Sunday, December 27, 2020

Interesting Interview: Greg Ruby

When the world went awry in March, Sherlockiana was put on pause.  You may have noticed that this is not the norm anymore, and that is thanks in large part to Greg Ruby.  Greg stepped in and quietly started running events and meetings via Zoom, happy to show any reticent Sherlockian that virtual meetings weren't scary.  If it weren't for Greg and a few other technologically adept Sherlockians out there, we may have reverted to sending telegrams to keep our Sherlockian activities alive!

So who is our hobby's Mr. Wizard?  First of all, Greg is an absolutely great guy.  Always happy to welcome folks to any conversation he's a part of, Greg's Sherlockian energy seems to know no bounds.  He's running THREE big scions, putting out an annual journal, and showing up to as many scion meetings as he can (of which he is a member of 23!).  And like I said, he's the man behind the curtain for so many major virtual events, including this year's Scintillation of Scions, A Saturday with Sherlock Holmes, and January's official BSI Birthday weekend events.  Greg is a beehive of Sherlockian activity, and one that doesn't get enough recognition for what he's done for us this year.  So, I think it's very fitting that I'm ending 2020's Interesting Interview series with the most important Sherlockian of 2020, Greg Ruby!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I consider anyone with a interest in Sherlock Holmes as a Sherlockian. My definition is somewhat broad to include fans of some of the recent movies and television shows, as well as pastiches.

I was at a Sherlockian meeting in pre-COVID times where a first-time attendee admitted to never reading one of the 60 stories but enjoyed watching Elementary episodes on television. Another attendee scolded that person telling them everything wrong, in their opinion, of the series. The first person never has returned to that club, but thankfully has attended other groups since and is working their way through the Canon.

Anything that introduces others to Sherlock Holmes is a good thing. I’m not particularly enamored with most pastiches but I know of several folks where that was their introduction to this wacky world of ours.

Of course, there are various levels of being a Sherlockian from the casual to the hardcore, and most settle into a level that suits them, which is great. Then there are the chronologists, but we’ll save that for another time….

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes in Mrs. Raver’s reading class in fifth grade. With some reservation here, I now admit that it is the only thing I remember from that year, including having to memorize some poem to be later recited.

In the years that passed, I would pick up some related volumes – gathering enough so they took up an entire shelf on the bookcase in my first apartment. A friend gave me a copy of Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street after seeing my shrine to Holmes. Still remember reading about the Baker Street Irregulars and playing the Game, thinking what a bunch of wackadoodles these folks were. There was no thought that 25 years later I would be dining with those wackadoodles annually.

Let’s fast-forward to Christmas of 2013. I severely broke my right ankle that day and would spend next 5+ months laid up in bed. A month before my accident, I rearranged my bookshelves to relocate my Holmes material to be within reach of my bed, otherwise it would have been Tom Clancy stories I would have been reading. Having some free time, I went online and discovered a Sherlock Holmes event was coming up in my area.

I would attend Scintillation of Scions that June, followed by my first meeting of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore a few days later. Each event / meeting that I would attend had other Sherlockians inviting me to attend other scion functions. By the end of that first year, I was travelling several hours away from Baltimore to northern New Jersey and other cities to talk about Sherlock Holmes with my new friends.

What is your favorite canonical story?

My favorite of the 60 stories was also my first story – “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” so my fifth-grade reading class was not a total loss. In fairness, this was around the same time I had started collecting coins, and I was enthralled by the inclusion of a counterfeiting money element in the story. This was reinforced with my next story of “The Red-Headed League,” dealing with the possible theft of gold French coins. There was a letdown when I then read “The Speckled Band” and there were no references to coins or money in the tale.

Dan Payton of the Great Alkali Plainsmen likes to tell the story that I cornered him after his presentation during the summer 2019 conference of the Norwegian Exploders of Minnesota, where he made an offhand comment criticizing 3GAR. I pointed out two reasons why he was wrong.

Holmes first appeared on television in 1937. They had their pick of all 56 short stories and would obviously choose the best story for that first broadcast. They chose 3GAR. Likewise, when the Granada / Jeremy Brett series aired “The Mazarin Stone,” they combined it with 3GAR to salvage the episode.

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

This is an unfair question in my opinion, as I have found every Sherlockian that I’ve met to be interesting. Since I have to answer with only one name, let’s go with my BSI 2019 classmate, Ira Brad Matetsky. IBM is a trial lawyer, based out of New York City, that I first met at the running of the 2015 Silver Blaze race at Saratoga (later leading us to be involved with recently published BSI volume Upon the Turf) where we had a wide ranging conversation that afternoon. I was amazed when I learned he was on the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee. An admirable Sherlockian with a wicked sense of humor in bad puns, he serves as the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, the literary society for Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout fans.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Being a coin collector, that was the first subset that appealed to me. In the years since becoming active in Sherlockiana, I have branched out into what I call the pop-culture media. I actively seek out the old-time radio recordings and film/TV appearances with references to Holmes, skipping most of the fan-made material that is appearing on YouTube.

