Sunday, July 30, 2023

Forming Most Devoted Friendships [SIGN]


What a weekend.

Holmes in the Heartland ended a few hours ago, and after coming home and taking a nap, I can finally start to reflect on the weekend.  And it was a great weekend.

First and foremost, the planning committee, Brad Keefauver, Heather Hinson, Kristin Mertz, Adam Presswood, Cindy Brown, Joe Eckrich, and Stacey Bregenzer, put in a ton of work and had to put up with a lot of emails and deadlines from me over the past year.  So I want to publicly say thank you to them for helping to make a great event.

A detailed recap of the weekend will be posted on The Parallel Case of St. Louis blog in August, so I'm just going to highlight a few points on this post.

After all of the planning and finagling it seems weird to say that my favorite moment of the weekend came from an unscheduled moment, but that's the way it worked out.

After the speakers' program ended on Saturday, we had a two hour break before the dinner banquet so I ran up to my hotel room for a minute.  Coming back down to the lobby, the elevator doors opened up and I saw the lobby bar PACKED with Sherlockians.  All of our local Sherlockians were mingling with out-of-towners.  People were spending time with their old friends.  People were meeting new folks, some that they had only interacted with online or read the name of as a mention or byline in an article.

And a huge smile spread across my face.  We created that moment.  If we hadn't planned Holmes in the Heartland and enticed people to visit St. Louis in July, those people would not have been enjoying their time together right there and then.  Some people never would have met the folks they did this weekend.  Great conversations with old friends would've gone un-had.  The smiles and laughs during that time would've been spent somewhere else with other people.  But instead, almost a hundred Sherlockians were able to get together for a few days and enjoyed each other's company.

I've said it over and over, but spending time with other Sherlockians is my favorite part of this hobby.  When we first started planning this Holmes in the Heartland, I wanted to make sure that people had plenty of time to spend with one another and I think we really pulled that off.  So to everyone who was at the Sheraton Westport in St. Louis this weekend, I hope you had a great time with great people.  Because that's what these events are all about.

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But, dang, did we have some great things happening as well!  Here are some quick highlights from the weekend:

The small groups that found places to hang out as people arrived in town

Saturday night's dinner.  Hotel banquet food had no right to taste as good as that stuff did.

Hearing people marvel at how beautiful the St. Louis Public Library building is

Seeing vendors fill people's hands with treasures.  (One vendor completely sold out of every item they brought!)

The joy on people's faces when they'd win a door prize

Watching Madeline Quinones dominate in Sherlockian trivia

Watching Steve Mason waddle around the dinner tables dressed as a goose

Seeing everyone appreciate and enjoy the history of St. Louis at the St. Louis Arch

The presentations!  So many great moments, but I will just highlight one from each presenter:

Ray Betzner being eminently likeable while talking about a despicable man character

Watching Kristin Mertz deliver her first-ever speech and looking like she's done it a million times

Cindy Brown connecting Victorian crimes to their present day counterparts and making us see we readers aren't so much smarter than these folks

Steven Doyle giving the complete opposite talk than what I thought (and worried) he was going to give

Mike McSwiggin complaining that he's tired of giving Sherlockian talks during the summer when he should be vacationing

Beth Gallego making me want to add too many titles to my already too long TBR list

Monica Schmidt getting a nice surprise at the end of her presentation

Joe Eckrich, Rich Kriscuinas, and Michael Waxenberg somehow making a 150 year-old court trial a hilarious recap of the day's events

Thanks again to everyone who came to Holmes in the Heartland 2023.  For those of you traveling back home today or tomorrow, I wish you an easy trip.  And for those of you on the planning committee, get some rest.  You deserve it!

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Interesting Interview: Catherine Cooke

Catherine Cooke is a name I've always heard in Sherlockiana, but never got to know until recently.  Lately, Catherine and I have been emailing on a project and she comes across as an immensely knowledgeable and professional lady while still conveying genuine charm and likeability through her communications.  She's also been on a few episodes of the From Adler to Amberley podcast, and from listening to those episodes, it's clear that her good qualities abound in any form you get to enjoy her in!

For anyone who isn't yet familiar with Catherine, she is a very well-respected person in our hobby  Catherine has managed Westminster's Sherlock Holmes Collection for over forty years.  She is currently the chair of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London and has been an active member of that group since 1980, and has won their Tony Howlett Award and Tony and Freda Howlett Literary Award.  But her Sherlockian bona fides aren't restricted to England!  She is a member of ASH and BSI, has won the BSI Morley-Montgomery Award, and the Bootmakers of Toronto's Derrick Murdock Award.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

Someone who is interested in the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon – the stories, films, other books.  Not necessarily all of it – some who is interested in the stories and, say, the films is just as much a Sherlockian as someone who is interested in the stories and the “Higher Criticism”

How did you become a Sherlockian?

