The canon is always at the heart of anything I write with regard to Sherlock Holmes. I just like to put my own spin on things.
For some, the goal is to recreate the voice of the original stories so accurately that when people read it, they feel like they have stumbled across a lost work by Doyle – or even Watson himself.
I greatly admire those who take this approach, even more so if they manage to pull it off. But for me, the creative challenge lay in not trying to replicate, but rather trying to innovate – take the canon as a starting point and re-tell it in a fresh new way which would appeal to not only existing fans but also people who knew nothing about Holmes except his choice of hats and loyal friend.
But I didn’t want to leave the canon behind. It was my starting point, the very thing I had loved since childhood (way before Sherlock Holmes became ‘cool’ like he is today). So, I took the most fascinating period in Holmes’ life and worked with it, re-telling the events from a completely new perspective. I had always felt that the Final Problem and Empty House lacked something – Moriarty appeared too suddenly and became both a nemesis and then defeated all too quickly. So I decided to fill in the blanks, add a deeper context.
It felt as if Doyle had left clues scattered throughout the stories about Holmes’ mental state – was he autistic? Was Moriarty too? Could that curiously rotating head be a sort of compulsion? Could that phenomenal mathematical ability at a young age be evidence of savantism? What if Holmes’ need to observe everything was actually an obsessive compulsion which he only managed to control by channelling it into his work?
Isn’t that what inspires most Holmes writers? Filling in the blanks and answering the questions? Conan Doyle left us plenty to work on and these things have fascinated writers ever since. Did Holmes ever fall in love? What were his parents like? Where did he go to school? What really happened during the Great Hiatus? What did he do in his retirement besides keeping bees?
I wanted to fill in some blanks and expand the clues but remain close to the canon, using actual extracts and even keeping certain plot lines exactly the same – just setting them in a new context. It was hard to do – like trying to renovate a house and keep all the original features rather than simply knocking it down and starting again.
For my last project, I returned to a similar principal but kept it simpler this time. I decided not to get bogged down with emotional analysis or answering the unanswered. I wanted to have a little fun with the canon this time, write something light-hearted, easy to read and a bit different. We have two mainstream modern Sherlock Holmes series – Sherlock and Elementary – but I felt that both of them had departed too far from the canon. I wanted to write a series of stories which were also set in present day, but each one would be based on a single original Conan Doyle story. The general plot and themes would remain the same, just upgraded to modern settings and equivalents.
That was great fun to work on and meant I had to really know the stories I was reinterpreting.
It reminded me all over again how timeless, clever and beautifully crafted the canon really is. It deserves to be at the heart of everything it inspires.