During the pandemic, I’ve started looking for cartoon versions of Holmes – editorial, daily comic strips and comic books – where it’s obvious who they are referencing.

But the biggest interest are the Sherlockian friends that I’ve made over the last six years.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

The biggest research item are coins and other numismatic items with Sherlockian themes. When The Fourth Garrideb group was formed, we were aware of about 75 collectable items and thought it would be great to get up to 200 items. We are now at over 400 items cataloged.

In a related item, I have begun researching Louis Hector, the first actor to portray Holmes on television, with his stage and radio acting career.

I also enjoy doing some research regarding the old-time radio broadcasts. Before the pandemic, it appears that I stumbled across several recordings of the old Richard Gordon episodes from the early 1930s that have been forgotten. Hopefully, when things return to normal after the pandemic, I’ll be able to confirm these episodes.

For those of us outside of central Maryland, what is the difference between Baltimore's two scions, The Six Napoleons of Baltimore and the Sherlockians of Baltimore?

The quick answer is about 70 years. The Six Napoleons will be celebrating 75 years in September 2021 without any long hiatuses like many other groups have experienced over time. From its founding in 1946 until December 2017, the group was strictly males only for membership. After attending three meetings, attendees undergo a examination, lovingly (?) referred to as the Inquisition, where three Napoleons test the neophyte’s knowledge of the 60 stories. After the Inquisition, the now Postulant is expected to give a presentation at a future meeting and is then installed as a Napoleon.

The Sherlockians of Baltimore was formed in 2016 as I was being greedy – I wanted more Holmes than just a quarterly meeting of the Napoleons. Originally, I hoped to jumpstart the Carlton Club of Baltimore, the co-ed alternative to the Napoleons. Founded in 1971, the group had gone inactive before I came into the Sherlockian scene in 2014. After spending 18 months trying to track down the leadership of the Carlton Club and being frustrated at every turn, I brazenly announced a relaunch of the Carlton Club in February 2016. Within days of my announcement, word funneled down to me that they were still “active.” So, we changed gears, and launched the SOBs in May.

While I love the group names of the Speckled Band, the Copper Beeches, and other Sherlockian groups, I thought it be wise to have a straight-forward name of who and what we are to attract those not as familiar with the stories, and serve as a feeder system into the Napoleons and nearby Watson’s Tin Box.

Anyone who attends a SOB meeting is automatically considered a SOB and a member. After attending two physical meetings, they are issued a membership card so that they are now a “card-carrying SOB”. Giving a presentation, leading a story discussion or preparing a quiz earns the status of a “Certified SOB” with a Baltimore-themed moniker. As opposed to meeting on a weeknight at 6 pm, the SOBs gather on Saturdays at lunchtime in hopes of more attendees might be able to attend.

How did The Fourth Garrideb come about?

The early months of 2014 found me with lots of free time as I recuperated. While rereading the Canon, I remembered a conversation with Ed Rochette back during the 1994 American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money in Detroit. Ed was a longtime coin collector, who also served as a consultant to the Pobjoy Mint who had just a struck a series of Sherlock Holmes coins for the principality of Gibraltar. Ed had asked about an elongated cent my local coin club had rolled with a Sherlockian design (I had nothing to do with the design!). I promised Ed a sample and we went on to discuss forming a group of Sherlockian coin collectors. I was just starting my professional career and Ed was juggling several projects, so nothing happened until 2014 while I was stuck in bed.

I tracked down Bob Fritsch, a fellow longtime numismatist in New England who I also knew to be a Sherlockian, and bounced the idea off him. He liked the idea, so I arranged for a meeting space at the 2014 ANA event in Chicago. Seven of us crazy people showed up and joined on the spot, with Bob suggesting the name for our group. Six years later, we have over 100 members throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and South America.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Jack Tracy’s The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana has been a lifesaver for me, explaining terms that I encounter while reading the Canon. A more fun recommendation, and a delightful read, is A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney. Curious about what happens on a given day in the world of Sherlockiana? The book is my go to source before I attend any club meeting and has led me down many a research project.

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

The world of Sherlockiana will still be growing strong in the next decade. It will be interesting to see how we continue to incorporate the virtual elements into events as we move forward. While it is a poor substitute for being face to face with friends, I am now spoiled by being able to dial into meeting and events to talk about Holmes with new friends internationally. I expect that many groups will try to work this technology into future events.

Likewise, with the remaining stories coming out of copyright protection in the next few year, I expect to see more pastiches and adaptions coming forward. If the Enola Holmes stories lead to more films and the long-promised Robert Downey Jr. third film happens, there will be a steady flock of new Sherlockians.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Interesting Interview: Crystal Noll

If you've been around Sherlockiana at all over the past ten years, you've heard of Crystal Noll.  Crystal is the co-founder of the wildly popular 221B Con and co-editor of The Serpentine Muse, the journal of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes.  And that last sentence really shows her versatility in our hobby.  Crystal is in the forefront of new Holmes adaptations (she and Heather Holloway had a great interview talking about Enola Holmes on the Glitchy Pancakes podcast) but also embraces historical Sherlockiana.  