My older brother wanted to watch the 1965 BBC series starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson, and his small sister wasn’t going to go out of the room because he had his choice, so I watched as well and got hooked.  I emphasise that I was extremely young at the time!  I then found some of the early classic British books on the stories in the local library and my interest developed from there.  We of course had the original stories on the bookshelves at home already. 

What was your profession and how did that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

I am a retired librarian.  I got my first job with Westminster City Libraries after a chat with the personnel manager there, since it was close to Bedford College, where I was studying.  I spent my entire career with Westminster, in various roles, but managing their Sherlock Holmes Collection for some 40 years.  I now manage it as a volunteer.  This has brought me into contact with Sherlockians from all over the world, and meeting others and hearing their take on matters Sherlockian is one of the most enjoyable aspects of our world.

What is your favorite canonical story?

“The Solitary Cyclist”.  Violet Smith is no shrinking violet.  Followed on a lonely country road, she doesn’t have an attack of the vapours – she tries to catch the man who is following her!

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

It is difficult to pick on one person.  Many of those I would have considered are no longer with us.  If I must, then Jonathan and Elaine McCafferty (yes – I know that’s 2 people).  They have a wealth of experience in the field, and a wealth of anecdotes – wonderful company.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I think the settings of the stories.  Conan Doyle grounded so many of them in places he knew, or used real events as inspiration.  I find researching these aspects takes you down rabbit holes you would never otherwise be exploring. 

I've been lucky enough to have you as part of an upcoming anthology on important Sherlockian books, out next January.  Can you tell everyone which book you wrote about and why you feel it is worthy of being in every Sherlockian's library?

Thank you.  I covered In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes by Michael Harrison.  This rather ties in with the previous question.  Published originally in 1958, this was one of the first books about the stories, explaining what Holmes’ world was like - why he might have chosen rooms in Baker Street, what entertainment was available in London, what prices were like, how London and the suburbs were changing.  It is an indispensable guide to the London and England that Holmes knew and worked in, so different in many ways from today’s. 

As someone who has been involved with The Sherlock Holmes Society of London for many years, what are some of the highlights from your tenure as a member?

Now I feel old!  Being able to meet and talk with Dame Jean Conan Doyle, and knowing people such as Tony and Freda Howlett, Stanley Mackenzie, Bernard Davies, Richard Lancelyn Green to name but a few.  We are standing on the shoulders of giants.  The various trips we have made – several in costume to Switzerland, but also our weekend trips to places like Southsea, Dartmoor, the Peak District, Norfolk and so on – visiting the locations where cases took place and hearing talks about them and the wider history of the area.  And our Annual Dinners – the chance to socialise with so many of our members we don’t see very often, and hearing the speeches of people like Mark Gatiss, Stephen Fry or Nicholas Meyer.    

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

This may be somewhat off the wall, but Sven Hedin’s two-volume account Central Asia and Tibet, published by Hurst and Blackett, London, in 1903. Volume 2 covers Tibet.  They are available on the second-hand market or Google Books, if not from your local library.  Holmes spent two years in Tibet - he must have traveled widely.  Tibet is the highest and coldest plateau in the world. We should not, therefore, imagine Holmes traveling around on his own; he would require extensive supplies, pack animals, local guides and servants, as Hedin did.  On a good day, they could cover 24 miles, compared with 12 or less in the mountains, though progress depended as much on the animals as on the weather and the terrain.  We might also remember that Holmes was traveling under the assumed identity of a Norwegian.  He might very well have entered Lhasa itself, disguised as a merchant’s servant or pilgrim from somewhere like Ladak or as a Buryat, disguises used by Hedin at various times.  There are times when one has to be adept at sitting on the proverbial fence.  Was Arthur Conan Doyle inspired by the newspaper account of Sven Hedin’s travels as he wrote Sherlock Holmes’ way out of that great chasm at the foot of the Fall of the Reichenbach?  Or should we read Hedin’s adventures and allow them to throw some light on the experiences Holmes would surely have had while travelling in the East, about which he and Dr. Watson tell us so little?  Hedin was not only an intrepid, brave explorer and gifted artist, he was an excellent writer and story teller, whose accounts of his travels are exciting and even funny page turners.  Try Trans-Himalaya, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909 as well.  They are rollicking good reads! 

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

It is so hard to make predictions; I’m not sure I can. Who four years ago would have predicted the opening up of Sherlockian meetings world-wide using Zoom?  I hope we’ll still be meeting in person to hear about and discuss new theories about the stories and the merits of new actors who have taken on the mantle.  Younger Sherlockians will have new ideas, new fields of study.