Wednesday, July 10, 2024

An Interview With John Watson

How many of us have actually wished we could talk with Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson?  I have to say it's a thrill for me to have been emailing with the actual John Watson over the past few weeks to line up this special interview.  (A quick shout out to producer Joel Emery for arranging this!)  Now, some of you may be wondering just how that's possible.  It's all because of the podcast Sherlock & Co.  

The show started last October and is a great, fresh look at the adventures of a London detective.  With almost ONE MILLION downloads every month, this is a show that is really worth checking out.  The London Times called it as "the mystery podcast Gen Z is hooked on."   While the article talks about how a younger generation has taken to it, I can't stress enough how much I enjoy Sherlock and Co.'s modern spin on mysteries that have typically been enjoyed through books or television.  Even if podcasts don't seem like your thing, I really think Sherlock and Co. is something you'd enjoy.

But that's enough of my endorsement of the show.  Let's hear from the man himself, Dr. John Watson!

How would you describe Sherlock & Co. to people who aren't familiar with the show?  And which case would you recommend as an entry point? 

Sherlock & Co is essentially a true crime podcast. I take a (reasonably priced, sorry) microphone everywhere on our cases. 'Our' being Sherlock Holmes (he's a Detective) Mariana Ametxazurra (who runs our business, lives downstairs and used to work for Hudsons) and myself; Doctor John Watson. 

If you want to know how we all met you should listen to 'Mr. Sherlock Holmes.' That's the first episode I recorded after I got back from Ukraine. Then I recommend 'The Illustrious Client' - that was our first case. I was fortunate enough to get dragged along and I haven't looked back. That's a lie.. I do look back quite a lot and think WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING. But generally speaking I'll get past that personal crisis pretty quickly and move on with my day. 

Most of our 'adventures' are self-contained. You can pick up any at any time and have a listen. It's not all about murder and mystery, sometimes people have problems that need solving. I can point you towards cases such as 'The Noble Bachelor' or 'The Creeping Man' for such instances.

We learn in the first episode that you were a part of the British Army's Northumberland Fusilier Regiment.  And by getting to meet your mother and Stamford in later episodes, we've gotten a few other insights into John Watson.  Can you tell us more about your life before Sherlock & Co started? 

So yes- you're absolutely right I was in the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers. I spent a lot of my time in the army obviously on tours in Afghanistan and Iraq- but also studying and furthering my medical degree. The British Army are very helpful like that when it comes to further education. Like many people, during and after Covid my life came to a bit of a crossroads. There was a tricky break-up and also the withdrawal from Afghanistan... Just when I was wondering what to do with my life - the humanitarian crisis unfolded in Ukraine and I initially went out there to assist in a medical capacity. I bumped into old friends from the army days and eventually transferred from inner city hospitals to a foreign legion. 

Before all that of course - I grew up just outside of Swindon in the UK. I worked very hard at school so I could move a LONG way outside of Swindon - specifically London, that's where I met Stamford. I probably enjoyed myself too much at University and grades were stalling somewhat. They'll refer students to other concentrated areas of study when that's the case- I got referred to Netley. My Dad was in the army so it seemed like the right kind of fit.

What is one of your favorite cases that you and Sherlock have taken on? 

You know what- we just got our teeth into an amazing case that I am currently editing and should be out by the time this article is. I'm calling it 'The Lion's Mane'. It felt so different to our other cases - we found ourselves on a remote Scottish island after the body of a man was found floating on the North Sea in his boat. His remains were.. I mean.. pretty gruesome. 

To watch Sherlock pull on a few meagre threads and pull together the resolution of this case in particular was amazing to watch. Sometimes I'm really, really involved in cases- sometimes I feel like a listener like everybody else! Aside from that one- my favourite case is probably 'Silver Blaze'. That case had everything.

How has your life changed with the popularity of the show? 

I feel like I'm online more! I feel guilty a lot of the time that I can't keep up with the level of correspondence the show receives. So I apologise to people for that. It makes you think about your life more I suppose, people want to know more. Our patreon ( even allows people to listen to Q&A episodes with myself and Sherlock answering questions from the fans. Sometimes questions pertain to a case, but most of the time they want to know our favourite cheese or where we went to school etc. 

You let your microphone run quite a bit to pick up anything that might relate to your cases. Has that led to any embarrassing or uncomfortable situations? 

Yes. I spend an enormous amount of time trying to edit out my embarrassing moments but unfortunately they are sometimes tied right into the narrative of a case. Like trying to untangle a very stubborn knot. Speaking of knots- 'The Cardboard Box' is another adventure I recommend.

I am someone who is a little too out of touch to understand Discord, can you describe the app and the interactions on it? 

Discord is basically an app that allows a community to discuss en masse! I like the fact that I'm describing something to people that I, myself, only really discovered about a year ago. When run and managed well (our moderators do an excellent job at that) the Discord 'channel' offers lots of separate rooms and areas for discussion on all manner of subjects relating to the show, our cases, us as people and the listeners themselves. 

Plenty of friendships have been formed through the show and Discord has been so important in making that possible. I will also pop into the Discord every now and again in what is known as a 'Johnline'. 

Mariana is a great addition to the show and I love when she's a part of the investigations.  What do you and she talk about that isn't work related? 

At the moment: football! But generally we will chew the fat on just about anything. We talk about Sherlock a lot. We often find ourselves comparing what our lives could have been before we met him and before we formed this company together. I think that's just a sign of how much these cases really do feel like 'adventures' to us. I hope they do to Sherlock and the listeners as well.

I have to say I was a little disappointed that you couldn't identify Johnny Cash lyrics at the beginning of 'The Dancing Men' case.  Can you make my American heart happy and tell us that you at least know a Dolly Parton song? 

Well I can tell you that 'Islands in the Stream' is probably one of my favourite songs of all time! In fact I'm gonna go put it on after this interview now that I've thought about it. Yeah I had a moment of idiocy when I froze trying to get that Johnny Cash moment in 'The Dancing Men'. It was on the tip of my tongue.