Her friendships with longtime Sherlockians show that old and new worlds can co-exist and have fun while doing so!  While Crystal is an absolute workhorse, she is also one of the most fun people out there.  Whether you're having a few drinks or engaged in a spirited conversation online, Crystal makes it fun.  So settle in and get ready for a wickedly smart and delightfully entertaining interview with a sparkplug of Sherlockiana, Crystal Noll!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

That is quite the question isn’t it? In fact, it has been the topic of many a debate in Sherlockian circles. 

Personally, I think that anyone who considers themselves a Sherlockian is one. Full stop. I know I’ll get some Twitter DM or Facebook message where someone disagrees with me, and that’s okay because many people consider being a Sherlockian at the core of their identity. And that is exactly my point. 

‘Sherlockian’ is a label that we claim or is granted to us, like mother, father, friend, scholar, T-bird, Pink Lady, Adventuress, Irregular, etc. If you’re so connected to it that you’re willing to hang it around your neck, then I assume you’ve got some sort of personal credentials and that you deserve it: even if those credentials are that you really like it.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I wasn’t lucky like all the people whose parents handed them a copy of the canon as a child and not being in any of the gifted classes, none of my teachers assigned Sherlock Holmes. So like so many memories in my adult life, it can be traced back to my unlikely friendship with Heather Holloway. 

We were returning to our alma mater, Georgia Southern University, to hear Angela Davis speak. Driving down I-16, Heather asks me if I know if our hotel has PBS, because there was a modern version of Sherlock Holmes airing that night. She just knew it wasn’t going to be any good, but had to see it anyway. One phone call later, and yes, the HoJo had PBS. 

We go to the fascinating talk and to hang out with friends after… here’s when you realize that we aren’t really good people. We lie to leave the get together early so we can rush back to the hotel and tune in. 

We weren’t even out of John Watson’s flat before I was hooked. 

Later, we went to the Waffle House, like you do in the south, for a late night dinner and to talk about the show. We were lamenting that we’d have to wait another week when I had my “eureka” type moment.

“This has already aired in the UK?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Heather.

“Well, we have the internet” I said. 

Don’t fret BBC executives who may be reading this. I promise that you have gotten so much of my monies… we’re good. Promise. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

I actually have two, and my favorite is dependent on whatever mood I am in at the time. 

The first is DANC. I mean, what’s not to love about it? It’s got a cypher, two(ish) love stories gone wrong, AND a connection to organized crime, which has always fascinated me. 

The second is EMPT. For some people this is going to be something they are going to scroll past quickly because they’ve heard me say it before. I think we all connect with Sherlock Holmes because there is something or someone in the stories that we see a bit of ourselves in. 

Initially, for me was John Watson. While I was never, and will never be, a medical doctor or in the military, there is something about his personality and character that spoke to me. As I was reading EMPT I came to realize that Sebastian Moran was the antithesis of Watson, so it is no surprise that I became intrigued by this semi-one off character. 

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

Oh bless your heart. You want only one.

Sheclockiana is full of interesting people and has given me so many friends (and so many wonderful memories), so picking just one is hard, but I am going to go with Roger Johnson. 

I don’t know how many people know, but on top of his being both a scholar and a gentleman, he is also the editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal and the curator of the Museum within the Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Avenue. Whenever I get back to London, I try to always make time to meet up with him and Jean Upton for a chat. It is definitely not to be missed.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I really am intrigued by the “Grand Game,” but not necessarily the way that it was originally intended to be played. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I can tip my hat to the literary agent just as much as the next person, but I like to dig deeper, like many Sherlockians. Which leads to your next question…

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I love to spend my time researching Watson’s and Moran’s military lives. 

Recently, I have given a talk at Scintillation of Scions and at my local scion, Wisteria Lodge, about Dr. Watson going to war. Since then I have been asked to give one on the schooling and path a modern Watson would take. 

I’ve also found myself down the rabbit hole of tracking down Moran’s actual regiment(s) and his movements after being discharged before finding his way to that fateful night he crossed paths with Sherlock Holmes. 

You are one of the co-founders of the wildly popular 221B Con.  How did this convention come about?

Well, you see, it started with a Doctor Who convention called TimeGate… actually it was a Doctor Who and StarGate convention, but like so many of these events, they often offer other panels that are on topics that those fandoms are also interested in. 

A former BBC employee was giving a talk on Sherlock Holmes media adaptations. I remember walking out of that panel thinking that if I could know half of what he had forgotten about Sherlock Holmes, then I would be set for life. 

