers – projecting out into the trees and the families playing in the park. There is terrific chemistry between the two and the long suffering Watson’s nerves (and teeth) are tested to the limit.

The supporting cast are excellent too; the formidable head of the convent has a wholesome, matronly authority while the two novices are respectively feisty and earnest. Brother Benjamin (a beekeeper Holmes fans!) has a superb energy and holds his own against the two male leads.

There is a slight uncertainty of tone. Like the books, the play is essentially a melodrama and the company has resisted the urge to play it too broad. There are moments of mild slapstick however, which threaten to take it into more comic territory but this is by no means a send up. There are touches of horror too and the drama with its various wrong -footing diversions is expertly executed.

All the usual Holmesian tropes are in place: Sherlock appears in disguise, there’s the Webley revolver and some very natty tailoring; Holmes is pencil thin in green tweeds and wing collar. The smoking has been toned down for more enlightened times and audiences, although, amusingly, some herbal cigarettes play an unusually important part in the drama.

A light shower during the second half (cue a spray of floral umbrellas) only served to add atmosphere to this compelling production and I thoroughly enjoyed myself (abetted by a couple of bottles of Badger’s Hopping Hare beer!) The evening was topped off by winning a bottle of white wine in the half time raffle and best of all, it was Watson who sold me the winning ticket! Gloriously old fashioned, outdoor entertainment for ages 12 to 112.

10 Untold Sherlock Holmes stories

I set myself half an hour to come up with ideas for ten new Sherlock Holmes stories. Who knows if any of them will ever be written? Which ones would you like read? Thanks to Penguin for the image of their rather beautiful editions of the original Conan Doyle novels.

The Adventure of the One Eyed Fish
Holmes and Watson are presented with a damaged glass ornament, which provides an unusual clue to a lost fortune.

The Adventure of the Missing Moon
A distressed astronomer arrives at Baker Street convinced that the recently discovered moon of Neptune, Triton, has disappeared.

Holmes books

The Adventure of the Three Astronomers
A set of triplets, all astronomers, present a star chart pertaining to show an undiscovered galaxy; Holmes discovers it is a map showing the location of lost Welsh treasure.

The Adventure of the Spice Ship
A merchant who has made his fortune transporting the spices of the orient comes to Holmes after discovering a body buried in his cargo of cinnamon.

The Adventure of the Missing Page
A publisher pleads for Holmes’ help when the last page of his sure-fire bestseller goes missing, along with its author.

The Adventure of the Laughing Earl
Holmes and Watson are invited to a remote country estate by the son of an earl who appears to have lost his mind after witnessing a strange and unexplained event.

The Adventure of the Vanishing Man
An illusionist succeeds in making himself permanently disappear while performing on the London stage. His assistant, Astrid Bonner begs Holmes to help her find him.

The Adventure of the Underwater Ballerina
Holmes and Watson travel to New York where they become embroiled in a argument between Harry Houdini and a ballerina who performs in a giant glass tank.

The Adventure of the Chelsea Tenor
A famous singer believes he has been poisoned, causing him to lose his voice. Holmes investigates the motives and comes up with a novel remedy.

The Adventure of the Smiling Puppet
A ventriloquist is not all he seems, when Holmes and Watson discover he is the head of a gang of counterfeiters.

My own Sherlock Holmes novel, The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants, appears in November from MX Publishing. My recent poetry collection, The Fool, is currently available from Templar Poetry.

Sherlock Holmes in the Lavender Field

Retired now, he spends his days beekeeping
and playing Bach’s sonatas on his violin.
At night, he feeds his case notes to the fire;
allows old enemies to slip from his mind.
But today, he is standing in a field of lavender
showing me the sky: how the cirrus uncinus
is a blur of angels returning to heaven; why
the altocumulus floccus is the pipe smoke
of a thousand problem. At the edge of the field
is a man in a bowler hat, a statue of Holmes
in one hand, a pistol in the other. Look, my friend
says: a single bee buzzes inside a gold snuff box.
Holmes lifts the lid and lets it spiral into the air,
woozy with freedom, as the bullet hits home.

Bees

This poem is taken from my collection The Fool, published by Templar Poetry in 2014.

Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants

Some excellent news! MX Publishing will be bringing out my first Sherlock Holmes novel: The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants in late autumn 2015. The book is set in 1890 (quite early for Holmes) and involves diamonds, rubies, assassins in top hats, Penny Farthing chases and lots more! The incredibly talented Bob Gibson has designed the cover. What a treat.

Ruby elephants cover

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!