What is a book that you would recommend to Sherlock & Co. listeners? 

Oh man. I don't know! I like dramatic reads about real things so Michael Lewis is great for that. I'm a big fan of Ian McEwan. Like many people my age my attention span is gradually collapsing and turning to mush, so I plan on rebooting my love of books. I've been told that our show itself has been beneficial to many in terms of concentration spans. Especially to those with ADHD, so maybe I should listen to my own show more, who knows.

A friend of mine is trying to teach himself the Sherlock & Co. theme song on his harmonica.  Would you consider that to be flattering or a stupid thing for him to spend his time on? 

A FLATTERING AND INDEED NOBLE AIM I SAY! Let the man Harmonica, Rob! Look forward to hearing it.

Can you give us an insight into what we have to look forward to in your next episode? 

If the timing works well- I'd say a far off island. An isolated, rugged community coming to terms with the death of one of their own.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Well, Well, Such is Fame! [EMPT]

According to Watson's narrative of "The Empty House," Sherlock Holmes returned to life and active practice in the Spring of 1894.  Yet this story wasn't published until September of 1903 in America and October of that year in England.  Why is the publication date important?  Because a look at the publication dates (or when they were allowed to be published) may give us insight into Holmes's true feelings of Doctor Watson's writing career.

As most Sherlockians know, Sherlock Holmes faked his death in 1891, specifically May 4, 1891.  But for the purpose of this post, that story's publication date of December 1893 is also important. 

A few other dates to note before we move on.  Most chronologists date that the Holmes and Watson partnership began in 1881.  So we can look at his active years as 1881-1891 and 1894-1903.

Now, let's look at the publication dates of Watson's narratives.

  • A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887.
  • The Sign of the Four was published in 1890.
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were published between June 1891 and June 1892.
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes were published between December 1892 and December 1893.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles was serialized from 1901–1902.
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes were published between October 1903 and December 1904.
  • His Last Bow were published pell-mell throughout 1908–1917.
  • The Valley of Fear was serialized from 1914–1915.
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes were published sporadically from 1921–1927.

So, only A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four were published during the first part of Holmes's active years.  Holmes "dies" and Watson publishes the 12 stories that make up The Adventures soon after.  

The first four or five stories of The Memoirs were also published after Holmes's "death."  We can presume that Watson was under contract to present 12 cases to readers of The Strand during this run.  Holmes reappears in 1893* during this run, and the other seven or eight cases of The Memoirs are published.  So there's a brief overlap of Holmes's return to active practice and Watson publishing in The Strand, but it's important to note that this collection ends with Watson publishing "The Final Problem," in which he tells the reading public that Sherlock Holmes had died.

Nothing else appears in print until 1901 when the serialization of The Hound of the Baskervilles begins, but in it Watson is careful to point out that this is a story that happened before Sherlock Holmes died.  

So remember readers, Sherlock Holmes is dead.

Holmes then retires in 1903, and we see the other 33 cases come into print.

So, out of the 60 stories that make up the Sherlock Holmes Canon, only 10 or 11 were published during his active years.  And of those, 7 or 8 of them were published right after Holmes's reappearance.  Why were so few cases made available during Holmes's active years?  I think it's because Sherlock Holmes did not want the publicity that The Strand Magazine was bringing him.

In fact, "The Empty House" gives us a specific quote that shows how Holmes felt about what Watson was publishing.  As they set up their vigil in Camden House, Holmes refers to Baker Street as "the starting-point of so many of your little fairy-tales."  


We often think of Doctor Watson's narratives as great publicity for the detective, but looking at the hard data, it seems as if the stories were almost purposely held back until Sherlock Holmes was not able to be engaged by every person who read about him in The Strand.

At the end of "The Empty House," Holmes gets the bad guy and everything is back to as it should be.  Holmes says, "Once again Mr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents."

But just don't tell anyone he's back in town.

* David Marcum pointed out to me that this is a typo and should read "1894."  This actually negates what I said about stories from The Memoirs being published during Holmes's active years.  So even LESS stories were published while Holmes would have been able benefit from publicity.  Thanks for strengthening my argument!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Interesting Interview: Roger Johnson

Oh boy, this is an interview I've been wanting to do for a long time!  Ever since I started emailing with Roger Johnson a few years ago, I knew I wanted to do an Interesting Interview with him.  But holy cow, is this guy busy!  Let's do a quick rundown of some of his activities: editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal, Press and Publicity Officer of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, makes multiple television appearances about Sherlock Holmes, maintains the 221B sitting room at The Sherlock Holmes Pub along with his wife, Jean Upton, contributor to the Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, member of the Baker Street Irregulars and the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, etc., etc. etc.  (As an aside, one of the pictures in this week's interview was actually taken by Mark Gatiss.  I'll let you try and deduce which one.)

As you can see, Roger has every reason to say he's much too busy to answer questions for a little blog in America.  But when Canonical Cornerstones came out, I tried to interview every contributor and Roger's life wasn't allowing time for it then.  But instead of just saying no like so many folks would have, he kept apologizing and asking me to come back around at a later date!  Over the past few years, I've been lucky enough to email back and forth with Roger for a few things, and his charm just radiates in every message.  One of my Sherlockian bucket list items is definitely getting to meet Roger Johnson and Jean Upton in person some day because they must be the nicest people in Sherlockiana.  So enough of me prattling on about how great Roger is, time to see for yourself!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