As the five original directors of 221B and one of our future staff members stood around and discussed the panel, we got to talking about what a Sherlock Holmes convention would have. And I don’t think any of us remember who said it, but someone made the statement “someone should start a Sherlock Holmes con.” Someone else replied, “why don’t we start a Sherlock Holmes con?”

By the time we left the hotel the next day we had a (really questionable) hotel contract, a domain name, multiple social media accounts, and a convention committee (also, no startup capital or any idea how to organize a con). 

And that, as they say, is history.  

On top of running a huge weekend like 221B Con, you also manage to co-edit The Serpentine Muse!  What goes into putting out issues of such a prolific journal?

Crying mostly. Actually, I am totally kidding. I just wanted to say that. 

Seriously though, it is an absolute honor for Heather (see? There she is again y’all) and me to co-edit the Muse. So many amazing women have worked amongst those pages, from the days they sat around Evelyn Herzog’s place and literally had to cut out and tape the entries into a journal format through the days Marilynne McKay and Susan Diamond passed over the reins, blood, sweat, tears (and booze from what I hear) have been poured into that journal. 

And I am not really sure whether I cried more the day that Evelyn sent Heather and me the email over the invite us to become Adventuresses or the moment she sent the first issue we completed off to the printers. Though I digress, you asked about the process. 

With a typical issue, lovely Sherlockians send us articles, toasts, quizzes, art, or photos that they would like to see included in a future edition of the Muse. Heather or I, mostly Heather, will check it out and, if it's right for us, slate it for publication. 

When it comes time to start the next issue, which I am sure other editors will agree with us, seems to be right about the time you finish the current issue, we check to see what we have available. We attempt to offer a variety of both short and longer pieces so that there is something to sink your teeth into and palate cleansers alike. Whimsical is always a word we try to keep in mind. If we can make the issues keep to some sort of theme, even better, but that rarely has happened for us. 

Each piece is copied into a Google Doc where Heather proofs and gently edit the pieces if needed. If larger changes need to be made, we reach back out to the authors with our requests, which in most cases is usually to break something into multiple parts. We really try not to do more than fix the occasional word if we can help it. 

At this time, yours truly, begins to pull together some of the Editor’s Commonplace Book (mostly the calendar and the mentions that get a run every time) and placing the pieces into the blank pages on InDesign.

Once I know how much space the articles will take up, we add in the pictures or any graphics that you see when you open the pages of The Serpentine Muse. 

The next step is to fill out our section of the ECB, since at this time we know more about what space we get to use to tell you about either happenings within the Sherlockian world or in general, what we want to babble about that issue. 

Heather will then proof it once again; I think to make sure I haven’t accidentally left half of someone’s article or toast beyond the bleed (but that hasn’t happened yet), and then we send it off to Evelyn to go through with her fine-toothed comb. And let me tell you, if you ever need something proofed, she’s the one you should go to. I have no problem admitting that she makes whatever you see when you open that cover better. 

At that point, final tweaks are made, and she sends it off to be printed. The magic from there to when you pull it out of the mailbox is all her. You should ask her about it one day (like how I squeezed in a second Sherlockian that people might find interesting?).

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This is the question I think I will be judged for more than all others. LOL

If you’re into True Crime, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson is fantastic. 

I’m madly in love with the Timothy Wilde series by Lyndsay Faye. If you dive in, tell my boy Valentine “hey.” The Gods of Gotham is the first in the trilogy. 

If you want to stay in the Sherlock pastiche realm, The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas is one of my absolute favorites. Book One is A Study in Scarlet Women.

Really, I will put any book I am reading down or rush through it to have my hands empty when Lyndsay or Sherry release a new book. I just love their styles. 

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

Truth be told, in five years, I see Sherlockiana looking like it does now, but with a younger demographic. 

Ten years, well ten years is where you are really going to see the change. I think people have begun to realize that Sherlockiana isn’t the boys club that it used to be. The wonderful women who have come before us have paved the way for younger generations. Add to that the changing representations of Sherlock Holmes in the media, which means that more women, non binary, POC, and other demographics will feel they are more accepted. IMHO, that’s what it is starting to look like now. It just hasn’t made it to the larger circles yet. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Interesting Interview: Sonia Fetherston

I know I can sound like a broken record in these introductions, but I am such a fan of this week's interviewee.  Sonia Fetherston is one of the nicest Sherlockians I have ever met, and on top of that she is so knowledgeable, and you can tell she really enjoys spending time with the Canon and other Sherlockians.  I was a bundle of nerves at my first BSI Dinner this year, but I was lucky enough to sit next to Sonia.  She was right there the whole time and made me feel so welcome and made sure I was right in the mix of the evening's conversation.  In fact, not getting to see Sonia at the 2021 Dinner is one of the things I'm going to miss the most because of the changes due to Covid-19.

