The perils of writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche – when does radical become too radical?

When I started writing ‘Barefoot’, I was faced with the choice which presumably confronts all Holmes pastiche writers at the beginning of their literary adventure.

Do you try to re-create the voice and format of the original stories or do you tell your new story in a way which is inspired by, rather than an imitation of, what was originally written?

There are advantages on both sides – an extremely well-written imitation can evoke all that Holmesian readers love about the canon gaining the writer much praise and assured sales.  The disadvantages are that, well, can anyone really re-create that magic, let alone improve upon it?  I knew I couldn’t ‘out do’ Doyle and decided not to even try.

Also, if you write something too traditional there is the risk of losing potential mainstream readers who are unfamiliar with Holmes, but equally you risk alienating existing fans if you are too radical in your style and approach.

But should Holmes books be written just for Holmes fans or do we have a duty to keep the genre alive by reaching out to a new audience in the way that the brilliant BBC’s Sherlock by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, staring Benedict Cumberbatch, has done?

Of course, there is no right answer to this conundrum – only what is right for each individual writer and the work they wish to create.

Personally, I wanted to achieve the ‘holy grail’ of what can arguably be described as fan-fiction – to write a cross-over novel which can appeal to not only Holmesian admirers but also a wider audience including those completely new to the characters and their world.  I wanted to write something which pushed the genre but not too far.  Not Holmes from the future, not Watson as a woman, not set in space etc; but rather something which tried to answer difficult questions in a sensitive way.  I wanted to demonstrate strong knowledge of the canon but using a voice that is fresh and different.

Barefoot contains many extracts from the original stories and faithfully re-creates scenes and plot lines from personally much loved stories such as The Blue Carbuncle, The final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House and the novel fleshes out Moriarty, Watson and Mycroft in a way which I hope will be regarded as imaginative and sensitive.

Minor characters also play their part from Steve Dixie the boxer to Langdale Pike and Colonel Moran.  The back-drop of foggy, cobbled Victorian London is there too; a world of hansom cabs and gaslights, but it is a grittier London without too much ‘rosy glow of golden age’.  It is a time of poverty, workhouses, prostitution, immigration and class-prejudice.  And rather than seeing all through the eyes of Watson, Barefoot is the memoir of a sassy, intelligent, streetwise young woman who experienced both the very worst and best of what the age had to offer.

Have I pushed it too far?  Will Barefoot be enjoyed by both Holmesian and general readers alike?  Gosh, I really hope so as it has taken seven years of my life, endless research and a passion for Holmes and his world which hopefully comes across.

I often wonder what Doyle would think and quietly hope that he would be quite pleased that I’ve been brave and done my own thing but with a massive nod to his genius.

To purchase the book click here.

To purchase a Kindle version click here.

Charlotte Anne Walters

About barefootonbakerstreet

Author from Shropshire
This entry was posted in Barefoot on Baker Street, Dr Watson, Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The perils of writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche – when does radical become too radical?

  1. Joe Revill says:

    I agree. There does seem little point in pretending to be Dr. Watson and trying to imitate exactly the prose-style of the original stories: it would be like trying to compose new operas in the style of Mozart.
    One of the most interesting things about Doyle’s recurring characters is how little he actually tells us about them. Holmes in particular, like the Moon, has a side that is visible to Watson, and (by implication) another side that we never see. For example, what happened in his early life? What’s the deal with his sexuality? Given the conflicting evidence of his enthusiasm for Winwood Reade and his sermon on the rose, what exactly were his religious opinions?
    In my novel, “A Case of Witchcraft” ( http://www.mxpublishing.co.uk/engine/shop/product/9781780920092/A+Case+of+Witchcraft ), which is published at the same time as yours, I attempt to answer these and other questions in a rational and plausible way.
    It seems that our two projects have something in common. I look forward to reading your book and hope that you will read mine.

    • I am looking forward to reading your novel – thank goodness Doyle did leave so many unanswered questions, perhaps the characters would not have achieved such heights of popularity if there hadn’t been so much to debate and ‘fill in’.

      • The Greek 'e' says:

        Although I’ve not the honour of writing a full length Holmes pastiche for publication as you both have (I commend you both for it extremely and look forward to adding your books to my list of Holmes pastiche to-be-read!), I recently tried writing a short story pastiche in an imitation of the canon using the singular affair of the aluminium crutch. This was just a minor hobby on top of schoolwork but I noticed your problem from the start; no matter how well I knew the canon, how intuitive a sense I possessed for the voice of Watson and the characters of Holmes, Watson, Lestrade et al, try as I might I was always unhappy with my efforts to replicate the style of the canon! The very best of my scenes were not half as good as the very dullest and worst of Conan Doyle’s! I think this is why, although I’d enjoy a more canonical pastiche, branching out into different styles and concepts can be a good thing, if only so that we’re not flooded with hundreds of mediocre tales in canonical style!

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