Former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ‘Undershaw’ is finally sold

YesUndershaw’s future has finally been resolved after years of dereliction and threat of unsympathetic development. I am delighted to hear that the new owners are actually an independent school called Stepping Stones which specialises in educating children with special needs, including autism.

The character of Sherlock Holmes is regarded by many as having autistic tendencies and reading of his adventures has been an inspiration to those who share some of these traits. So this seems like a very favourable outcome which will bring new life to the building Doyle lovingly created.

Stepping Stones want to see how the legacy and history of Undershaw can serve the children and I think this is a wonderful way to honour the memory of Doyle and his most famous creation. Their curriculum has a strong emphasis on creativity so I’m sure the new surroundings will provide much inspiration – just as they did for Doyle.

All this would not be happening if it hadn’t been for the fantastic work done by the Undershaw Preservation Trust. They fought to rescue Undershaw from its previous owner who wanted to destroy most of the building and turn it into flats and separate houses. The Save Undershaw campaign captured the hearts and imagination of Sherlock Holmes fans all over the world who actively helped fight to save this wonderful historic building.

Stepping Stones have released this lovely video all about themselves and their plans for Undershaw – I personally feel that it demonstrates their respect for the building’s history and opens a very exciting new chapter in its life.

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Charlie Milverton and Other Stories – it’s out now

708d13bf-efb7-45f9-a812-99aad73363eeMarch 17 (St Patrick’s Day)  is the official launch day for my new paperback from MX Publishing. It is my first major launch since my debut novel was published in 2011 – which now feels like a very long time ago.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit nervous about putting my heart and soul out there again – ready to face the usual round of great reviews, not so great reviews and downright terrible ones. All this on top of ‘the day job’.

Why do we do it? It can only be for love – love of writing, love of the subject matter and love of sharing our work. That and the fact that most writers are probably ever so slightly mad..

Here’s where to go for the paperback in the UK

Or if you want the Kindle version

And if you’re outside the UK why not try this for your Kindle?

Or if paperback’s your thing you can have it here – shipped anywhere in the world for FREE!

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Review: Sherlock, The First CSI

This programme actually aired a few weeks ago but I saw it for the first time last night. It was an interesting reminder of just how ahead of his time Doyle was with regard to forensic techniques.

We take it for granted now that a fictional detective will use scientific methods to dissect a crime scene – or at least have them at his/her disposal. Finger printing, ballistics, testing of blood samples, protecting a crime scene, sending things off to the lab – it’s all a vital part of modern-day policing and gives crime writers a rich crop of ideas to work with. But when Doyle was writing, these methods weren’t even in existence. It is difficult for us to appreciate now how revolutionary Holmes’ methods were and how imaginative Doyle was to have invented them. It is even more difficult to fully comprehend how the techniques used for the first time by a fictional character have actually influenced the development of real-life criminal investigation and forensics.

The Sherlock Holmes stories inspired many people who went on to become pioneers and world renowned experts in the field of CSI. Frenchman Edmund Locard for example, who was a avid reader of Holmes and went on to built the world’s first forensics laboratory in 1910 – 23 years after Doyle sat Holmes in front of his test tubes looking for traces of blood etc. The documentary also mentions Holmes devotee Dr Henry Lee who used blood evidence to free a wrongly accused woman in Florida, and Hans Gross who wrote one of the most important books about forensics using Holmes’ methods.

It was as if Doyle could see into the future, creating a character who was the first to use techniques we all take for granted today like examining a bullet trajectory as evidence and using science to detect poisons. When Holmes argued with police about the importance of protecting the scene and lay on the floor with his magnifying glass looking for trace evidence, he was about 120 years ahead of his time. And rather than the world’s best crystal ball, all Doyle used to create these ideas was inspiration from his professor at Edinburgh University – surgeon Joseph Bell. Bell was able to ‘read’ a dead body, working out the person’s profession, state of mind etc from just the evidence in front of him. Doyle took this one step further and saw how such skills could be beneficial in the solving of crimes. Now all he had to do was come up with some interesting crimes and an interesting detective to solve them.

