Launch: M.K. Wiseman’s Sherlock Holmes & the Singular Affair

INTERVIEW BY TRACEY WARR

M.K. Wiseman’s second Sherlock Holmes book has just been published and she takes us ‘behind the scenes’ of writing it in this interview.

How would you describe this book in a couple of sentences?

Sherlock Holmes & the Singular Affair is one of the famous unchronicled cases from Sherlock Holmes’s canon. I am, once again, examining the nature of Holmes’s partnership with Watson (albeit from the standpoint of ‘negative space’ in this story.) The events of this case set Holmes to seek change—new lodgings and a partner—and, thus, to find Watson several months later, on January 1st, 1881.

How did you research to conjure up Holmes’s London?

*Cracks knuckles and wriggles fingers* How long do you have for this one? I have a plethora of reference books that I leave piled all over the floor of my office. (Many books just never make it back to my shelves. I use them so often.) And my computer tends to have between five and twenty-five windows open to various digital resources. My personal favorite from my print resources is The Baker Street File: A Guide to the Appearance and Habits of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson Specially Prepared for the Granada Television Series the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. They did a spectacular job, and I use the book for quick reference, a “brain check” so that I can answer with rapidity such questions as: What color is Holmes’s dressing gown?

Digitally, I lean on writings contemporaneous to the location and times of the original stories. Charles Booth’s Maps Descriptive of London Poverty and Bradshaw’s (a railway and steam guide) are favored resources and too many travel, etiquette, and quotation books to name. The National Library of Scotland has amazingly detailed maps of London, and surroundings, from decades gone by. All of which they have nicely overlaid upon Bing maps.

I was intrigued by the scene of Holmes undertaking research in the British Museum Reading Room. Is your qualification in Library Science reflected in your research process?

I like to think that my librarianship background aids me in my research process, yes. Twofold benefit: It has given me a healthy dose of skepticism for any resource not primary and/or contemporaneous, while also giving me a confidence that someone, somewhere is bound to have the answer to this or that question and said answer is likely found in a library.

The scene in chapter six is not a homage to my educational background. More than anything else, it is a nod to the ‘Musgrave Ritual’, the canon story from which the reference to the singular affair of the aluminium crutch hails, where it is noted that Holmes “had rooms in Montague Street, just round the corner from the British Museum.” I surmised there was a practical arrangement in this choice of lodging and, thus, sent Holmes down the street to make use of that vast resource. (Fans of the canon will note the name “Vamberry” creeping into this scene as well.)

You write in first person from the point of view of Holmes. What advantages or disadvantages does that make in creating the character of your protagonist?

For me, Watson was out as narrator. Because: plot. I hesitate to give anything away story-wise. Suffice it to say, someone-who-wasn’t-Watson had to narrate my first Sherlock book, and the fun of having Holmes drive the pen led me to this second novel. I simply leaped into it and never looked back. We’ve heard plenty about the partnership from Watson. It is only fair that Holmes has his turn!

The novel has a very fast-paced and complex plot. Do you plan your novels or are you a pantser?

I am a picky picky plotter. I’m not sure if it’s an ease of mind thing or what, but I essentially require a severely detailed outline ready at hand, be it a massive multi-page spreadsheet file or a wall-sized diagramming of pictures, facts, dates all connected with colored string. (I employ both. An entire wall of my office is a floor-to-ceiling cork board.) I cannot fathom writing a mystery without having the plot worked out ahead of time. To the folks who can “pants” that, I tip my hat! Such a feat is far beyond my powers, however.

There is a nicely choreographed and quite brutal fight scene. What sources do you use to help you write fight scenes?

I’ve been going to the Teslacon immersive steampunk convention in Madison for most of the years it has run. I am almost guaranteed to attend are any panels involving combat. They tend to be some of the most fun, and there’s nothing like a physical lesson to make a thing stick in my mind. Before I went for my library science masters, I received a BSc in “InterArts Technology”—a degree heavily focusing on video, animation, and digital sound design that just so happened to sit within the dance department at UW-Madison. I took a lot of dance, movement, and improv classes to satisfy my degree’s requirements. Does this mean that I was out in my backyard last spring, waving a crutch-handled walking stick while I worked out certain maneuvers? Yes, yes it does. (Don’t worry. My neighbors were already aware that I am a writer.)

Are there other homages to Conan Doyle that you enjoy? Your novel has a Doylesque damsel in distress. Are you tempted to update Holmes or is the creation of historical authenticity most important for you?

I am a fan of Conan Doyle Sherlockian canon first and Holmes second, meaning that I rarely have poked around in the more creative treatments and reimaginings that have been given to the great consulting detective. But then that is forgetting my love of Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective and Kyosuke Mikuriya and Hayao Miyazaki’s Sherlock Hound. With this book I was trying to run as far into farce as I dared while still staying true to canonical Holmes, thus giving rise to Miss Eudora Frances Clarke. There are limits to this approach, to be certain, but I think there’s a fair bit of wiggle room even within such parameters. Clarke, for example, has more than a dose of silliness to her, but I think I’ve tempered it with a spark of initiative and agency of her own making.

The Holmes’s pastiche is potentially dangerous territory, with so many experts and fans out there, rather like Austenites. Do you tangle with that?

I can happily state that the Sherlockians I know are really lovely folks. Like me, many are glad to have any and all Holmeses and, while I do write my books with care not to pointedly cross the canon, I rest a little easier for my manuscripts having gone through the Conan Doyle Estate’s authentication process. (This isn’t endorsement from them, of course, but they do have a Sherlockian expert read through the draft before we can even start the discussion of having their logo on the book jacket—a time in the book’s production where you’ll find me gingerly holding my breath and crossing my fingers.) Also, I’m a member of “Doyle’s Rotary Coffin” (I invite you, dear reader, to give them a Google), a fact which probably best expresses my attitudes towards the potential risks of crafting Holmesian pastiche.

Along with writing historical crime, you also write YA historical fantasy. Are there key differences in writing the two types of book?

That depends. Magical Intelligence, taking place in late 1800s London, utilizes resources I’ve collected for the Holmesian stories. My Bookminder trilogy came about as a nod to my own heritage. It has very different underpinnings and research demands. But once you’re mucking about with wizards and magic systems, yes, all bets are off and you get a very different book out of it from genre conventions alone. I still like my $3 words and endless sentences—my prose is still “me doing my thing”—but there’s a tone that one can strike in fantasy. Very “Once upon a time . . .” That’s fun for me, the option of playing in a different sandbox from story to story.

Are there more Holmes books to come from your study?

Gosh, I hope so. 🙂 Admittedly, I have been sort of “hiding” anticipated titles within the books themselves, e.g., an offhanded phrase or bit of dialogue. (See? I really am a plotter!) Thus, by this self-imposed rule, I am rather on the hook for at least one more. That is unless I go rogue and write around that. (Hint: I’ve cover art color schemes picked out in my mind for the complete ‘set’ of titles, and I very recently had to add a new hue to the mix.)

What is the last great book you read?

I am currently flying through Garth Nix’s Frogkisser! A fantastic and funny fantasy romp. I recommend it.

 

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