Villains, Victims and Violets – a new publication shining light on the women of Sherlock Holmes’ world

Kitty Winter has long been one of my favourite characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories. She bursts out of the pages of The Illustrious Client like a vengeful whirlwind of hate and complexity.

A strong, brave and proactive woman who is honest about her own failings, not seeking the reader’s sympathy but instead focusing entirely on one thing – revenge against the man who wronged her, revenge at all costs. She of the infamous acid-throwing incident, mutilating the evil Baron Adelbert Gruner because death would have simply been too good for him, divides opinion and remains a controversial figure.

When I was approached by Tamara R Bower and Resa Haile, fellow writers and members of The Studious Scarlets Society, about a project looking at the woman from the canon and just such ambiguities, I suggested Kitty straight away. Here we have a character who can be easily perceived as either a victim, cast aside by Gruner and condemned to a life of poverty, or a villain – a vengeful jilted mistress whose final horrific act can have no justification.

I was asked to take her on, to write an essay examining these complexities both in the context of the narrative and the wider society at the time.

It was a joy to write and I’m delighted that my essay has been included in the anthology –  Villains, Victims and Violets, which has successfully secured a publisher (Brown Walker Press) and will be launched in August this year. Alongside 28 other female writers we have each contributed an essay to this exciting publication analysing women from the canon – their motivations and complexities in both a Holmesian and historical context. I’m honoured to have been included as part of this fantastic collaboration of talented and interesting authors.

‘The female characters in Sherlock Holmes’ world are faced with unique situations,’ write Tamara and Resa when describing VVV. ‘The answers they often find involve Holmes, who is repeatedly deemed sexist by modern writers. Holmes’ fictional biographer, John Watson, reports in one adventure that Holmes has an aversion to women.

Is this consistently true? As for the women, coming into his world can be lifesaving or hazardous. So it’s long since time to apply a different lens to the women who engage and motivate Sherlock Holmes. The centre of each essay is agency—the opportunities for independence and self-determination, which were few and far between in Victorian England. What we find all too often are silences around the women. And yet, women in the stories—clients, villains, victims, and Violets—are pivotal in the world of Sherlock Holmes.

To understand his world is to gaze unsparingly into the lives of the women who lived in it: the villains and what drives them astray; the victims Holmes races to rescue; and the violets, who make up the strongest and most pivotal characters from Holmes’ unforgettable cases. The authors behind this book pull back the curtain on their small, private spaces, revealing their “proper”–and not so proper–place as women in a man’s world at the dusk of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th.’

A great project, an interesting addition to any Sherlock Holmes collection and for anyone with an interest in the experiences of women during such a pivotal time in our history. Very proud to be part of it.

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The Continuity Girl brings together Sherlock Holmes, the Loch Ness Monster and a touch of romance – no easy feat!

A gentle romantic novel with a hint of Sherlock Holmes, The Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid is a must-have addition to any Holmesian collection. And if you have no interest in Holmes and no knowledge of him beyond the fact that he wore a silly hat and hung around with a doctor, it’s no barrier to enjoying this heart-warming tale of love, friendship and Loch Ness Monster hunting.

Following two separate stories set 45 years apart, The Continuity Girl starts in 1969 when a young marine biologist’s fastidious research into Nessie is interrupted by the arrival of Hollywood director Billy Wilder and his film crew, who descend on the loch to film the now much-loved movie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The quiet and serious young man’s irritation is tempered by a growing romance with the film’s spirited and beautiful continuity supervisor, April Bloom.

Skip to 2014, film studies lecturer Gemma MacDonald is delighted when a lost print of The Private Life is found. It’s her all-time favourite film and she decides to stage a special screening at the Inverness Film Festival, including an interview with an original member of the crew – none other than April Bloom herself (now Korzeniowski.) As old friends reunite, and memories abound, the story winds to a satisfying, heart-warming conclusion.

Full of facts about the film, (a favourite of Mark Gatiss and now seen as an iconic interpretation of Holmes on screen) and littered with canon references, there is much to love for the Holmes fan. It’s a refreshing and highly original addition to an already very crowded marketplace.

Patrick is a superbly visual writer, painting wonderful pictures with words. Sentences effortlessly turn into images in your head – be it a gorgeous Scottish loch or the timeless beauty of a mature woman. Complex personal longings, the agony and impact of lost opportunities and love unfulfilled are adeptly deployed in gentle, subtle waves of clever similes and poignant descriptions.  And then there’s the humour, such a tricky thing to get right in a novel. Here, the humour stays true to the characters, it’s subtle and observational.

