An interview with pastiche writer David Marcum.
What got you interested in Sherlock Holmes and when?
I discovered Holmes when I was ten years old, in the mid-1970’s, when I received an abridged copy of The Adventures during a trade with a friend. I didn't care anything about it until a few weeks later, when I saw a piece of the film A Study in Terror on television, and something about Holmes interested me. I started reading The Adventures and there was no turning back.
Did you get encouragement from friends and family? Did anyone question your interest?
My family has always been extremely encouraging from the very beginning. Soon after discovering Holmes, I noticed that my dad had received a book catalog, and I found several very important titles in it: Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, Haining’s The Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook, The Hardwick’s The Sherlock Holmes Companion, and Davies’ Holmes of the Movies. My dad ordered all of these for me, before I’d even read all of The Canon. He also let me borrow ahead on my allowance to buy the Doubleday The Complete Sherlock Holmes, and a year or so later for my birthday, he bought me Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
Additionally, over the years and right up to the present, my family – first my parents and sister, and then my wife and son – has always known to buy Holmes-related items, particularly pastiches, for my birthday and Christmas gifts. (I usually help them out about by providing specific information about what and where to buy.)
When I was 19, my parents bought me my first deerstalker (now I have two dozen), the only type of hat that I use. I've worn a deerstalker proudly as my only fall-to-spring hat since then (now over thirty years.) And in 2010, my family all got together at Christmas and bought for me a custom-made deerstalker and Inverness from a tailor in Scotland – the thing is as heavy as a carpet, so I only wear it on special occasions. That, to me, was the culminating example of how supportive they've has always been – that and the fact that my wife and son put up with the now thousands of Holmes volumes, mostly pastiches, that line our living room walls.
Who is your favourite screen Holmes and why?
I can write volumes about whom I don’t like, but I've done that elsewhere, and that’s not the question. Suffice it to say, if someone has placed a character using Holmes’s name in a modern setting, then it’s simply NOT Sherlock Holmes.
I favor the actors who not only portrayed Holmes in the correct era, but also the ones who try to look like Holmes, as rendered by Sidney Paget. The first complete Holmes film I saw as a kid was Murder by Decree, and I loved that story, but I knew that Christopher Plummer didn't look right, and James Mason was decades too old to be playing a Watson in his mid-thirties in 1888.
Basil Rathbone was the first Holmes I ever heard, having checked out old radio shows from the library as a kid. (I didn't actually see a Rathbone movie until I was in my late teens.) But Nigel Bruce, as everyone knows, wasn't Watson. I favor Rathbone, Arthur Wontner, Douglas Wilmer, Peter Cushing and Ian Richardson. I like some of Jeremy Brett’s performances, mostly the early stuff, but truthfully I didn't like him at all when the first Granada episodes aired. However, they've grown on me, especially when compared to how Holmes is presently being violated.
All in all, my favorite Holmes and Watson aren’t on the screen at all. They are Clive Merrison and the late Michael Williams of the BBC radio broadcasts, as masterminded by Bert Coules.
When did you first decide to write a book in the field and why?
I’ve been reading pastiches for as long as I’ve read The Canon, and to me pastiches are just as important as the original stories. I’ve likened it all to a Great Holmes Tapestry, with many threads, or perhaps a rope, with the Canon as the wire core, and pastiches as all the additional fibers that give it width and strength. I’m interested in Holmes because of his adventures, and not so much for debates and discussions regarding various esoteric and specific Canonical questions. To me, Doyle was simply the first Literary Agent, and I enjoy stories by the later Agents just as much, and sometimes more. After collecting thousands of pastiches over the years, and organizing both them and the Canonical cases into a massive Chronology that breaks the lives of our heroes down, day-by-day and year-by-year, by book, chapter, page, and even paragraph, it was inevitable that I would try to write some too.
In 2008, I was laid off from my civil engineering job, and sat down and wrote some stories. I don’t outline – rather, I write seat-of-my-pants style, trusting that Watson will dictate to me, and so far he hasn’t failed me. Originally I wrote nine stories, and then did nothing with them for several years, just putting them on my collection shelves in a binder.
In 2011, I had the urge to see my efforts read by a wider audience, and arranged to have the stories appear as a book. The Papers of Sherlock Holmes was published by the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box. However, people were having trouble purchasing it, so in 2013 I contacted Steve Emecz and switched to MX Publishing, with much more success. Steve is a great guy and very supportive. He advised that The Papers should be split into two volumes, for easier readability. Since then, it’s also appeared in a hardback version, I’ve adapted some of the stories as scripts for Imagination Theatre, and there have been foreign and audio versions as well. Steve next published my novel, Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity of Debt, the three-volume reworking of Arthur Morrison’s Martin Hewitt stories, Sherlock Holmes in Montague Street, and then my most recent short story collection, Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins.
Since early 2015, he and I have worked together on the idea that I had for an ongoing series of Holmes anthologies containing totally traditional pastiches, the massively successful The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. It features some of the best current Holmes pastiche authors, and all the author royalties are donated to the Stepping Stones School at Doyle’s former home, Undershaw. Parts I, II, and III of the Anthology came out in October 2015, Part IV – 2016 Annual will appear on May 22nd (Doyle’s birthday,) and I'm editing both Part V – Christmas Adventures (for later in 2016), and Part VI – 2017 Annual right now.
There’s still a bit of room in Part VI if anyone would like to get in touch with me to see about submitting a story, but it has to be approximately 8,000 words or less and completely traditional – no vampires, time-travel or modern settings, un-Canonical actions, or calling Holmes “Sherlock” and Watson “John”.
How do you find the Sherlock Holmes community, any really positive or negative experiences?
I spent most of my life in complete Sherlockian isolation. Where I live in eastern Tennessee in the U.S., there seems to be no interest in Holmes. As I mentioned, I've worn a deerstalker as my only hat since the mid-1980’s, and no one ever comes up and says, “Sherlock Holmes? I like him too!”
It was really only in 2011, when The Papers of Sherlock Holmes was first published, that I started communicating much more often with other Sherlockians by email. I've met some at the two From Gillette to Brett events that I've attended, but there are rarely any Sherlockian conferences that are anywhere close to where I live, and no scions close by either.
Since joining MX’s stable, and particularly since I began editing the Anthologies, I've come into contact (again by email) with a great many more wonderful people. I have some great friends now that I met through this whole writing/editing experience, and I've been fortunate enough to meet some of them in person at least once, either at From Gillette to Brett or last October at the London launch party for the first Anthology volumes.
As I spent so many of those years without any real Sherlockian contact, formulating my own reasoned ideas about Holmes and the Chronology of his life, I came to refer to myself as a little scion of one, “The Diogenes Club West – East Tennessee Annex”. It’s great now to be able to converse with other people who have similar interests, and I’m very grateful indeed.
Written by David Marcum