Allow me to put it on record, right here and now, that I began writing my novel seven years ago, writes Charlotte Anne Walters. This was pre-Guy Ritchie, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Moffat and the new wave of Sherlock Holmes appreciation. But, of course, who’s going to believe me now? It looks to all the world as if I saw a speeding bandwagon hurtling towards me and simply jumped aboard.
Permit me to explain my circumstances a little more clearly. I have now, finally, completed my novel – Barefoot on Baker Street (published by MX Publishing), which involves Sherlock Holmes. He is a character I have enjoyed following since childhood. To bring him alive in my own words has been both challenging and exciting in equal measure.
I first began reading about the exploits of the world’s only consulting detective when I was eleven. I acquired a second-hand copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles from the book stall at a local market for about fifty pence. This eventually led to further sums of pocket money being spent on Holmes stories whenever possible until I had all the adventures in my possession.
As with most Holmesian admirers, sixty stories was never going to be enough and they posed as many questions as answers about such a complex and contradictory character and his faithful companion. For example, did Homes ever fall in love? What secrets were stashed away in the dispatch box at Cox and Co bank? What’s the story behind Watson’s alcoholic brother and indeed his general family history? Who is Watson’s second wife? What is Moriarty’s background? Surely to say that he turned to crime because of ‘hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind’ and having a ‘criminal strain’ running in his blood is rather naive? Holmes must have known that criminality was not genetic?
Add into this mix of curiosity my overactive imagination and a love of writing and it was inevitable that I would have a go at creating something to fill in the blanks at some point in my life.
I was sixteen when I first wrote something about Holmes. It was a full-length screenplay and the year was 1994. It was an interesting but very simplistic piece about Holmes falling in love with an East End prostitute, being pursued by a revengeful and ghostly Charles Augustus Milverton. I sent my work to Granada Productions and cringe with embarrassment now at the very thought.
A lovely producer wrote back to me (a six page letter no less) explaining that there were no future plans to explore Holmes any further. She basically said that Holmes had been ‘done to death’.
Years later, I returned to the screenplay and re-hashed it as part of my dissertation but my film studies lecturer raised concerns about using such an ‘unfashionable’ character. My fellow students thought I was bonkers, and didn’t get the whole ‘Holmes thing’ at all.
Seven years ago when I started my novel, society still wasn’t the least bit interested in Sherlock Holmes. I felt like a pioneer, a maverick, a visionary. When I put pen to paper (or fingers to laptop more accurately) Holmes was about as cool as a sultry summer’s day and as fashionable as a Snood and legwarmers.
Holmes has disappeared from TV and film, slipped out of the mainstream. I wanted to bring him back, re-invent him for the modern generation. But, as I started to write, something unexpected happened. The piece slowly evolved into something quite different and rather than becoming a Holmes story, it became someone else’s epic tale. Someone who in the course of their extraordinary life, weaves in and out of the original Holmes adventures, meeting and being involved with the characters from Holmes’s world.
Through her eyes the reader sees and discovers some of the generally unexplored background to Watson and Moriarty, but also learns much about the complexities of Holmes himself.
What if, in the course of a life which starts in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields Union Workhouse in the early 1870s and ends ninety years later, one extraordinary woman’s journey collides and intertwines with Holmes and his world? Allowing the reader to see events such as The Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House from a whole new perspective, adding flesh to the bones of certain original characters and by doing so, attempt to answer the aforementioned questions in a sensitive and imaginative way.
This is what my book became, one woman’s journey through poverty, crime, riches, more poverty and eventually happiness during an extraordinary period in British history. Her often brutally honest journal tells the story of her life lived on the outside of normal and the intriguing people she meets along the way.
I set out to re-ignite interest in Sherlock Holmes, to start debate, create a great modern interpretation because no one else seemed to be doing so. That was seven years ago and what a lot has changed since!
Now there is this juggernaut of a bandwagon speeding along and I’m just running behind it in a cloud of dust shouting, “Stop! Wait! I thought of it first, honest.”
What chance do I have against a blockbuster film crammed with celebrities and a brilliant three-part BBC series? The book will emerge into a world of Sherlock Holmes Nintendo games and fashion experts talking on BBC Breakfast about the new ‘Sherlock Chic’.
No longer a pioneer or maverick, just an ordinary person running along behind that wagon shouting, “No, really, it was seven years ago, before it became fashionable. But, please, let me come aboard?”
As if trying to work around inconsistencies in the original stories isn’t difficult enough, now I have to contend with Guy Ritchie!
Was Watson John or James? Was Moriarty James as his brother had the same name? Where was that Jezail bullet really lodged? If Watson doesn’t meet his future wife Mary until The Sign of Four in July 1888, how come he’s married during The Five Orange Pips in 1887 and A Scandal in Bohemia in March 1888?
Added to this has been the problems of trying to find the time to write with a demanding full-time job in the beauty business (about as far from Victorian England as one can get), being a wife, step-mum, and dealing with a mother suffering from dementia. Guy Ritchie stealing my thunder was the last thing I needed, let alone the brilliance of Gatiss and Moffat coming along.
Have I wasted the best part of seven years or should I just ride the current wave of Sherlock cool? The moment of truth approaches. It’s simply too late to turn back now. The game is already afoot.