The Continuity Girl reads so easily, you have complete confidence in the writer throughout. You happily go wherever he takes you, you drift contently into the world he has created and enjoy the time you spend with this diverse and authentic bunch of characters. Patrick has worked very hard to achieve this affect, but writes so effortlessly that you’d think he scribbled out the manuscript while having a cup of tea and a nice biscuit one rainy afternoon – which is in fact the perfect way to read this novel; curled up with a cuppa as Patrick’s words lull you gently away into the wilds of Scotland.

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Mr Holmes – the gentle giant of screen adaptations

I finally got around to watching Mr Holmes, a film based on Mitch Cullin’s wonderful book, A Slight Trick of the Mind. It stars Ian McKellen as an elderly Sherlock Holmes fighting the onset of dementia and struggling to remember the details of his very last case, the one which pushed him into retirement. Now living on the Sussex Downs with just his beloved bees, a housekeeper and her young son for company, Holmes is far from the vital man-of-action we are used to seeing on screen.

I’ve come to the party a bit late with this one, which is a shame because I loved the film so much. It was gentle, refreshing and so much better than I thought it would be. When it came out I think I was suffering from a Holmes-overload, the juggernaut which is BBC Sherlock, the Guy Richie films, Elementary – I couldn’t see this new film offering anything more than just another leap on the bandwagon. But that was unfair and wrong. I should have given it a chance.

The film is a touchingly authentic portrayal of an aging Holmes, exactly as I would imagine him to be. The crime element was weak, in my opinion, but this didn’t really matter because the emphasis was elsewhere. It was a story about friendship, the debilitating and frustrating effects of old age, of loneliness, loss and regret. It was billed in one of the TV mags as a crime-drama, but this missed the point. It wasn’t a crime drama at all but instead a beautifully imagined human-interest drama. It was a refreshing antidote to the slick action-filled offerings we’ve had of late. It was quiet, sensitive and said so much more by saying so much less. There was a lightness of touch, a subtly, and an authenticity because of its clever use of canonical references. There was even a cameo from Nicholas Rowe who played Holmes in Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. A reminder perhaps that we’ve now had a version of every stage of his life from young through to old. The setting was beautiful and McKellen was superb – not just as Holmes but as a dementia suffer too. I might be a late-comer, but I’m completely won over. Mr Holmes was well worth the wait.

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Review: Unquiet Spirits by Bonnie Macbird

The second Sherlock Holmes pastiche from writer Bonnie Macbird tries to answer two questions which have haunted (get it?) Sherlockians for as long as the ‘Great Game’ has been played. They are simply: ‘where was he educated?’ and ‘why does he have such an aversion to romantic attachments?’
 
Countless pastiches have tried to answer these questions with theories as wild as they have been varied. It’s very hard to answer without delighting one half of the fandom while equally upsetting the other half at the same time. It’s brave but enticing territory and I applaud Macbird for daring to tread such well-trodden but risky ground – as dangerous as the Grimpen Mire some might say.
 
What I think makes this foray into young Sherlock’s early experiences of school, university and even love successful, is Macbird’s lightness of touch. They are neatly woven into a greater mystery which gives them purpose and significance. This makes such experiences entirely believable in the context of the story and they are written with such care that they don’t jar with what we already know about Holmes.
 
Unquiet Spirits is written in the traditional style, purporting to be a lost tale written by Doctor Watson’s own hand. It follows on from Macbird’s first novel, Art in the Blood, and sees the welcome return of lovable scoundrel French detective Vidocq. Again, Holmes and Watson travel to France at the beginning of the case, but for me, Unquiet Spirits really gets going when the action moves to the beautiful, atmospheric Scottish Highlands.
 
One of the writer’s great strengths is the detailed research that goes into each of her novels. Here we have the most wonderful, vivid descriptions of the Highlands, of the castle at the centre of mystery and of course, its whiskey distillery. The information about whiskey production, the distillery itself and the whiskey industry is fascinating and give the novel a rich, multi-layered authenticity. Everything is so beautifully described, you really are transported to another world. 
 
