Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The voice of Dr Watson

I mentioned a while back that Andrew Gulli, editor of Strand Magazine, had asked me to contribute another Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and after a lot (too much!) of agonising over plot, I’ve finally got cracking with ‘The Case of the Eccentric Testatrix.’ It’s set in 1887, and is based on an episode mentioned by Dr Watson in ‘The Five Orange Pips’. I love the way that Watson makes casual yet tantalising reference to, say, ‘the singular adventure of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa’, or ‘the Amateur Mendicant Society, who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of a furniture warehouse’, and it is the latter case that features in my story. An industrious critic once calculated that ‘over 110’ unrecorded cases are mentioned in the Sherlockian Canon, although another complained that meaningful information is provided about only 39 of them.

Part of the appeal for me of writing these pastiches is the pleasure to be derived from trying to think myself into the mind of Dr Watson, so that I can try to capture his voice. He is a stolid Englishman, and yet not immune from flights of fancy. Here’s an extract from the paragraph that follows mention of the Amateur Mendicant Society:

‘All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London, we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life, and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney. Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one end of the fireplace cross-indexing the records of crime, whilst I at the other was deep in one of Clark Russell’s fine sea stories, until the howl of the galefrom without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea-waves.’

Vivid stuff. Which is one of the reasons why so many writers relish the chance to turn their hands to a Sherlockian pastiche.

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