Very few people can claim to be responsible for a Sherlockian revolution. Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Brett, and Basil Rathbone of course. But this week's Interesting Interview may be one of the only non-actors who can say that.
Nicholas Meyer's novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, brought Holmes back to the forefront of public consciousness. That book stayed on the bestseller list for the better part of a year and was later turned into an Academy Award nominated movie. But Nicholas isn't a one-trick pony. He's since written four more Sherlockian pastiches in between his massive screenwriting career. (The guy's impressive; just check his website for a full list.) So what are his thoughts on our hobby? Keep reading to find out!
How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I am not aware of any official or accepted definition of the term Sherlockian. I know, for example, that in the UK, the word is generally Holmesian. I take it both terms imply affection and enthusiasm for stories involving Holmes, Watson and their world.
How did you become a Sherlockian?
I was introduced to the Holmes stories by my father when I was about eleven years old. An enthusiast himself, he gave me the complete one volume edition, edited by Christopher Morley. My recollection is that I gobbled them up avidly, (though I was certainly perplexed by A Study in Scarlet when I turned the page and found myself in Utah with a whole series of different characters!)
What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?
My profession is Storyteller. I write novels but also screenplays for film and television and direct same. In my world - at least so far - there is no such thing as retirement. There's no weekends, no holidays as such and no vacations. It's all about narrative. I look forward to dying in harness.
What is your favorite canonical story?
It is very hard for me to pick one favorite Holmes story. I number "The Devil's Foot," "The Bruce Partington Plans," "Silver Blaze" and "The Red-Headed League" among my favorites, and I'm partial to "The Yellow Face," which shows that Holmes could fail - that fact, I think, makes him the more real.
Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
I have always enjoyed reading the works of Michael Harrison and also Trevor Hall.
What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
There was a time when I really enjoyed reading "the writings about the writings," especially when I originally discovered their existence and they fueled my enthusiasm for writing my own Holmes tale, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. I've since acquired a small library about Holmes, Watson and their world, though that use has now been put to use in researching my subsequent Holmes stories, The West End Horror, The Canary Trainer, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, The Return of the Pharaoh and the forthcoming, Sherlock Holmes and the Telegram From Hell.
Writing my own Holmes adventures has proved my most enjoyable pastime. I learn by doing, about Holmes, his world, but also about myself in relation to Holmes. Over the years I've discovered an obscure kinship between myself and the detective, not, I hasten to add, in terms of talent or achievement, but rather - I tell myself - in terms of sensibility. Values, if you like. In sum, Holmes allows me to express myself.
What is your process for writing a new Sherlock Holmes story?
It is very difficult to describe the creative process - mine, for sure. The first thing that must happen is that I must stumble on an idea that simply won't let go, an idea that to my mind is a natural for Holmes. Once I am seized by that idea, there follow weeks or months of playing in my head with how Holmes could be integrated into the idea - or vice versa. I take notes, I do research. Sometimes I wind up abandoning the project altogether; it wasn't as promising as I thought - or I wasn't good enough to lick it.
Assuming I don't abandon the project, after that, it's much harder to describe: you're at your desk, you're in a state of flow, you look up, it's hours later, and you don't quite know where you've been. I think that trance-like state applies to a lot of creativity, not just writing and not just writing Sherlock Holmes. When people ask me "how I do it" I can truthfully answer, "I don't know."
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution has widely been credited for creating a resurgence in Sherlock Holmes. If you had known that during the writing of that novel and movie, would you have done anything differently?
I write the books I would like to read. I don't think I would have done anything differently if I'd been told The Seven-Per-Cent Solution was going to spark a resurgence of interest in Holmes.
What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
Aside from Doyle's originals, I tend to recommend my five Sherlock Holmes novels. Typically I don't read Holmes books by other authors, probably because I worry they might be better than mine! Thus - The West End Horror, The Canary Trainer, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols and The Return of the Pharaoh. I have a sixth Holmes novel in the works, Sherlock Holmes and the Telegram from Hell.
Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
Truthfully I have no idea where Holmes will be in the future; I've no idea where WE will be in the future. Prognostications are notoriously faulty. The only thing Star Trek seems to have got right are the flip top cell phones.