Told through the voice of a very loyal, warm, self-deprecating and brave Watson, we follow Holmes as he tries to unravel three interconnecting mysteries. Through the course of this, we get a glimpse into the Holmes of childhood, of his struggles at university and a young woman who captured his heart.
All the elements expected from a good pastiche are here; Holmes’ brilliant observations and deductions, the blundering police force, the unbelieving and difficult client, danger, false accusations and light being shone into darkness. But what stands out for me is the depiction of the friendship between Holmes and Watson, the fun they have sharing these adventures, the humour between them (in-jokes about Watson’s gambling and how transparent he is being favourites.)
 
Watson really lets Holmes shine, he functions exactly as a Watson should – a facilitator and biographer, medical man and friend. He remains an auxiliary figure unlike some recent incarnations where I think his role has been overstated and he/she (Elementary) has been put on an almost equal footing to Holmes. Here we have a Watson whose love for Holmes is so touching, their easy friendship though tested at one point, remains solid and strong, the linchpin on which all else hangs.
 
Unquiet Spirits is an excellent addition to any Holmesian collection and a very enjoyable read.
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Great Canadian podcast ‘I Grok Sherlock’ references Barefoot blog on issues of Doyle and race

I Grok Sherlock is a great podcast full of canon-based shenanigans, detailed analysis, humour, and a very special mention of yours truly . . .

Canadian Sherlockians Mike Ranieri and Geordie Telfer set up the I Grok Sherlock podcast ‘To have conversations with other Sherlockians who share our sense of humour and sensibility toward not only the TV shows, games, tie-in products, but also the canon stories themselves.’

Their canonical knowledge and insight is very impressive, but it’s their humour and the fluid way they meander from one topic to something totally different that makes the podcasts a joy to listen too. The latest one begins by focusing on The Five Orange Pips but dives off into a discussion about Conan Doyle and his attitudes toward race. This is where they refer to my blog on the same topic and say some jolly nice things about my writing.

I love the extra detail these guys add at every possible turn, from the history of the KKK to research into unbreakable bicycle tyres (the invention which gave the Openshaw family their wealth in The Five Orange Pips.) They are also very good at picking up on the key points of the canonical stories. In talking about The Pips they highlight Doyle’s beautiful description of the storm battering London, how it is one of those intense storms which ‘Shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation like untamed beasts in a cage.’ There is also much talk of the unpublished stories alluded to in The Pips and how they have inspired countless pastiche, and of course, they mention that crucial line in which Holmes admits to having no friends except Watson.

The section on race is very interesting. They grapple with trying to understand the opinions of the age and how they would have influenced Doyle’s writing, separating Doyle’s opinions from those being expressed by his characters and how his actions in real life contrasted with some of the notions conveyed in the canon. I do recommend having a listen. The knowledge, humour and detail squashed into each podcast is pretty impressive – and I’ll never look at a bicycle tyre in quite the same way again!

Here is the link to the latest podcast. The race discussion starts after 36 minutes but I really do recommend listening to the whole thing. Enjoy!

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Sherlock Holmes-related book ‘The Continuity Girl’ showcases a novel way of publishing

charlotte-and-patrickWhat if you could get involved in the next bestseller in the Sherlock Holmes universe right from the start?

There’s no use phoning up the likes of Mark Gatiss or Guy Ritchie and saying, ‘If I give you a tenner, can I be part of your next project?’ because they’d probably tell you to get lost – assuming you could even find their phone number in the first place. But give author Patrick Kincaid a tenner, and he’d be cock-a-hoop, and you’d get your name listed in the back of his book as a patron.

Patrick is looking for pledges on the Unbound publishing platform towards his new novel, The Continuity Girl – a book set around the filming of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Billy Wilder in 1970. You can pledge as little as £10 to become part of the project, and have that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping someone – even if you are secretly thinking, ‘If this becomes a film, I might get to hob nob on set for a few days…’

Husband says: ‘Yes but why are you writing about it? There are loads of Holmes books and projects out there, so why this one?’ In other words, ‘Why have you given ten of our hard-earned pounds to some bloke from Coventry who’s done a book?’

Well, I do see his point. There really are so many books and short stories out there involving Holmes that it’s becoming a landslide. But for me, this one stands out as offering something a little different. It’s a fusion of things Holmes fans will love, and an altogether different story with universal appeal. Could this be the sort of palate-cleansing treatment we need after the emotional roller coaster ride of Sherlock series four?