I also got to work with Sonia this year on an upcoming anthology on Sherlockian collecting, and I was blown away by the knowledge and passion she has for this hobby of ours.  She has written two books for the BSI Press, both biographies of influential Irregulars: Prince of the Realm: The Irregular Life of James Bliss Austin (2014) and Commissionaire: Julian Wolff and His Baker Street Irregulars (2020) and two BSJ Christmas Annuals, Barrymore in Baker Street (2012), and A Woman of Mystery (2017).  If you've read any Sherlockian journals, you've probably seen her byline more than a few (dozen) times, and you can always count on Sonia to brighten your Twitter timeline with canonical quotes and suggestions on who to follow.  

So settle in, and get ready for an interview that it's guaranteed to make you smile and feel like you're talking with an old friend, Sonia Fetherston: 

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

The root of the word “Sherlockian” is “Sherlock” Holmes himself. He’s a character who is so sturdy that he transcends time, place, age, gender – there are few, if any, limits. Same goes for Sherlockians. We are people from all backgrounds who celebrate Holmes in every form: in the original Canon, in the creative imaginings of others, and in ourselves. Holmes is a creature of the page, the screen and canvas, the audio play. He is present in pastiche and parody, and absolutely in the “headcanon.” Sherlockians are people who accompany Holmes and Watson on adventures… wherever that may happen to take us. 

Sherlockians are creative, bright, warm, and funny. We come from all walks of life including teachers, medical professionals, lawyers, retirees, pest exterminators, sales reps, journalists, teenagers, entertainers…you name it. It’s a hobby, and it’s also a calling. When I get lost, as we all do from time to time, I’m confident another Sherlockian will appear, pull out a roadmap, and help me along my way.

With friend Bill Barnes, BSI of Sydney, Australia during a visit to Oregon a few years ago on the Oregon coast, where Captain Cook stopped on his way to (or was it from?) Australia. Sonia is a long-distance member of the Sherlockian group the Sydney Passengers.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

When I was little my dad often worked at home so the need to be quiet was drilled into me. I usually ended up sitting in front of the television with the sound turned off. In retrospect this was a great way for a kid to develop an imagination, puzzling out what might be happening on that little screen. Channel 12 seemed to air nothing but old Rathbone/Bruce movies on weekends so I got to see them, over and over, for years. In silence! Rathbone intrigued me so much. On the outside he was very elegant and poised. But with the sound off, even I could see there was this barely-suppressed whirl of energy, impudence, even flashes of anger. Little Sonia would just quietly take it in without ever knowing for real about Sherlock Holmes, or detection, or logic. I don’t believe I actually heard Rathbone’s clipped accent until I was well into my teen years.

As for reading the Canon….that began when I was about eleven years old. One day my mother came home from the store with a Sherlock Holmes book. It seems that was a bonus if you bought ten dollars’ worth of groceries, or whatever. I can’t remember which I tackled first, The Hound of the Baskervilles, or “The Speckled Band.” But I remember being scared absolutely witless. And I was hooked! I still have that book. 

Meeting one of the great police officers in Moriarty, New Mexico during one of her self-described quirky road trips.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“A Case of Identity” is the whole package. It came along so early, yet it set the stage for everything that was to come. The cozy 221B Baker Street sitting room. The easy friendship between Holmes and Watson. A client in distress. A tour de force “reading” by Holmes. A real creep of a villain. Lots of pithy lines. Even the props are all there, like the magnifying glass and pipe. 

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

All Sherlockians are a joy. I’ve never come across one who isn’t! But to narrow it down….hmmm. I’m really keen on some of the early women who were involved, people like Helene Yuhasova and Esther Longfellow in the 1940s, and Mary Shore Cameron and Ruth Berman in the 1950s. They were brilliant and accomplished: writers, collectors, scion founders. Because of overt bias against women at that time they couldn’t hope to become members of the Baker Street Irregulars. But, bless them, they opened the door. Their talent and dignity made it possible for other women, like me, to succeed later.

Presenting on the topic of women Sherlockians at Portland State University.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Every subset is interesting. Every last one. If people try to tell you otherwise, don’t believe them.

Book-signing in New York

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I research quite a lot, and then I write. I’ve published something like twenty-five papers in The Baker Street Journal, plus many others in Sherlockian magazines, anthologies, and textbooks. I’ve written a couple of books, and a couple of BSJ Christmas Annuals.

For Sherlockian purposes, I enjoy biographical pieces. It’s fun to identify people who came before, with an aim of introducing them to a new generation. I have one piece that’s coming up in the BSJ about an utterly forgotten comedian whose heyday was more than a hundred years ago. He created a parody of Sherlock Holmes that was THE hit of the season in Chicago, which was a great big theater town in those days, second only to Broadway. The great Al Jolson happened to be in the audience on opening night, and even he couldn’t get enough of this comedian. I found old publicity stills and theater reviews, plus the original script, buried deep in dusty archives. I got to tell this man’s story, to revive his work, for today’s audience. It’s an honor, and a responsibility.