To me, “Sherlockian”, as an adjective, simply implies some sort of a relationship or a relevance to Sherlock Holmes. As a noun, I take it to mean a person with a considerable interest in the character, the canonical stories, and anything or – in extreme cases – everything relating to the character and his world. On the whole, I prefer the term “Holmesian”, since throughout the canon there are only two people who call the great detective by his given name: his brother Mycroft, and Mr Sherman, the bird-stuffer of no. 3 Pinchin Lane, Lambeth, who has evidently known him for a good number of years, and calls him “Mr Sherlock”. Even Watson, who surely knows him better than anyone outside his own family, always addresses him by his surname, and only refers to him as “Sherlock” to distinguish him from Mycroft. That was the way of middle- and upper-class society in late 19th century England. (In the TV series Sherlock, of course, Holmes and Watson address each other by their given names, which is absolutely right for the early 21st century.) 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Good question! And I’m not sure I can come up with a good answer. I was born in 1947, and the first Holmes book I remember reading was The Hound of the Baskervilles; I couldn’t have been much under eleven, because that was the age at which one graduated from the children’s section to the adult section at the public library. I’m sure I must have read some of the short stories before then, but at what age… No, I can’t be certain. I was reading fluently at the age of four, and I seem always to have been aware of Sherlock Holmes, though in 1950s England there were no children’s editions of the stories. We didn’t get the Rathbone films on television until much later, and the Ronald Howard films weren’t shown on British TV until about twenty years ago, so I didn’t see a serious dramatised version until The Speckled Band, with Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock, in 1964, by which time I was seriously hooked on the stories.  And throughout the fifties and sixties we did have the classic BBC radio series with Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley. (Hobbs’s, to me, remains the voice of Sherlock Holmes.) 

In the early 1960s, I discovered August Derleth’s chronicles of Solar Pons, “the Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street” They were published in America, of course, under Derleth’s own imprint Mycroft & Moran, but they were available by post in the UK from G Ken Chapman, “Exclusive Representative in Great Britain of the Arkham House chain of Publishers”. At first I had the books, one by one, addressed to me at my school, because I didn’t want my parents to know how much I was spending on them. Then I learned of The Praed Street Irregulars, the Solar Pons appreciation society, founded by Luther L Norris of Culver City, CA. Luther, you’ll know, was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. He encouraged four of his friends to write to me, and they quickly became my friends too, so American Sherlockians actually preceded British Holmesians in my list of contacts. And it was Luther who advised me how to apply for membership in the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, which I did shortly after the Society’s first Swiss Pilgrimage in 1968. 

What is your profession (or previous if you are retired) and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

Until taking early retirement at sixty, I was a librarian in a major public library, so at work, as well as at home, I lived among books. As you may imagine, the resources available there were enormously helpful: general and specialist encyclopaedias and dictionaries, historical and geographical directories, and so much more. By the time I retired, fortunately, I could consult the county library’s catalogue online, and now much of the reference material I need is likewise accessible online. This passionate pursuit of ours isn’t exclusively literary, of course, but without literature it wouldn’t exist. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

Of the long stories, I have a special fondness for The Valley of Fear. Some significant Holmes scholars have dismissed it as unworthy; one I remember called it “gloomy melodrama”, and others complained about the division into two separate narratives, though they seemed happy enough with the same arrangement in A Study in Scarlet. In fact The Valley of Fear gives us Holmes and Watson at their best in an outstanding detective mystery, alongside a superb early instance of the American “hardboiled” genre, and the two neatly tied together at the end.

There are various of the short stories that particularly appeal to me: “The Red-Headed League” for its delightfully bizarre premise; “The Blue Carbuncle” as the essential Holmesian Christmas tale; “The Speckled Band” for the wonderfully vile Dr Grimesby Roylott and his insidious reptilian weapon; “The Greek Interpreter” for introducing Sherlock’s even more extraordinary brother… But as my favourite, I’ll opt for “The Bruce-Partington Plans”, which is the story that has everything

All right, almost everything. Mrs Hudson and the Baker Street irregulars are absent, but we have Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes, both on cracking form. There’s murder, espionage, treachery and the theft of a secret state document – and the London Underground Railway, all in the most appropriate atmospheric conditions imaginable: a magnificently described fog, such as we almost instinctively associate with the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, though it features very rarely in Dr Watson’s chronicles, and only in The Hound of the Baskervilles is it used as effectively as here.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

It’s a very wide field, so I’ll make my choice from those who have contributed to the literature of Holmes and his world. Several of Michael Harrison’s books are likely to appeal, especially In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes and The London of Sherlock Holmes. D Martin Dakin’s A Sherlock Holmes Commentary is a masterly survey of the canon, though I think few will support his dismissal of half a dozen or more of the late stories as “spurious”. Leslie S Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes is a superb achievement, which enhances the reader’s appreciation of the Holmesian canon. And more recently there’s Mattias Boström’s From Holmes to Sherlock. For some unfathomable reason it was released in the UK as The Life and Death of Sherlock Holmes, a title that gives a completely wrong impression of the author’s theme, which is the development of the great detective in literature and drama. It’s a big book – nearly 600 pages – but Mattias’s scholarship is outstanding, his research is meticulous, and the English translation is a pleasure to read. 

Les Klinger and Mattias Boström are very much active today, but the Sherlock Holmes scholar whom I particularly commend is the late Bernard Davies. The following is extracted from the obituary I wrote for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London’s website in October 2010:

When Stephen Fry spoke at the Sherlock Holmes Society of London’s annual dinner in 2005, almost the first statement he made was: “To be in the same room as Bernard Davies is a remarkable honour.” I don’t think that any of us who knew Bernard would dispute that. At that same dinner, to unanimous acclaim, he received the Tony Howlett Award in recognition of his decades of outstanding service. 

In 1958, having long been a devotee of the great detective, Bernard discovered the Society and realised that he was not alone. Almost immediately he made his mark with his essays “Was Holmes a Londoner?” and “The Back Yards of Baker Street” – the latter establishing beyond any reasonable doubt the true location of 221B Baker Street. They were the first of thirty or so major papers on Holmes, Watson and their world – writings of exceptional quality, all but two written for The Sherlock Holmes Journal or for the Society’s occasional handbooks.

