Obviously we are both familiar with the works of Conan Doyle but one of us (Richard) devoured the complete canon of Sherlock Holmes stories as a teenager and can still quote entire passages, and is lost in admiration at the way you have captured the tone, pace and feel of the originals. As Watson might say to Holmes: ‘How the devil did you effect it, my dear chap?’
What a very kind question – thank you. And to start with, I was exactly like Richard. I was given the Holmes stories when I was seventeen and I was completely smitten, so you could say they’ve always been in my blood.
When I was unexpectedly given this commission, the first thing I did was to read all four novels and fifty-six short stories again – a pleasure in itself. At the same time, I was looking at some of Doyle’s stylistic tricks, the way he paces things, his use of language. I underlined a few phrases that seemed quintessentially Holmsean. ‘Crime is common. Logic is rare.’, ‘. . . there broke from the silence of the night the most horrible cry . . .’ That sort of thing. I knew there was a unique flavour that I had to catch.
But when I sat down to write, it was really a question of totally immersing myself in the world and the characters that Doyle had so brilliantly drawn. It was as if I had physically moved into 221b Baker Street. I wrote the first draft very quickly and have to say I enjoyed every word of it. I hope it’s this pleasure that communicates itself
You say in your acknowledgements that this book has been eight years in the making. Why the delay? Were you secretly afraid you would set Conan Doyle spinning in his grave?
Actually, there’s a misunderstanding here. Orion Books signed a two-book contract with me a very long time ago but for one reason and another I never gave them the second book. I lived in fear that one day I would hear from their lawyers and I was very grateful that they were so understanding. I was very happy to bring them The House of Silk and I hope it was worth the wait!
As to the second part of your question, I have such huge respect for Doyle that I wouldn’t have written the book if I wasn’t confident that I could do it. The first task I set myself was to write nothing that wouldn’t have met with Doyle’s approval and – for that matter – the approval of his many thousands of fans.
Why did you decide to write this homage? Just for the sheer challenge, or like many devotees of the Sherlock Holmes stories, did you yearn for just one more tale, one more chance for Holmes to say: ‘The game’s afoot, Watson!’
As I’ve said, the commission came out of the blue – but it took me less than five seconds to decide that I would do it. Why? Because I loved the stories. Because it gave me the opportunity to spend time with two of the greatest characters in English literature. And yes, because it was a fantastic challenge.
Fancy stepping into the shoes of any other celebrated authors?
I had such fun writing The House of Silk that I would very much like to do something similar in the future. (My next book is going to be set in the world of Sherlock Holmes although I have a feeling that neither Holmes nor Watson will appear) I must be honest and say I’ve always had a yearning to write a James Bond novel and I’m hugely jealous of William Boyd. Why didn’t they ask me?