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.
Charlotte Anne Walters