I bumped into Patrick in his home town of Coventry and we had a good old natter about all things Sherlock Holmes, publishing and The Continuity Girl. He’s a thoroughly decent bloke, a writer going it alone without the backing of an agent or large publisher – writing away furiously while still holding down a full-time job as an English teacher. It’s hard, I should know. He has a PhD in Shakespeare Studies from the Shakespeare Institute and used that research to write his first novel, a detailed historical book about the run-up to the Gunpowder Plot. This gave Patrick a thirst for writing which has remained a passion. His story, ‘The Doll and His Maker’ was published as part of the ‘Sherlock’s Home, The Empty House’ anthology and remains my favourite in the collection.

Patrick describes The Continuity Girl as, ‘A comic love story with two plots that eventually converge. In 2014, the discovery of a full cut of Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes leads film scholar Gemma MacDonald to make contact with the movie’s continuity supervisor, April Korzeniowski (she’s my invention – it was really Elaine Schreyek). In 1969, dedicated Loch Ness monster hunter Jim Outhwaite is put out by the arrival of a film crew in the vicinity, until he meets the film’s continuity girl, April Bloom… Nothing is quite how it seems, however, and – much as in a Billy Wilder film – it’s not always clear who you can trust.’

Patrick was inspired by a trip to the Highlands on his honeymoon, and a boat tour of Loch Ness complete with a real-life Nessie hunter who was there during filming of The Private Life. Patrick is a life-long Sherlock Holmes fan and feels that the film has become very important to the way we view Holmes, as well as inspiring Mark Gatiss and being key in the development of BBC Sherlock. ‘It’s very Millenial, it’s fan fic before there was fan fic. It doesn’t just give us more of Holmes, it tries to unpick what lies behind his character. And of course, it’s interested in his sex life!’

Always a devotee of the canon, I had to ask whether anything from it features in The Continuity Girl. ‘At the beginning, my main protagonist, Jim, has never read a Sherlock Holmes story,’ Patrick explains. ‘His boss recommends them to him when he gets upset about the arrival of the film crew, and over the course of the novel he becomes a fan. I use a couple of the stories as a way of commenting on what’s going on in his life: The Man with the Twisted Lip (my personal favourite) and A Scandal in Bohemia.’

Patrick’s had lots of interesting support so far. The satirical novelist Jonathan Coe (What a Carve Up!, The Rotter’s Club) has promised an interview about his own obsession with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Kim Newman (Anno Dracula, Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles) has also been supportive. There has been interest from others connected with the film and funding on Unbound has now reached 64%. But it needs to reach 100% for the book to be published.

‘Unbound are a fairly new publisher created by John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard (creators of TV show QI) and Dan Kieran,’ says Patrick. ‘It punches above its weight by crowdfunding all projects initially, whether they’re by a newbie like me or an established writer like Terry Jones or Raymond Briggs. Because authors post articles about their process in their writer’s ‘Shed’, it feels like you’re in constant dialogue with the people who want to read the finished book. That’s very exciting.’

Here, Unbound is giving a chance to get involved with an interesting Sherlock Holmes project by a new author. Certainly, in the Holmesian world, you only tend to hear about the next big thing once it’s already too big for you to interact with. But, now you have chance to give support and link up with a talented author before he, and his book, hit the big time. Head over to Patrick’s page on Unbound for more information – https://unbound.com/books/the-continuity-girl

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BBC Sherlock: The Final Problem – review

**final_problem_*Spoiler Alert***

The problem with The Final Problem was trying to follow what the hell was going on. I scratched my head so much during the ninety minutes my scalp felt like I’d had an attack of nits.

Crime/mystery solving was put on the back-burner for lots of emotional Holmes family stuff, Sherlock-John bromance, more dialogue than Shakespeare, lots of shots of Sherlock looking emotional, Mycroft trying not to look emotional, and John somewhere in between. We had a plot that made little sense, and a mish-mash of genres, (horror, action, melodrama, Kafkaesque nightmare.)

Turns out there’s another Holmes sibling and, yes, you’ve guessed it, she’s also an extraordinary genius. Mr and Mrs Holmes were kicking out some incredible genes. And she’s not just any old extraordinary genius, oh no that would be too simple – she’s an ‘Era defining genius’ with what appears to be supernatural powers, the ability to influence people’s behaviour within minutes of talking to them. She can predict the dates of major terrorist attacks after just five minutes on Twitter, even though she’s spent most of her life in a high-security prison.