At a BSI Weekend in New York some years ago I was pulled aside by a twinkling young fellow. At the time I didn’t have a clue who he was. He said, “I know your work. You research vintage newspapers and magazines.” He recognized that about me because he does, too. Turns out he was Mattias Bostrom, the great Swedish Sherlockian who’s edited a whole shelf of books concerning Arthur Conan Doyle’s many outings in the press. Mattias and I became great friends because we’re such kindred spirits.

Archive-divers: Sonia and fellow “Irregular,” Swedish Sherlockian Matthis Bostrom, BSI at a dinner in New York.

No matter what the day's turmoil is on Twitter, your Canonical quotes are the one fixed point in my timeline.  How do you choose the quotes that you post?

Thank you! I love pulling snippets from the Sherlockian Canon and “Tweeting” them each day. Some are humorous, some are high drama, and some just tug at the heartstrings. People often get in touch to tell me one of the quotes inspired them to read, or re-read, the story it came from. How cool! I often include photos with the quotes, pictures I take of Holmesian odds and ends I have around my house. Here’s a funny story: once one of my Twitter followers showed up on my front doorstep and spent a couple of hilarious hours on a scavenger hunt. She searched the rooms for Holmes objects I’d Tweeted pictures of over the years. Every time she found, say, the Star Trek Geordie/Watson bobblehead doll, or the 1970 Sherlock ash tray, she would absolutely squeal with delight! 

As for choosing the quotes, each day is different. Sometimes I find inspiration in that morning’s headlines. Sometimes I start with a single word – like “griffin,” which, by the way, only appears in one of the Canon’s stories, in “Shoscombe Old Place” – and just follow where that single word will lead me. Often, though, they’re lines that resonate personally. My own favorite quote is from “The Adventure of the Empty House,” when, after Holmes’s hiatus of three years, Watson settles into a familiar happy place:

“It was indeed like old times when, at that hour, I found myself seated beside

him in a hansom, my revolver in my pocket, and the thrill of adventure in my heart.”

Who wouldn’t want to be right there with them?

With the charming Canadian Bob Coghill, BSI. Sonia lives in Oregon, and they most often meet up halfway, in Seattle, where they are both active members of the local scion society “The Sound of the Baskervilles,” which formed 40+ years ago on a boat in Puget Sound.

Your Sherlockian card collection is well-known.  How did you start out collecting such a specific item?

Many Sherlockians will have a half-dozen Holmes-inspired greeting cards stashed with the rest of their stuff. A couple of weeks ago I was helping Rebecca Romney prepare material for the 2020 Cameron Hollyer lecture she’s giving, and her topic is collecting. I had all of my greeting cards spread around the floor, and just out of curiosity I counted them. To my surprise there were almost 500 different examples, dating back more than a century! And counting…yesterday I bought five more from a man in England. In another year or two I will be donating them all to the University of Minnesota’s Sherlock Holmes collections.

All this came about when I noticed an advertisement aimed at “crafty” people – scrapbookers – people who play with scissors and glue, for goodness sake – suggesting they should buy old greeting cards and cut them to smithereens. The card in the ad was a 75 year-old valentine with Sherlock Holmes examining a big red heart through his magnifying lens. This was outrageous on two fronts. How dare you destroy this beautiful old thing, and how dare you do that to the Great Detective? So of course I bought the card myself in order to save it. Then I bought another, and another. Probably a majority of the cards I have are from the 1930s and 1940s, coinciding with the rise of popular films about Sherlock Holmes. Over the years I’ve developed a little network of dealers who help me watch when rare Holmes cards come on the market. I have Sherlockian greeting cards for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Mother’s and Father’s Day. I have thank you cards, and friendship cards, and birthday cards – even some unusual old postcards. The only type of card that I don’t have is a Sherlockian sympathy card, but if one is out there I will find it! It’s likely there are items in my collection that are the only remaining examples of their kind.

My friend Jerry Margolin has really inspired and encouraged my collecting. Of course, he is the pre-eminent collector of original artwork with a Sherlock Holmes theme.

With Rosane MacNamara, BSI and Jerry Margolin, BSI as we tour Jerry’s extensive collection of Sherlockian art.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

Besides the Canon itself? Well, it’s probably sacrilegious to say this, but I really dig Samuel Rosenberg’s old book, Naked is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes (Bobbs Merrill, 1974). It’s a work of literary detection, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and somewhat not. The author leads us through the conscious and unconscious ways in which Arthur Conan Doyle composed the Holmes Canon. A bit of what Rosenberg came up with still outrages the orthodox, so don’t get me started on “The Red-Headed League”! But I do very much enjoy lit crit, and I’ve always appreciated this volume.

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

Time for my turban and crystal ball. 

Obviously, technology will be important. We’ve gotten a taste of its potential because of the COVID pandemic. Suddenly, scion societies (and now the BSI itself) are gathering on Zoom and other platforms, rather than in person. It’s an opportunity to include many more people. This year my home scion has hosted lots of virtual visitors from across the country (even from other countries) because our monthly meetings are on Zoom. In a few weeks I’ll be the guest speaker at an upcoming Zoom meeting with a scion society on the East Coast, and I don’t even have to leave my home to be with them. Technology is such a useful way for Sherlockians to connect.