What I found frustrating about the programme was that it seemed to have more references to BBC Sherlock than the original works of Doyle. Almost as if it needed a bit of Benedict to ‘sex things up’. Even the title ‘Sherlock’ rather than ‘Holmes’ or ‘Sherlock Holmes’ seemed to be a nod to the BBC show.

The lines became blurred between what was Doyle and what was Moffat. The music was BBC Sherlock as were some of the clips which were actually used as examples of Holmes’ method. In my opinion, this was wrong and unnecessary. The period reconstructions they created using Doyle’s original text were great and the programme didn’t need ‘jazzing up’ with the modern versions.

Couldn’t they have let Doyle have his moment? – take centre stage without Moffat and Gatiss joining in? I do worry that the genius of Doyle is getting mixed up and overshadowed by the creativity of the Hartswood team. Is the tidal-wave of BBC Sherlock sweeping aside one of our greatest literary figures and the astounding works he created? Or is it carrying him along into a new era? I can’t decide but have an uneasy feeling it’s the former.

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Review: BBC Sherlock – His Last Vow

larsMany spoilers, please be aware

This is the third attempt at writing a blog about last night’s final episode of BBC Sherlock Series Three – His Last Vow. I just can’t decide what I really felt about it, hence the epic re-write as negatives and positives jostle for supremacy.

Let’s start with the positives. This was by far my favourite episode of the series and marked a triumphant return to the style and pace of the first two series which I loved so much. Here we have the team doing what I think they do best – making slick, fast-paced edge-of-your-seat TV drama which looks great, is superbly acted and blends together the personal/character development aspects with gripping action.

Lars Mikkelsen was simply magnificent as Magnussen/Milverton and acted everyone else off the screen – (yes that even includes you Mr Cumberbatch). He was fantastically creepy (that’s a compliment) but in a really controlled, understated way which was even more menacing as a result. It was completely convincing that Sherlock was repelled by him, just as he was in the canon. It was a really interesting re-boot of the original Conan Doyle story of an evil blackmailer and his victims. Here we really did have a thoroughly absorbing Milverton elevated to uber baddie status – The Napolean of Blackmail. Bravo!

Use of the canon in this episode was extremely well thought out and lovingly done. We didn’t just get name dropping and vague snippets of this-and-that. We had Wiggins, we had Watson going to a drug den to rescue a friend and finding Holmes there too (as in Man With Twisted Lip) but they made this fit their own story very well. We had Magnussen’s lair named Appledore and Holmes dating his PA to gain access, just as in the original when he courts Milverton’s maid to get inside Appledore Towers. But in this modern version, she’s far from just a victim and gets revenge by selling the story to the press. She is the delightful Janine from John and Mary’s wedding and gets some cracking lines which she delivers faultlessly. I think she’s a great character, full of sparkle and wit. I hope we see more of her in the future. We also get an empty house, an East Wind coming and too many other canon refs to mention.

But I’m sorry to say that I’ve still got negatives. I don’t want to have them but they just won’t go away. Sometimes I think it just went too far.

I can’t warm to Mary at all. I know other people have loved her and it’s all just a matter of opinion but I can’t. And I don’t think that’s because of any fault on Amanda Abbington’s part, it’s more an issue with the writing and directing of her character. Something I’ve learned from all the reviews, comments and reactions to Barefoot is that less is more. You do have to be careful not to make a character too extreme. And I think that’s exactly what they have done with Mary. She’s clever, a fantastic shot, an ex CIA agent turned rogue assassin who’s killed loads of people but still manages to be a loving wife and generally all round nice person. I knew she would have a hidden past and I knew that Magnussen would find it and blackmail her but I didn’t think it would be something so extreme.

There was a jolt in the narrative too, a strange time-shift when suddenly it’s Christmas Day and they are all round at Sherlock’s parents playing happy families. John and Mary haven’t spoken about the whole ‘Oh by the way I used to be an assassin and have killed loads of people’ thing, and then he decides its fine. That’s nice of him – personally if I found out Husband was ex CIA etc I’d march him straight home and argue it out there and then. I’d want to know everything like, ‘But you walk out the room when something nasty happens on Eastenders, how the hell did you manage to shoot people?’

I prefer Janine to Mary. She’s warmer, livelier and has that nice balance of being ordinary but extraordinary – like Molly Hooper.