He would not publish an article until he was satisfied that it was as good as he could make it, and there was no collection of his Holmesian writings until 2008, when the Society published Holmes and Watson Country: Travels in Search of Solutions in two large volumes. Bernard’s research was scrupulous, his results were marshalled with intelligence and discrimination, his presentation was clear and comprehensible, and the whole was marked by wit and an engaging enthusiasm.

Although he had not then attended the Baker Street Irregulars’ annual dinner, and had never contributed to The Baker Street Journal, in 1984 Dr Julian Wolff awarded him the Irregular Shilling and dubbed him “A Study in Scarlet”. As Jon Lellenberg so felicitously said: “for Julian, no greater compliment was imaginable than to give him the investiture Vincent Starrett had held until his death in 1974 – the very first one conferred, in 1944, by Christopher Morley and Edgar W. Smith.”

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I’m particularly interested in presentations of the stories and the characters, whether dramatic or comedic, on stage, screen, radio, CD, or whatever medium. The movies – classic or otherwise – are now mostly accessible, and often via media that would astonish our grandparents. Much the same applies to audio recordings. The number and variety of Sherlockian dramas and comedies has increased to an extent that was hardly imaginable thirty years ago. The expiry of the last American copyrights appeared to usher in a new golden age, though I think it’s actually closer to what Mark Twain called a “gilded age”: the excellence is there for us, but there’s also a potentially unlimited quantity of dross. No matter! We are not obliged to bother with the dross.  Few would have thought, even thirty or forty years ago, that we’d be able to enjoy so many various interpretations of the great detective, from the silent era – including a superbly restored print of William Gillette in a screen adaptation of his own play – to the present day.   

Some years ago I directed and acted in a series of professionally produced Sherlock Holmes plays for hospital radio, with friends from my local amateur theatre company. The recordings are posted on the SHSL website, where you can listen or download them.

As a long-time editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal, what are some memories that stick out from your tenure?

For most of its seventy-plus years, a team of two has been responsible for editing the Journal. I call myself the Commissioning Editor, as my job is to choose the content, text and illustrations, and write or commission the appropriate editorial sections. Then I pass the result over to my partner-in-crime, Heather Owen, who attends to the layout and forwards the result, after proofreading, to the printer-distributors. In 2006, my predecessor Nicholas Utechin completed an unbeaten 30 years in the editor’s chair; Heather had joined him as co-Editor on the Summer 1983 issue, and she’s still going strong. As they say, do the math!

It's Heather who’s responsible for one of the outstanding memories of my tenure. In the Summer 2012 issue she introduced the first full-colour illustrations – only the centre pages, but the reaction was generally positive, and gradually the use of colour spread, until within three years it had its place throughout the issue. The next stage, which came in 2019, after a good deal of debate among the Society’s council, was individual pictorial covers for each issue and a radical rejigging of the internal layout. (Those who regretted the disappearance of the one-legged newsvendor from the front cover were relieved to find him at his new post on the contents page.)

Memories of people and events that we recorded in the Journal? Obviously, over a period of nearly 18 years there were far too many to list here. There was the wonderful exhibition at the Museum of London in 2014-15, Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die. My wife Jean Upton and I gave some assistance, as did other members of the Society, and it was a delight to have privileged access along with the likes of Glen Miranker and Constantine Rossakis, who had loaned material from their own world-class collections. 

The Society has arranged many visits to sites of Holmesian and Doylean interest, but the long weekend in Edinburgh in 2009 was truly special, as we were celebrating Arthur Conan Doyle’s 150th birthday. Two years later we marked the Society’s 60th anniversary with a special “Diamond Supplement” of the Journal. Over the years we’ve been treated to dramatic and comedic interpretations of Holmes, Watson and their world: among many others, there are the entertaining blockbuster movies with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law; the now-classic re-imaginings on TV, Sherlock and Elementary, from the UK and the US respectively; and the poignant Mr Holmes. There’s also an encouraging number of stage plays, often good and sometimes outstanding.

The memories aren’t all happy, of course. During my time as editor, we’ve lost a disconcerting number of Sherlockian and Holmesian friends, including Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Bernard Davies, Nick Utechin, Ted Schulz, Jon Lellenberg, Tom Stix and Michael Whelan. It was the latter two who invested me and Jean respectively in the Baker Street Irregulars.

Being married to a fellow Holmesian must be a real treat. How does this shared interest enhance your enjoyment of the hobby?

Jean and I were married in 1991, so we’ve been sharing our lives and our peculiar hobby for more than three decades. I have to confess that my work for the Society, which encompasses quite a bit more than editing the twice-yearly Sherlock Holmes Journal, means that Jean doesn’t get as much time to appreciate the Sherlockian world as she should. That’s one reason why I shan’t be sorry to relinquish responsibility for the content of The Sherlock Holmes Journal when I retire as Commissioning Editor at the end of this year.   

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Three come to mind, and they probably won’t surprise you. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, edited & annotated by Leslie S Klinger (W.W. Norton – 3 volumes); From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias Boström (Mysterious Press) [otherwise The Life and Death of Sherlock Holmes: Master Detective, Myth and Media Star (Head of Zeus)]; and the one that has to come first, if only because I prepared it for publication: Holmes & Watson Country: Travels in Search of Solutions by Bernard Davies (The Sherlock Holmes Society of London [2nd edition, 1-volume paperback]).

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

It will still be active, nationally and internationally. Another phenomenon like Sherlock would almost certainly spark a renewed public interest in the canonical stories as well as the many books, magazines, and so forth that are bound to come – but that’s not a necessary factor. Conan Doyle’s sixty long and short stories are at the heart of it, and they’ll ensure that Holmes, Watson and their world continue to live.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Interesting Interview: Liese Sherwood-Fabre

Liese Sherwood-Fabre was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars this year, and when her name was announced, the thought "of course, that makes sense" popped into my head.  Whenever Liese is around, it just feels like a good fit for her to be a part of any group.  She just has a cool demeanor that her make you feel like her writings and knowledge should always be a part of a conversation.