Why does everything have to be so extreme? Like Mary being a super-spy/assassin? Isn’t this a rookie mistake, like when A level media students are let loose with a camera for the first time and make a dramatic piece filmed in the school bogs full of swearing, fighting and smoking, a sort-of Tarantino meets Grange Hill? The Final Problem just felt like one big adolescent, over-excited, student film – except for one key difference, the BBC had given them millions – not the school camcorder which had a crack in the lens and had to be returned to the drama cupboard by 3.30pm.

It’s a mistake many new writers make, you get too excited, too carried away with your own characters and loose critical distance – I know, I’ve done it myself. But, over the years you learn to take those all-important steps back, to be critical and rein yourself in before unleashing your work on the world. Why didn’t Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss do this here? Are they just surrounded by too many infatuated ‘yes’ people and a BBC too terrified of losing the show to another channel that all the usual checks have been removed, no one dares to say, ‘But it doesn’t make any sense, it’s too implausible, too extreme…’

I wanted to enjoy this episode, I had enjoyed the previous two. But, I can’t enjoy something I don’t understand, something so implausible, nonsensical, that it made me feel stupid and frustrated because I couldn’t follow it. And all that melodramatic, high-angst emotion, it was too much.

Could Sherlock really have forgotten he had a sister? Forgotten his best mate Trevor and how she threw him down a well? Was it really that easy for Eurus to escape her high security prison island and cause all this mayhem? Why did Mycroft take her back there as she had found it so easy to escape before? How did Mycroft arrange for her to be there in the first place when he would have only been a child himself at the time?

Who’s been looking after John’s baby while he’s away helping his mate (who he’s obviously now forgiven for causing the death of the child’s mother) defeat evil-genius sister? Why doesn’t he even mention the poor child, even when facing his own death? How did he survive Eurus shooting him at the end of the last episode? (Oh, I do know that one, it was a tranquiliser dart.) How did they survive the blast at Baker Street? And what about all that stuff with the little girl on the plane? It was a metaphor for Eurus’ loneliness – Really? Sherlock hugged her and now she’s fine? No longer an evil-genius just a plain old violin playing genius? ARGGGGGGG! Brain-freeze!

Perhaps we are just meant to look at it as a beautiful work of art and not understand it. That’s not really what I pay my TV licence to the BBC for though.

The canon got put on the backburner completely, names were thrown in but their use bared no resemblance to the original at all. Musgrave Hall has now become Sherlock’s ancestral home (a bit like Skyfall in Bond – more Bond references), The three Garridebs popped up but as three brothers suspected of murder and then killed by Eurus Holmes. Poor Victor Trevor became a childhood friend of Sherlock’s who Eurus pushed down a well. And the episode itself, though bearing the name The Final Problem, bore absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the Final Problem in the original canon. Don’t just throw the names in, that’s not enough.

As always, the acting was great – Sian Brooke did her very best to make Eurus as believable as she could. Benedict Cumberbatch had to do so much non-stop emotion that the poor lamb must have been exhausted by the end and in need of therapy. Art Malik did a great job of playing everything straight while all around him was chaos. It was beautifully shot, great cinematography, very dramatic with explosions, murders, scary clowns, a concrete prison on an island in a stormy grey sea. It wasn’t devoid of positives and I do want to try and write a balanced review but honestly, I’m struggling.

Perhaps this will be the last-ever series. The ‘everything-is-back-to-normal-now’ ending would suggest otherwise but perhaps they are just leaving their options open. If this is the end, I do think that despite all the criticism, we must acknowledge what a fantastic achievement the show has been.

The first two series were, in my opinion, some of the best television I have ever seen. The show has won massive critical acclaim, many awards, achieved consistently high viewing figures, been sold to 240 different territories, generated thousands of press articles, blogs, online reviews, the excellent fan site Sherlockology, inspired thousands of works of fanfiction, fan art, a devoted following. It’s boosted sales of the original cannon and re-invigorated interest in all things Sherlock Holmes.

It’s been a phenomenon, divided opinion but certainly got everyone talking. Moffat and Gatiss are clearly highly creative individuals with a genuine love of the canon, they have assembled a fantastic cast who have gone on to become huge stars. I salute their vision, their creativity and thank them for Sherlock, particularly those first two series – A Scandal in Belgravia being as close to perfection as I think any episode of a TV show has ever been. If Sherlock ever comes back, please let it come back to that.

And finally, the big question – did Husband stay awake? No, lasted about ten minutes. So, that’s two out of three for series four on the Tim sleep-o-metre. So close guys, so very close…  

Agree with my thoughts? I thought not. Post your review and comments below.

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