And speaking of technology, I expect that quite soon we’ll see Sherlockian magazines and journals cease their paper-and-ink publishing and go all-digital. It’s cost-effective, and eliminates most delivery problems. As a researcher and writer – more important, as a reader – I like the notion that material will be even more widely available, and more convenient, for everybody.

Sherlock Holmes embraced technology in his time: typewriters, telegraphy, cameras, telephones, fingerprints, and so on. We can, too!

Catching up with old friends Don Hobbs, BSI and Russell Merritt, BSI at the Yale Club.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Interesting Interview: Mark Jones

Mark Jones is a name that has become well-known in the American Sherlockian world over the past few years.  He's been a regular in the British Holmesian world, but we colonists are just getting to know him, mostly from his great podcast, Doings of Doyle, that he co-hosts with Paul M. Chapman.  You may have also seen his name pop up in the Baker Street Journal, Serpentine Muse, and Canadian Holmes.  

I got to meet Mark in New York at the beginning of this year, and he is one of the most delightful and intelligent Sherlockians I know (and that's saying A LOT).  His knowledge and passion for Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlockian Canon are impressive, and his easy to talk to demeanor will win over anyone who wonders if they should check out some of Doyle's non-Sherlockian works.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

For me, a Sherlockian is someone who enjoys – and obsesses about – Sherlock Holmes in whatever form they have encountered. Given the nature of obsession, I would have thought most Sherlockians will have read some of the stories at some point: when I become interested in a new topic, I tend to hoover up anything and everything to do with it and suspect that is true of others. That said, I don’t see the need for ‘entry requirements’ before someone can be regarded, or regard themselves, as a Sherlockian. It’s a broad church and we all have our preferences. The more the merrier, I say.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

When I was ten years old, I used to watch repeats of the Basil Rathbone movies with my grandmother who loved them and black and white movies in general. My favourite was The Scarlet Claw (1944) which probably tells you a lot about my psychology. 

Then, about a year later, I read the entire canon during a rainy three-week caravan holiday in Scotland and was hooked. I dipped in and out of the stories until the mid-nineties when my then girlfriend bought me the Baring-Gould Annotated (Reader, I married her). But I didn’t really become “active” in Sherlockian circles until 2014 when I met Paul M. Chapman and Teresa Dudley at a book fair in York, UK. They introduced me to their society, The Scandalous Bohemians, and it really took off from there.

What is your favorite canonical story?

I’ve always loved The Red-Headed League (1891). For me, it captures the breadth and depth of the Sherlockian universe: the peculiar characters, London setting, deductions and revelations, camaraderie between our heroes, and humour. There’s a warmth between Holmes and Watson that feels absolutely genuine. It helps that the Granada adaptation, which was on TV shortly after I read it, is so good. Often when I think of the story (or indeed any story), Brett and Burke come immediately to mind.

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

I’m fortunate to be a member of a great Sherlockian society called The Scandalous Bohemians, based in Yorkshire, UK. We’ve struggled to meet during lockdown and I miss my companions and our conversations very much. We have some brilliant, clever, witty Sherlockians of note in our midst and plenty more who have never been seen in print. It’s hard to pick anyone from their company, or indeed wider, but the person I’d suggest is Kathryn White BSI. Kathryn has been active in Sherlockian circles far longer than I have and always has an interesting and scholarly perspective on things. Plus Kathryn and David Stuart Davies are a pair so you get two for the price of one!    

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

It’s odd to think of Conan Doyle as a subset of Sherlockiana and not vice versa, but Conan Doyle it is. 

One of the things that really fascinates me is the relationship between Conan Doyle’s life and wider work and the Sherlock Holmes stories. Taking this line often reveals new perspectives on the canon. For example, The Sign of Four (1890) is Conan Doyle’s third attempt at telling a story he toyed with in Uncle Jeremy’s Household (1887) and The Mystery of Cloomber (1888). The Sign of Four is the last and best of the trilogy but it didn’t arrive fully-formed – it has literary ancestors that cast it in a different light. 

Other examples are Conan Doyle’s attitudes to alcoholism, which explains why he was so cautious about collecting The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (1893), and his views on divorce law reform, which feature in works like The Adventure of the Abbey Grange (1904). There is usually something from Conan Doyle’s wider work that makes you pause and think twice about what was actually going on in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I’m really drawn to two things: puzzles within the canon and the influences on Conan Doyle. The first is played very much in the spirit of The Game while the latter is more akin to historical research.

