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Requiem for Sherlock Holmes

Hidden Tiger caught up with the author of Requiem for Sherlock Holmes in August 2012 to discuss his revival of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective.

HIDDEN TIGER: How did you come to write Requiem for Sherlock Holmes?

PAUL STUART HAYES: I can honestly say that the book came about quite by accident. I wrote three short stories back in 2005 (two of which are included in this set; my first story didn't make the cut) and although the few people I dared show them to were extremely complimentary towards them, I decided not to continue with the writing mainly due to work and family time constraints. It was only during the summer of 2011 that my elder brother, Alan (now also my editor) finally got to read them. When he had finished, the praise he gave me instantly inspired me to do more and within a fortnight I had completed my first story in six years, namely The Penitent Man. No sooner than that was done I began working on another story that gradually evolved into the novella, Sherlock Holmes and the Ancestral Horror, and it was only during the course of writing this adventure that the subject of publishing the stories was suggested.

Why Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock Holmes has been with me from an early age. After years of reading the books and watching numerous television and film adaptations, I feel that I know the stories inside out. Having read the pastiches of many other authors (my favourite of these being The Adventure of the Purple Hand by D.O. Smith), I thought that I'd have a stab at it myself. As the characters and settings are already in place, it can make writing a slightly easier task for a novice. However, as I discovered, writing pastiche is not without its pitfalls!

How did you discover your love for the adventures of Holmes and Watson?

My father has been a fan of the great detective for as long as I can remember, and it was he who first introduced me to the stories when I was younger. I wasn't that great a reader in my younger days and probably read far too fast, hardly taking anything in, but enough must have passed into my undeveloped mind as it was not long before I was well and truly hooked.

What was your thinking behind setting your Sherlock Holmes collection at a point in time after the character had died?

I wanted to place Doctor Watson compiling the collection towards the end of his life, so that I would be unhindered as to the timeframe within which I could place the stories. I also wanted to expand on Doctor Watson as a character, and came upon the idea of doing a story sans Holmes. The best way to achieve this in my mind was if Sherlock Holmes was no longer on the scene.

The novella in the collection, Sherlock Holmes and the Ancestral Horror, introduces readers to Holmes' father. How keen were you to add to the Holmes mythos?

As there is barely a mention of Sherlock Holmes' family associations in the canon (bar the occasional appearances of his brother, Mycroft), it gave me free rein to let my imagination flow as to what his early life could have been like. It struck me that it presented me with the perfect opportunity to paint in a little detail of Holmes' past that could begin to explain some of his peculiarities in later life.

Tradition or reinvention? Which do you favour in relation to Sherlock Holmes?

When I'm writing I adhere to the traditional format as best I can, as I am unwilling to stray too far from the constraints of the canon. However, outside of this I am open to all interpretations made on the subject of Sherlock Holmes. I greatly enjoy the BBC series Sherlock, and the fact that it is set in the modern day has been relatively easy for me to accept.

How difficult was it getting your stories to work in relation to other adventures in the Conan Doyle canon?

It has been a major challenge. More often than not I would be working on a story, setting it in a particular year, only to find that the character I had introduced did not first appear in the canon until a few years later. This is one of the main stumbling blocks of pastiche, and it is one that I have hopefully avoided. I have worked very meticulously to fit my stories seamlessly into the Holmes timeline, so that at no point do they contradict the events in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writings. An example would be if a story was mistakenly set after Holmes' retirement or during 'the great hiatus', the point in time between Holmes' supposed death in The Final Problem and his resurrection in The Adventure of the Empty House.

Occasionally in these stories, you have used real characters from history. What prompted you to do this and how did you ensure that your depiction of the people concerned was accurate?

I have only used historical characters where I feel they are absolutely necessary to maintain authenticity within the confines of the story. As it turns out, some of the figures I have chosen are quite obscure and would not be well known to the majority of readers today. Nevertheless, to stay faithful to history, I have amassed as much information as is currently available on these real-life characters (far more than I had originally intended, or needed, for that matter). Whilst I have added to the depictions here and there, each and every one has involved searches in genealogical archives and other sources.

If you had to choose one television or film Sherlock Holmes as your favourite, who would it be and why?

If I was allowed to have picked three Holmeses, this would have been a slightly easier task, as I would have quickly stumped for Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, leaving myself the difficult decision of choosing between Clive Merrison and Peter Cushing. But being limited to one, I feel I would have to elect Jeremy Brett. To my mind, he is the actor who has come closest to the character that Conan Doyle originally envisioned and there has never been a person better suited to portraying Sherlock Holmes. Regrettably, he passed away before he was able to complete the canon, robbing me of the chance to see him play Holmes in my favourite story The Adventure of the Lion's Mane.

When you were writing, did you picture him in the 'role'?

On rare occasions, he does crop up in my mind when I'm writing, although I strive to make sure that the Sherlock Holmes I depict is a classic version, more true to Conan Doyle's Holmes than to any actor's interpretation. Doctor Watson, on the other hand, is much harder to pin down. Sometimes he is Edward Hardwicke and his excellent take on the good doctor, and sometimes, as Watson is the narrator of the stories, I at times cringingly become him but thankfully that is only in my own mind.

Did writing for an established character with a pre-existing audience bring with it any particular pressures for you as a budding author?

Probably more than I originally imagined, the problem being that there will always be someone more knowledgeable than you on your chosen subject. To avoid the scorn of my Sherlockian peers, I painstakingly researched every detail to make sure that nothing went against the facts and the timeline of the canon. Obviously, trying to follow a world-respected author like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and doing so in your first book is asking for trouble, but I do so humbly and in homage to a fine author. He is as good a mentor as any to strive to emulate.

Can we expect further Sherlock Holmes adventures from you?

I do fully intend to write a second book, but I think I am going to hold off from starting the process for a short while. I have been writing solidly for the past year and I think I should take some time away from it, in the hope that some good ideas will bubble to the surface. Also, being so preoccupied with the book, I haven't had that much time to read any books myself, and the piles of the unread are growing alarmingly.

Where next then for Sherlock Holmes? Can you give us any teasers for Book 2?

I haven't got any stories in mind as yet, but I expect that one or two secondary characters from this book will be making a return in the follow up and I think it likely that they will have a big part to play in the proceedings. There is also the fact that Watson hasn't divulged the details of Sherlock Holmes' death, so perhaps that is something that could appear in the next book.

While we're waiting for the second book to materialise, is there anything else that you have been working on?

Actually, I've just completed an introduction to The Theatrical Sherlock Holmes, a collection of Sherlock Holmes play transcripts that Hidden Tiger have just published to tie in with the release of Requiem for Sherlock Holmes (details about this title here - Ed.). These plays can be difficult to obtain in print and hopefully the edition will not only appeal to collectors, but also casual fans of the great detective who do not as yet realise that their complete editions of Sherlock Holmes books are not as complete as they at first thought. Also, as an enthusiast with a love for of all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writings, I am investigating the possibility of compiling a collection of rare Conan Doyle stories which are otherwise difficult to locate. Watch this space.

Finally, how has the process of writing your first book gone compared to how you imagined and are you happy with the result?

The writing process has gone more smoothly than I could ever have imagined. Most of the stories flowed effortlessly onto the page, with only the smallest amount of time spent staring at a blank computer screen. I have enjoyed every step of the journey and am unbelievably happy with the end result; to see my work in book form has surpassed my original expectations by miles.

Hidden Tiger / Paul Stuart Hayes, 2012

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