I think the mind-palace thing is now completely over-used. Even Magnussen got in on the act.

Husband thinks there’s far too much Mycroft in the show and I see his point. In the canon, he doesn’t appear very often and he’s fat and lazy. Here we have him popping up all over the place in helicopters, on treadmills etc like some sort of James Bond. And yes, Husband did fall asleep again after about half-an-hour. Never a good sign, as demonstrated by his sudden sleepiness during Whitechapel and Ripper Street which have both now been axed.

And so it’s all over until Messrs Cumberbatch and Freeman can synchronize their diaries again. For me the series has been a bit of a curate’s egg but as Husband observed this morning: ‘Well at least it’s stopped you moaning about Elementary’. Thank God I married a Sherlockian, (and not an ex CIA agent turned assassin), who else would put up with all this?

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My own take on a modern Holmes and Watson

51Px38YH4+L._My new book, Charlie Milverton and Other Stories is available now to pre order on Amazon. It is a collection of five present-day Sherlock Holmes short stories which poke gentle fun at the idiosyncrasies of modern life – not to mention the eccentric detective and his world-weary friend who are at the heart of the action.

Charlie Milverton, The Premier Bachelor, The Leaping Man, A Question of Identity and Abbey Strange are each based directly on an adventure taken from the original work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but updated with a modern-day twist. Instead of the foggy cobbled streets and hansom cabs of Victorian London, we get over-paid footballers, pop-stars, a glamour model, the tabloid press and cosmetic surgery. But friendship and Holmes’ unique science of deduction remain central to each story.

Stuck in a dysfunctional marriage and the job from hell, aspiring writer Doctor John H Watson battles against the angst of a mid-life crisis whilst being drawn further into the individual world of his friend – the irascible, difficult but brilliant consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.

The pair embark on a series of adventures which see them do battle with a media mogul, a footballer’s agent, the perils of vanity, greed and social media. From disappearing brides to the murder of an aged rock-star, Holmes and Watson set out to shed light in the darkness – whilst Watson battles to keep his literary agent happy and jump-start his flagging writing career.

I wanted to do more than simply add in canon references. I’ve tried to actually take each story and lovingly work with it to give it a modern-day reboot. It’s been great fun to write and the more time you spend working with Conan Doyle’s original stories, the greater you come to appreciate their genius.

American readers can pre-order the book here

Or if you’re in the UK, it’s here

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Record-breaking BBC Sherlock

blackmailer7BBC Sherlock has set a new record for the biggest “catch-up” viewing audience, according to the BBC.

New figures show that The Empty Hearse piled on an extra 3.5 million viewers who watched the show within seven days of broadcast after recording it or using time-shift viewing.

MagnussenThe new totals are revealed in “consolidated” figures which combine the audience on the night it was broadcast with the numbers who watched in the following week. They reveal that the edition of Sherlock has succeeded the Christmas 2011 edition of ITV’s Downton Abbey – with 3.2 million – as the biggest time-shift success.

Sherlock’s figures – a combined 12.7 million – do not even include those who have watched the programme on the BBC’s own iPlayer service.

Charlotte Moore, the controller of BBC1, said: “I’m very proud to have Sherlock on BBC1 and see it topping the charts as the biggest consolidated audience ever. It demonstrates that ambition and quality matter to our audience.”

Producer Sue Vertue, the wife of writer Steven Moffat, said: “When we began Sherlock, and it was an instant hit, we thought it couldn’t get better. But each series has outdone the last and this is our biggest rating yet. Trying to believe this is really happening is a job in itself.”

Even though I have personally had some issues with the direction of this new series, I am still a fan and delighted that a show I have so much affection for has smashed the records like this.

I’ve seen the trailer for His Last Vow and it looks great. I hope that the final episode will bring together both the personal elements and a fantastic edge-of-your-seat adventure. This will be the perfect combination for me. I think this has been my problem really – I have enjoyed watching the relationship between John and Sherlock be explored in such depth but think it should of come out as part of an adventure, not be the adventure itself. For example, the moment in the canon when we really see Holmes’ true feelings for Watson is when he is shot in the Three Garridebs. And somehow it almost seems more poignant, sort-of unexpected. When someone is doing a best-man speech you expect them to say warm-hearted things – even Sherlock.