For the former, I’ve always loved the writings of Professor John Sutherland, particularly his essays on puzzles in classic fiction of which "Is Heathcliff a Murderer?" (1996) and "Will Jane Eyre Ever Be Happy?" (1997) are probably the most famous. Most of the puzzles are not puzzles per se but questions unposed. I’ve set myself the task of writing one such puzzle for each of the sixty stories. So far, I’ve written about ten including pieces on Victor Hatherley’s thumb, spies in The Adventure of the Second Stain and coincidences in The Adventure of Black Peter.  

As for the latter, I like to explore the things that influenced Conan Doyle to try to get closer to understanding the person behind the pen. I find him endlessly fascinating – a mass of contradictions. I can’t help but feel that we haven’t really uncovered the true Conan Doyle yet. There’s a darker side to Conan Doyle that is obscured by the stories he tells about his own life, and his wider fiction gives us glimpses into what that darkness might be.  

How did you and Paul decide to start Doings of Doyle?

When we met, Paul and I discovered that we were just as interested in Conan Doyle’s wider work as we are in the Sherlock Holmes stories. That’s not common in Sherlockian circles and so we were keen to connect with like-minded folk. We’re both keen radio listeners and thought that podcasting was a very immediate way to bring the works of Conan Doyle to a new audience. We were also inspired by the various Sherlockian podcasts, particularly Scott and Burt’s I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere and Trifles. We had a great start and then were locked out of our studio due to COVID but we’re now set up to record remotely and have three episodes about to go into production.

Many Sherlockians (myself included) don't pay much attention to Doyle's other writings.  What are we missing and where would you recommend we start?

If you are a Sherlockian who reads the canon then you will find that a lot of things that you enjoy about the Sherlock Holmes stories are also present in Conan Doyle’s other works. He has a tremendous ability to conjure up characters, settings and tone in a few words which makes him hugely accessible. This apparent simplicity is one of the reasons why academics have tended to undervalue his work, though that is now changing.

Conan Doyle really was the master of the short story so I’d recommend dipping your toe in the water with some of his shorter non-Sherlockian work. Probably the closest in feel to the Sherlock Holmes stories are his gothic tales which were recently collected in an excellent Oxford University Press volume, Gothic Tales, edited by the wonderful Darryl Jones. Within that large volume, there are the Round the Fire stories, written around the time Conan Doyle consigned Holmes to the Reichenbach. Many of them could easily have been Sherlock Holmes tales, with suitable adjustments. I’ve often thought about rewriting them with Holmes and Watson but I lack the fiction-writing gene (I’d happily edit a collection if someone is interested in the idea – hint). 

Credit: Roger Johnson

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

As much as I love his longer fictions, particularly The Lost World (1912) and The White Company (1891), I’d stick to the short stories. Go for one of the Brigadier Gerard collections or better still the complete edition. They contain some of Conan Doyle’s finest writing and provide the perfect balance of excitement, adventure and humour. We’re going to cover two linked tales in the podcast – How the Brigadier Held the King and How the King Held the Brigadier – which between them sum up everything there is to love in the Gerard stories. 

We all know that Conan Doyle came to dislike writing the Sherlock Holmes stories and I think that fundamentally colours how we, as Sherlockians, see Conan Doyle. There is none of that with Gerard – Conan Doyle is having a whale of a time so they are joyful from cover to cover. I envy all who have yet to experience them for the first time – you’re in for a treat!

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

Unlike our two heroes, the Sherlockian movement is not “one fixed point in a changing age” – it has always adapted and will continue to do so. I’m a historian by training so apologies if I overthink this but I see three “great ages” of the movement so far. The first saw the foundations of the BSI and the London Society, established The Game and set the camaraderie and scholarly tone. The second really took off in the seventies off the back of TV and Meyer’s The Seven Per-Cent Solution (1974) and led to the outpouring of pastiche as people felt empowered to create their own stories. The third has been the massive proliferation of adaptations and variants over the last twenty years which has brought entirely new audiences to Sherlock Holmes. 

What’s interesting to me is their respective attitudes towards Conan Doyle. When reading the early BSJ’s, I’m always struck by how knowledgeably the founders write about Conan Doyle’s wider work – Christopher Morley wrote that Raffles Haw (the alchemist in The Doings of Raffles Haw, 1891) was a third Holmes brother for heaven’s sake! They seem rather less dogmatic and more playful with the concept of “the Literary Agent” than I think was the case during the second phase when The Game could get a bit po-faced. Now in the third phase, authorship is everyone’s and Conan Doyle is just one of many creators. 

I suspect (and hope) Conan Doyle will be more of a presence in the Sherlockian movement in the coming years. Academics are now taking him more seriously, there is more interest generally in his wider work and there’s an enthusiasm to blend the boundaries around the things we include in our hobby which is all for the good. There are good things coming for Conan Doyle too: Ashley Polasek’s The Conan Doyle Review, the new Edinburgh Works of Conan Doyle and a new annual Conan Doyle meeting on the fringes of the BSI weekend. Paul and I will be doing our bit with the podcast. Whatever happens next, I’m sure it will be just as enjoyable as all that has gone before.