Liese describes her writing style as "good old-fashioned, gimmick-free storytelling" and that comes across on the page, at meetings, or just in general conversation with her.  She's been a mainstay at the New York Birthday Weekend and 221B Con for years now and has friends all across this hobby of ours.  Her writings are as varied as you can imagine.  When I saw her in Atlanta earlier this year, she was telling me about a new children's book about a teenage witch.  Quite a change from her popular Sherlockian writing!  But speaking of writing, let's see what Liese Sherwood-Fabre wrote for her answers to this week's Interesting Interview!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian?”

At its base, of course, is an interest in Sherlock Holmes, but it must be more than a casual interest. There’s often an aspect of fandom involved as well—a desire to learn more, read more, and discuss your interests with others. Meeting other Sherlockians is one of the most enjoyable aspects of discovering and joining a scion. Despite a diversity of professions, they all have a common interest in reading and discussing the cases to learn more about Sherlock Holmes. At the same time, this interest takes different avenues. Some have focused on Sherlock Holmes as portrayed in film; others, games related to Sherlock Holmes and mystery solving; others, collecting autographs of actors who portrayed the detective; and so many other different ways to collect or study his impact on popular culture.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I cannot identify when I first read a case from the Canon, but I do recall being very aware of mass media characters (including those in cartoons) who put on a deerstalker hat and carried a magnifying glass as imitating the detective who appeared in the old black and white Basil Rathbone movies.

When Robert Downey, Jr. re-ignited a popular interest in Sherlock Holmes, I considered writing a novel about the man. I had already penned several other stories and novels (some of which had won awards), and I thought about a new spin on him, focusing on his origins. That has become my Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes series.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I hold a PhD in Sociology from Indiana University. I have to say that I’m fascinated by how the Victorian period affected the characters in the cases. In particular, I discovered how this period opened new arenas for women through my research. The typewriter and the bicycle offered new careers and mobility that women in prior periods did not have. The Canon documents these changes in some of the cases.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.” At its heart, it’s a psychological thriller. How Sarah Cushing manipulated Jim Browner to murder his wife and her lover was absolutely diabolical. Moriarty may have been the spider at the center of his web of crime, but she was just as cunning—only on a micro-scale. 

I also like this story because she becomes afflicted with “brain fever,” which I find a most fascinating condition. Today, we might call it a nervous breakdown. Others did experience a bout of it in a few other cases. A major treatment was shaving the afflicted’s head to cool off the brain. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Oh, do I have to name just one? There are so many. Like I said above, everyone has such interesting professions and backgrounds. There are doctors, writers, lawyers, artists of all kinds, actors, and so many others. I particularly admire Steve Mason. He has taken on several leadership roles, not just in the Dallas scion, but also in The Beacon Society where he is very concerned about teaching the next generation about Sherlock Holmes. One way he reaches out to young people on a very individual basis is giving away copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He carries a few copies with him when he’s out and about, and when he sees a young person, will offer a copy to him/her because that is how he learned about Holmes, and he wants to share it with others. I think that is so powerful.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I’m probably more into the stories (whether in writing, film, or plays) involving Sherlock Holmes. I know some are purists and prefer only the original stories, but I like the adaptations—be it Monk, Enola Holmes, or Elementary. Each brings a unique perspective to the character.

I am a big fan of your The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes series of essay collections.  What was the impetus for writing these books?

When I started my Early Case Files of Sherlock Holmes series, I had to do a lot of research to get the historical period right. One of the first things, for example was that he said his ancestors were country squires. I had to find out what a country squire was and how this might have shaped Sherlock Holmes. As I compiled all this knowledge, I thought it a pity to keep it all to myself and decided to write short essays on various subjects to share with Sherlockian scions for their newsletters. One that I contacted was the Dallas scion (The Crew of the Barque Lone Star), and its leader Steve Mason invited me to a meeting. It might not be apparent, but almost everything in my novels provided the basis for one of my essays.

How do you decide the topics for your quarterly articles in Sherlock's Spotlight Gazette?

I basically go through the essays that I have already written and look for topics that I think are appropriate and of interest to young people. For example, what was school like? Or secret writing as in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.” After I select the essay, I shorten it because there is a length requirement, then I pass it to you for a readability review. I like the idea that these essays have more than one life, and maybe the young people who read them find them fun and interesting as much as the adults.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Can I mention my own? Just kidding [not].

There are so many good Sherlockian books and series out now. Of course, there’s the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King. The first is now celebrating its thirtieth birthday (Can you believe it?). I also enjoy Bonnie MacBird’s series which is more Canonical with Holmes and Watson solving cases. One that took a different perspective is Robert Ryan’s Dr. John Watson series. In these books, Watson is serving in WWII and solving mysteries without his companion. He often will consider what Holmes would have said/done in a particular situation as he tries to solve the mystery confronting him.

I really can’t pick one but would suggest to others they check them all out. The nice thing is, there is something out there for every reader’s taste.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

During the pandemic, the Dallas scion went virtual. Before, we would meet once a month at a restaurant with about 20 attending. Once we could meet in person again, the scion continued to meet virtually because it had increased in number and reach. There are regular attendees from many parts of the world. We also have had several young people attend. Two incredible girls from Canada recently did a presentation that blew everyone away. I think the use of virtual meetings with its wider reach can be a great tool to keep Sherlock’s memory and influence alive and further expanding his audience. 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Interesting Interview: Rudy Altergott

One of the newest member of the Baker Street Irregulars is this week's Interesting Interview, Rudy Altergott!  If you've been active in Sherlockiana over the past few years, this name or face my be familiar to you because Rudy is a force of nature!  His energy and zeal about Sherlockiana is contagious.  To talk with him is to be immediately swept up in a deep conversation.  And who know where that conversation will go?  It could get you digging into the minutiae of your favorite story or brainstorming ideas for local scion events!