Charles Augustus Milverton is my favourite villain from Conan Doyle’s stories so I am especially excited about this episode in which Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John (Martin Freeman) do battle with new villain Charles Augustus Magnussen -played by Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen.

Robert Hardy’s Milverton in the Granada episode (The Master Blackmailer) was pretty spot-on for me so it’s a hard act to follow. But I’m confident the team will deliver something really fantastic.

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Review: BBC Sherlock continues but so do my doubts

sherlock-season-3-eps-2-promo-trailer-and-2-featurettesPlease don’t read any of this blog if you are trying to avoid spoilers

I really wanted to like this one – I sat there full of hope, optimism and open-mindedness but still the nagging issues kept flooding back in.

The second episode of Sherlock series three, The Sign of Three, was aired in the UK last night and watched by an average of 8.84 million viewers.

I loved the opening sequences, they were fast-paced with great banter between Lestrade and Donovan who really deserve a spin-off series all of their own. The comedy just kept on coming when the hapless DI got a text from Sherlock right before a crucial arrest asking for urgent help. He faithfully abandoned everything and rushed to his aid complete with squad cars and a helicopter fearing that Sherlock was in danger. In fact, all he needed was help writing the best man’s speech for John’s wedding. Brilliant. Loved it. The script and direction all came perfectly together to elicit great comedy performances out of the actors and give a bouncy energetic start to the show.

But then the pace changed dramatically and turned the episode into something completely different – into ‘the Sherlock team does rom-com’. We didn’t see another crime or any hint of this being a crime drama for quite some time.

As a fan of Sherlock, I have emotional investment in the characters and therefore care about their relationships with each other, their inner workings etc. I enjoyed watching 90 minutes of warm-hearted comedy drama that was like a traditional soap opera wedding – lots of emotion, comedy, a surprise pregnancy, a murder or life-threatening situation. If they’d set the reception in the Queen Vic we would have had classic Eastenders. And I didn’t mind this; I loved watching Sherlock getting drunk at the stag, his reaction to being asked to be John’s best man, his emotional speech, his dancing, the will-they-won’t-they interplay between him and Molly. But just read that sentence back and ask yourself, does it sound like I’m describing a Sherlock Holmes story?

As I say, I enjoyed the episode but my worry is that casual viewers who tuned in hoping to see a gripping crime drama would be pretty disappointed. Husband, for example, fidgeted, questioned why Mary had been given such a big part, said he was bored and then fell asleep. And usually he loves Sherlock, he thought Scandal in Belgravia was one of the best piece of television he had ever seen – and not just because of Lara Pulver being naked.

There was a crime in this episode, but we didn’t encounter it for at least 30 minutes. The narrative thread jumped around between flashbacks, the crime, a mind-palace type sequence, the wedding, heart-to-hearts. I’m looking at my notes now and at one point I wrote – ‘the plot is as inconsistent as Lestrade’s hair.’

The crime was fairly clever as were Sherlock’s deductions but it felt like an afterthought, something the writers felt obliged to add in but would rather have spent the whole episode focusing on the wedding and the character interaction. And as a fan, I could watch them interacting all day long but if Sherlock is to have longevity each episode needs to be attracting new fans not just grandstanding to the existing ones. At times, it just feel too  self-indulgent and needed a more detailed crime plot running throughout to hold it together. And I’m still pretty annoyed that I don’t fully know how Sherlock faked his death but I’m happy to move on. 

The episode was full of many clever canonical references from Major Sholto and Jonathan Small to the extraordinary thing in the matchbox. But then Husband felt that the episode wasn’t canonical at all because it had departed so very far from the works of Conan Doyle. This episode had no resemblance what-so-ever to the Sign of Four, except the names.

Sherlock is certainly taking Sherlock Holmes into very new and unchartered territory. Will this risk ultimately pay off? Continually high viewing figures suggest it might but then Husband tends to be a good barometer of these things. If a show he once enjoyed starts to put him to sleep (Ripper Street and Whitechapel for example, both of which have been axed) it usually spells doom. Hopefully super-villain Charles Augustus Magnussen will keep him wide awake next Sunday and restore the crime element which I think has been missing so far.

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