First appeared on Stories Rule! on October 5, 2008. Still relevant! — t.
I’m thrilled to announce that two of my now out-of-print books have been picked up by Cerridwen Press, and will be released sometime in the near future (I’ll let you know the dates when I get them).
Sometimes readers have asked me why I wrote these two books, because they seem like oddities among all the historical romances, romantic suspenses and erotic romances that I tend to write.
The Sherlock Holmes books are both really romances, too.
If you know very little about Sherlock Holmes, you probably recall the character as being dry, dusty and short on emotions. The idea of romance + Sherlock Holmes doesn’t seem to go very well together. And there was always those rumours that Holmes and Watson were closet homosexuals.
But actually, Holmes is a fascinating character, full of conflict, drive, energy and passions. If it’s been a while since you read any of the stories, you can download all of them from Project Gutenberg for free. Give them a try — especially the earlier stories, like the “Adventure of The Speckled Band.”
(If you’re not familiar with it, Project Gutenberg is an attempt by a group of volunteers to convert to electronic text all books that are now in the public domain — thereby making them freely available to the entire world. Their project is named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the original moveable type printing press, around 1439.)
When I was still living in Australia, I was a committee member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of Western Australia. I joined the society because I had always liked the Sherlock Holmes stories, but had recently seen the (then new) Granada TV series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, that featured Jeremy Brett as the “new style” Sherlock Holmes. I was fascinated by his portrayal of the Victorian consulting detective: He bounced all over the sets, pouring energy and drive into his investigations, using wild gestures, and generally making my jaw sag.
The impact was increased because, well, Jeremy Brett is a pretty damned good looking man, and those eyes…!
It was the first time I’d looked at the Holmes character as a real person, with feelings and emotions. I went back to the original stories with a fresh eye and appreciation.
Then I happened to catch a re-run of an old 1960’s movie, The Private Live of Sherlock Holmes, late one night, and was sold hook, line and sinker on the idea of Holmes as a romantic lead.
The movie is an uneven, at times downright silly, study of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (with a fabulous appearance by Christopher Lee as
Mycroft Holmes), but there is a subtle romance there, that really packs an emotional wallop at the end. I won’t spoil it for you. If you are even a little bit intrigued, try to get a copy of the movie — it’s available on DVD these days. I brought a copy for my keeper shelf, because, romantic that I am, I can’t resist replaying it every now and again. I confess that some of the scenes I skip. But the ones with Stephens and Paige keep me hooked.
Robert Stephens isn’t as easy on the eyes as Brett, but he played a more wounded, emotionally scarred character with real vulnerabilities that he did his best to hide from the world. All the makings of a fine romance hero, in fact.
I’m also a Star Trek geek (but I don’t speak Klingon), and around this time, was deeply obsessed with Star Trek – The Next Generation. Even though he was an android, and technically incapable of real feelings, I was fascinated with Data’s character development throughout the series as he struggled to become more human. So I was delighted when Data played Sherlock Holmes in one memorable episode, “Ship In A Bottle.” He came up against an overwhelmingly powerful Moriarty, and learned a lot about being human and dealing with strong feelings in that episode.
It was perhaps inevitable that, as a writer of romances, I would end up writing a romantic Sherlock Holmes book. The stories are in the public domain now, so writers are free to use the characters and situations Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invented. In fact another writer, Laurie R. King, published The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, in 1996, just three years before mine. (I didn’t get to hear about King’s book until I had moved to Canada, alas). Her books also have Sherlock Holmes involved with a woman.
I started playing around with ideas for a romance for Sherlock Holmes, and how it would work with the “facts” from the canon, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had written them. Conan Doyle wrote around 70 short stories and two novels featuring Sherlock Holmes, and was heartily sick of his creation by the time he stopped producing them. Most fans of the genre are well aware of the huge gaping holes in logic, dates, and even characters. For instance, Dr. John H. Watson is called “James” by his wife in one story. So Sherlockians (that is, fans of the canon) have agreed that Watson’s wife must have been using his middle name, as “James” is short for Hamish. Therefore, the H. must stand for Hamish. (Conan Doyle never did say what it stood for.)
But these inconsistencies are scattered throughout the stories.
Added to that, in “The Adventure Of The Final Problem,” Conan Doyle, without warning, abruptly killed Sherlock Holmes by having Moriarty throw him off the Reichenbach Falls. What really happened was that Conan Doyle was so sick of Sherlock Holmes he simply refused to write any more. By killing Holmes off, he had the perfect answer to all the demands from his fans for more, more, more. (Conan Doyle has been quoted as saying he was “as sick of Sherlock Holmes as he was of pate de foie gras of which he once ate too much”)
But Sherlock Holmes was so popular, that Doyle’s murder of the detective sent most of England into mourning. People wore black armbands to honour the detective’s death, and there was a huge outcry over Conan Doyle’s dastardly deed.
Conan Doyle withstood the pressure for seven years, until he finally caved and brought Holmes back to life in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” He telescoped the missing seven years into three years of story time, and explained away the three years in a single paragraph.
I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa and spending some days with the head Llama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend. I then passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum, the results of which I have communicated to the Foreign Office. Returning to France I spent some months in a research into the coal-tar derivatives, which I conducted in a laboratory at Montpelier, in the South of France. Having concluded this to my satisfaction, and learning that only one of my enemies was now left in London, I was about to return when my movements were hastened by the news of this very remarkable Park Lane Mystery…
Holmes was back, but he was a changed man. If you read the stories, you’ll notice the difference from the earlier collection to the later ones.
Being so steeped in the Sherlockian world meant I kept coming back to these inconsistencies and the missing three years. The few clues that Conan Doyle has given were tempting morsels, hinting at an exotic side to Holmes. No man could spend two years in Tibet and not come back changed.
In the end, I wrote Chronicles of the Lost Years to explain in full those missing three years, and to give Holmes the romance of a lifetime. The book also covers all the niggling little inconsistencies and Conan Doyle’s lapses in continuity.
But I wrote the book as if Dr. Watson was still narrating the stories. I kept the same dry, observant style, and even though the book deals with the secret woman in Holmes’s life, there are no steamy clinches, or sex scenes. For that reason, these two books could never be marketed as romances, even though they are. Holmes was a typical Victorian man, who repressed emotions, and kept a stiff upper lip. Watson was worse. Any romance would have to be contained, and concealed.
But actions speak louder than words. Holmes does not ever speak of what lies in his heart, but what he does to protect and finally, to revenge Elizabeth, shouts to the rooftops what he is incapable of saying aloud.
If you’re curious, the first chapter of Chronicles is still up on my website (for a while I didn’t have the heart to take it down, even though the book was technically out of print, but now the new Cerridwen release date is looming). And if you’re one of those people who like to read the last chapter first (I know who you are!), then you might like a peep at the first chapter of the sequel, The Case Of The Reluctant Agent, which will give you a peek at Holmes’ and Watson’s lives, a decades or two after Chronicles, with a hint of what has happened in between.
It’s been ten years since I wrote Chronicles, and almost as many since I sat down and read the book. It was so nice to slip back into Holmes’ world and get lost in the London fog…