Rudy is also one of the most gracious guys out there.  As someone who's relatively new to this hobby of ours, he is quick to give credit to those who have come before him and always eager to learn from other Sherlockians.  It's no wonder that he was invested into the BSI this January; Rudy seems to be a lifer at every interest he takes up!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I have read so many of these interviews and appreciated that among the answers, there is not one single definition. To me, the flexible definition of a Sherlockian would include being someone who loves Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction, who has either read the Sacred Writings in full or in part or has a familiarity with them and wants to learn more, who writes or produces content related to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and Arthur Conan Doyle, et al., and who attends in-person or virtual scion meetings. Again, I do not think you have to be a Canonical expert. Honestly, I have not read it in its entirety, but have read most of it (I am keeping the shilling, thank you very much!). And someone can be a Sherlockian without attending scion meetings, like my friend Greg Redding, dean of students at our alma mater, Wabash College. Perhaps the definition could simply be someone who loves Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was introduced to Sherlockiana proper like Holmes and Watson, by a certain ‘Young Stamford.' I met Terry McCammon, not long before he was to receive that investiture, through my Masonic lodge where he was a regular visitor and is a honorary member. He mentioned Hugo’s Companions when I was visiting his home and woodshop one Saturday in October 2017, and the next dinner was in December. I was invited to attend, did so, and have kept coming since. 

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

My current work is as a surgical records manager. Truthfully, it does not really affect me as a Sherlockian. What it has done is brought me even closer to my father and namesake, Dr. Rudy Altergott, Sr., of whom I am most proud, and from whom, like my mother, Dr. Karen Heidkamp, I inherited a love of reading. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

This is a tough question to answer. I may have to say BRUC since I have always loved spy stories, and would include NAVA and SECO along this line. Once when he was in Chicago, over cocktails in Sinatra’s booth at the Pump Room, Dan Andriacco told me that he thought BRUC could arguably be the best story under certain criteria. HOUN is the theme of Chicagoland scions and has some of my favorite lines of Conan Doyle, also showcasing his masterful ways of revealing the truth behind the seemingly supernatural in the Canon. I also feel I must plug VALL and LAST because of my research on Birdy Edwards, Sherlock Holmes (‘Mr. Altamont of Chicago’), and the infiltration of secret societies in the Canon. The denouement of LAST may be my favorite scene in the Canon, but then there is Holmes’ reveal in EMPT. I could keep going on but won’t, for your sake, Rob, and the readers’. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

I want to highlight George Sheetz of Batavia, Illinois, a Sherlockian of 40-plus years now. Kind and soft-spoken, a retired librarian, he is also one of the most hilarious folk I know. I consider him among my mentors even though he is one of those who treats you like an equal. Every time I am with him, and in the immediate aftermath, I am on cloud nine. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I suppose I would say Sherlockian cinephiles or Sherlockians who write on military history. Both of these topics in general are among my lifelong interests. I really regret not introducing myself to Sherlockian film expert Russell Merritt, the last Sherlockian face I saw before departing the ASH Brunch for LaGuardia during the 2023 BSI Weekend. 

Chicago is a city with many different scion societies.  What is the Sherlockian scene like with so many different groups up there?

There are many different avenues that are their own. The thing I would like to see are more young folk like myself. At the same time, I try to listen and learn from those who have long been involved, and there is much to be gleaned.

Your chapter in the book Holmes and Me is titled "How Sherlockiana Has Helped Me Through Covid-19."  How was Sherlockiana a life raft for you during that time?

It not only made me take the Canon seriously and read more of it for the first time, not only made me read more books in general and become a serious book collector because of Starrett and Morley and authors and books and series that other Sherlockians recommended, it also introduced me to dear, dear friends and made me more comfortable to put myself out there, to introduce myself to the ‘big wigs’ via Zoom. In the final analysis, Sherlockiana during lockdown gave my life new purpose and direction and helped me commit to a life in letters. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

I would recommend anything by David Baldacci. I am convinced he is a Sherlockian in all but affiliation. A portrait of Conan Doyle is featured in his Master Class course, and he has said that reading The Adventures, specifically SPEC, was an eye-opening experience for him as a kid. He also incorporates Sherlockian tropes in his stories, like disguises, one of my favorite features of the Canon. A good starting point would be his novel Memory Man (2015). The title character, Amos Decker, is a bit like Holmes. A former pro football player, his IQ is heightened to genius level after a brain injury during play. He becomes a police officer and later a private investigator driven to solve the murder of his family. Baldacci’s books are hard to put down. 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Frankly, I am optimistic. Wiggins seems receptive to approving new scions, depending on their purpose and such, and some defunct scions have even been resurrected. Who knows? I would not be surprised if, within the next decade, there will be new, stimulating conferences in places in the U.S. and abroad that one might not have imagined. What excites me most is the likelihood of making new friends in that nearer term. This not only expands the Rolodex, it offers more opportunity to learn. (‘Education never ends, Watson…’)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Interesting Interview: PJ Sullivan

So many of these Interesting Interviews are with people I've gotten to know over the years.  This one is a little different, as I know PJ Sullivan but not nearly as well as many of my other interview subjects.  But once you meet her, PJ sticks in your memory because she is so enthusiastic about this hobby of ours as well as being exceedingly outgoing and nice.

PJ has been to a few Sherlockian events over the past few years and is a regular part Zoom meetings.  She's the type of person who people naturally gravitate to; she just radiates positivity and friendliness.  I'm glad I reached out to her to be a part of the Interesting Interview series because she has so much to say!  And I'm blown away by the pictures of her 221B room!  So if you have or have not met PJ Sullivan yet, get ready to spend some time with someone who I predict will be around and have a positive impact on Sherlockian for years to come in this week's Interesting Interview!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?  

