christopher james

Poems and prattle

Tag: Watson

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

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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.

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!