Sherlockian as a noun: anyone with an affection for The Canon and all that it has given rise to through the years, the studies and scholarship, the pastiche and homage; radio, film, television, and the ever-growing online realm; art and poetry; an affinity for the world so perfectly captured by Vincent Starrett where “it is always eighteen ninety-five.” As an adjective, though, Sherlockian, for me, is an intangible – a feeling, rather than a thing; a vibe (to mis-use current slang).  I look for that feeling when adding items to my own Baker Street: does it feel Sherlockian? An extra-canonical mystery novel, your hounds-tooth coat, a late-Victorian period film, any of these might strike me as having a Sherlockian feel, as evoking a memory – a note of familiarity harkening back to the Canonical Origin.

How did you become a Sherlockian?  

Unlike most Sherlockians I’ve met, I cannot – for the life of me – recall when I first started reading Sherlock Holmes. It’s just someone I’ve always known, like Mary Poppins or Robin Hood or George Washington, who could be visited again at any time.  Sometime in the early 2000’s, though, I re-read the entire Canon and it hit differently.  The sense of familiarity, of home-coming, enveloped me: that was the moment I began to immerse myself.  It began with a more focused acquisition of books, and then bits of décor, a deerstalker, and such.  In 2018, I decided to convert a room in my house to a small 221B Baker Street, and in researching that project online, I discovered – by way of Denny Dobry, Chuck Kovacic, and the museum at Meiringen – a vast community of like-minded folk that I had never imagined.  I found a notice for the Empire Conference at Bear Mountain (open to non-members!) and decided to give it a try.  That’s how it all began. And now I am a Cornish Horror, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy telling people that.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

“Commissionaire, sir. Uniform away for repairs.” Well, no: I work as an executive assistant, and have done for about 30 years, spending time in healthcare technology and a few other industries before making my home ten years ago in communications infrastructure with a company called American Tower.  We own and operate cell towers and data centers enabling connectivity and communication around the world.  I am assistant to the president of our U.S. operations.  I don’t meet many Sherlockians through work, but I’m surrounded by intelligent and curious people, many of whom are happy to listen to my Sherlockian stories and are entirely supportive of my forays into my new community.  It’s a treat to have my boss asking how I enjoyed my latest conference or scion meeting.

What is your favorite canonical story?  

Oooof.  "Black Peter," "The Devil’s Foot," and the first two chapters of A Study in Scarlet.  I’ll re-read those first two chapters time and again, just to absorb that first meeting and the earliest stage of acquaintanceship.  I love everything about those chapters, they always seem fresh to me, and I have yet to tire of them. They are my most frequent bedtime story, and something to occupy me during lunch on a Sunday afternoon. I have a cross-stitch sampler hanging in my Baker Street that reads, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” I may have the first few paragraphs engraved on my tombstone.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting? 

What has impressed me about the Sherlockians I’ve met, even more than their collective knowledge, is their willingness to share their stories. Hearing the tales they have to tell, the memories they are keeping alive, has been an incredible joy to me.  To chose one?  Impossible. May I give you three?  

Walter Colby, BSI: On every occasion I have encountered Walter, he has had an interesting story or amusing anecdote, and he is always willing to share.  

Burt Wolder, BSI, who knows something (and likely a lot of something) about everything (really, everything), is a treat to talk with. 

2-for-1 special: Linda Hein and Beth Barnard: the conversation we had in January about Baker Street West was one of the best of my time at the 2024 Birthday Weekend.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I do have a particular interest in the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  I enjoy watching their friendship evolve through the years. Sometimes, I’ll go through the Canon reading only the openings and closings of each story, the parts where we find our heroes at home, just being in each other’s company. Absent the actual adventures, this gives a simple streamlined view of their progress through life together that I find endlessly interesting and entertaining.  

But I think for my own microcosm of Sherlockiana, the primary feature of interest is the 221B room that I have made in my house. I refer to it as my Baker Street, and though small, it’s a project I enjoy tremendously.  I’ll sit in the basket chair for hours leafing through books or have a glass of wine in Sherlock’s chair by the fireplace.  I’m always looking for new things to add. I recently acquired a copy of the secret naval treaty (originally scribed by Paul Churchill, BSI), which thrills me to no end. I have a lovely harpoon resting in one corner.  It’s a project – or hobby, rather – that will carry me for years to come, with no timeline, deadline, or endpoint; I can wander in and out as I like. There will always be something new to add and something to rearrange, and it will always have that Sherlockian atmosphere just waiting to blanket me.

What is Sherlockian life like in the upper part of New England?  

It’s quiet.  I join society virtual meetings when I can – which is not nearly as often as I’d like, and I travel to New York each January (I’ve done two Birthday weekends now).  I visit Rhode Island annually for the Cornish Horrors, and Connecticut for The Men on the Tor when I can. The Speckled Band very kindly invited me to their dinner this year (the presentations were excellent!). I am looking forward to expanding my adventures to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other cities as time goes on. 

Last year, I made the pilgrimage to Pennsylvania to spend a blissful day in Denny Dobry’s incredible recreation of the large airy sitting-room.  Denny was the most patient and accommodating of hosts, and I remain in equal parts awe-struck by the space and grateful for the chance to experience it.

How did you become the Editor of Scionical and Societal Reports for The Baker Street Almanac and what have you learned since you've taken on that role?

I’m actually a little vague on the details of how this came about.  I had been emailing Ross Davies to acquire a few extra copies of the BSA, and he asked if I might be interested in “pitching in” (I was).  A few months later, we were on a video call, and he asked if I’d like to assume the role that Monica Schmidt had decided to resign, shepherding reports for Canada and the United States.  I leapt at the opportunity, and it’s been terrific.  

I’ve become much better acquainted with a broader group of Sherlockians.  I’ve enjoyed seeing how various societies are similar, and how they differ, and I love seeing the places they overlap and interconnect; it’s like a vast web spinning out from the Canonical center.  If anyone is not currently reading the annual scionical and societal reports in the BSA, I urge you to do so: the world is in there.  

The most important thing I’ve discovered through working on the Almanac is how incredibly rewarding it feels to have a way to contribute to the Sherlockian world, to be “doing my part.” Working on the Almanac gives me a small way to give back to the community that has been so welcoming and generous to me, and I am indescribably grateful for that.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians? 

Oh, golly; where to begin? Do you want to know more about Sherlock? William S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.  Looking for pastiche? The Seven Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, naturally, but also Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection. A short story you might have missed? “The Doctor’s Case” by Stephen King.  

Looking to expand beyond Watson and Holmes?  Pick up any one of the Golden Age anthologies edited by Otto Penzler. Want to try the Canon as an audio book?  Stephen Fry’s recording is by far my favorite version, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a long drive, or an afternoon of chores, or long winter nights.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Remember that vast web of societies I mentioned?  I imagine that network ever-expanding, spinning out to join new Sherlockians into societies, new societies into the larger community.  And if you’ll forgive my mixing of metaphors: imagine a kaleidoscope with every colored bit of Sherlockiana tumbling always into the others, creating endless new pretty pictures of scholarship, imagination, and comradery. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Interesting Interview: Rusty Mason

I have to apologize right up front.  I thought I had interviewed Rusty Mason before now.  A good Sherlockian friend of mine, I was horrified when I realized I never had him be a part of this interview series!  

Many people know Rusty as Steve Mason's son.  To paraphrase The West Wing, he's "the guy the guy counts on."  Overhauling and upkeeping massive websites for The Crew of the Barque Lone Star and The Beacon Society as well as drawing over 500 episodes of Baker Street Elementary should put him on anyone's radar.  But Rusty is a guy that's definitely worth getting to know on his own as well.  Beer connoisseur, fan of every sports team in the Lone Star state (unless they’re from Houston), 221B Con supporter, my Broadway show companion, and a dude that knows a lot about Sherlock Holmes to boot, here is this week's Interesting Interview: Rusty Mason!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I don't think there is a benchmark for a Sherlockian, so for me it is hard to define. I think it is up to the individual person to determine if they are a Sherlockian or not. That being said, I do believe there are two types of Sherlockians: those who have discovered other Sherlockians and those that have not. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Like most people, I read a story or two when I was in school, but I was not hooked then. I started to get serious through my dad, Steve Mason, over a decade ago. He asked me to revise our local society website and help with the art for a little webcomic. From there it just took off.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I do information management work as a contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We work on Superfund record management and FOIA. My work does not affect me being a Sherlockian, other that giving me enough time off to travel across the country to Sherlockian events held throughout the year.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I would have to go with the “Five Orange Pips." The fact that our local society, The Barque Lone Star, gets it's name from the story give it a little personal touch. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

That is a hard question to answer since I find most Sherlockians interesting. Peter Blau, Brad Keefauver, and Burt Wolder are few that I could spend hours just listening to. If I had to pick one though, I would pick Don Hobbs. I am always amazed at his knowledge and ability to command any room full of Sherlockians. 

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I have always loved the adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. From the TV shows, movies, comics, and art, I just can't get enough of it. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, it seemed every cartoon that I watched as a kid had an episode related to the great detective. I am intrigued to see how established shows portray Holmes in the series, either the main characters dressing as him or have Sherlock show up in the episode.

How is your experience in Sherlockiana affected by being the son of another Sherlockian?

It's an adventure. He is the one that fully brought me into the world of Sherlock Holmes and a lot of things I have done have been because of him. From reworking our society's and the Beacon Society's websites to illustrating a webcomic for almost a decade, most everything I have done started as an idea from him. 

One of the things that I enjoy being the spawn of a Sherlockian is going to event across the country with him. For those that might not know, my dad hates to fly, so we drive to every Sherlockian event from Texas. Yes, that includes all the way to New York every year. We do make an event of most of the drive we take; going to sporting events or visiting other Sherlockians along the route.

At the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY

What are some Sherlockian anime that people should know about?

The first Sherlockian anime that I will always recommend is Sherlock Hound (1984-1985). It is a wonderful show that is based in a steampunk technology society with anthropomorphic dogs as the characters. The show is geared towards children, but I still find it quite enjoyable as an adult. The episodes are available on YouTube.

The second one I would recommend is Moriarty the Patriot (2020-2021), which is a different twist on a Sherlockian show since it follows the rise of Moriarty. Moriarty encounters Holmes in the series and a battle of wits between the two is an underlying plot point throughout the show. I enjoy the development of Moriarty's crew (Sebastian Moran/Fred Porlock) that one does not get there other media sources.

The final anime I would recommend is Sherlock Holmes and the Great Escape (2019). This is an animated film based off a children's book series from Hong Kong. The film follows Sherlock after he caught and sent a Robin Hood-like outlaw to prison. After the outlaw escapes, his daughter gets kidnapped and needs the help of Holmes to help find his daughter.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Well, since I love adaptations/crossovers of the great detective, I will pick one of those. My all time favorite is the a crossover with the Marvel anti-hero Deadpool in the comic series titled Deadpool Killustrated (2013). The basic plot is that Deadpool teams up with Frankenstein's monster on a quest to kill off all literary characters. Sherlock Holmes discovers about the killings and creates his own team to go after Deadpool through different literary worlds. The climatic fight with Deadpool and Sherlock on H.G. Wells's time machine will always be one of my top battles.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

That might be one of the most difficult questions to answer. Look just at our own society, the past 5 years have changed so much. Five years ago, we held in person meetings once a month that had about 20-25 people on average attend. Today, we are almost fully online, other than the quarterly in person dinner. We have about tripled the amount of people coming to the current meetings from 5 years ago. The ability to have so many wonderful people helping out in the meetings and the opportunity to have guest speakers from across world is something that we could only dream of 5 years ago.

With the growth and use of technology over the past few years with Zoom and even Facebook, I can only say that the Sherlockian world will grow and thrive with the ability to reach out and communicate with other much easier that before.