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Writing the Sherlockian Pastiche:

The Secret Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Most every writer who is a fan of the Great Detective will try it at least once in their career. That is, try to write a Sherlockian pastiche. Today it has become almost a genre all its own, the many anthologies offer new venues for writers and our work, the chance to tell our own Sherlock Holmes story, our own way. The temptation is enormous to chronicle such a tale and the results can be wonderful fun for the writer as well as the reader. It also offers Sherlockians something each of us desires greatly — more adventures with our beloved Holmes and Watson!

My own three Sherlockian pastiches follow the Canon (the original Holmes stories) but also retain their true feel and flavor, and follow Doyle’s style as close as practicable. To me, doing it any other way would be to change the Holmes character or the feel of the stories away from the original. I like my Holmes the way Doyle created him just fine, thank you.

My interest in all things Sherlockian and of pastiches in general generates itself in various non-fiction studies I have written over the years. Sherlockian scholarship has a rich history and can be great fun. My first-ever venture in this area was a small chapbook with the title, Relics of Sherlock Holmes (Gryphon Books, 1988), a collection of articles, clippings, ads and other minutiae. Souvenirs of Sherlock Holmes (Gryphon Books, 2002), collects various magazine articles on Holmes, The Canon and the books, including the hardcover pastiches. However, my magnum opus in the non-fiction area of Sherlockian scholarship — in this case, bibliography — is Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective in Paperback & Pastiche (Gryphon Books, Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, available Spring, 2007). It substantially expands and updates my 1990 book on Sherlockian paperback pastiches, parodies and other items. So you see, I have a two-fold interest in the Great Detective: writing non-fiction about Holmes as well as writing new adventures.

My first Sherlock Holmes pastiche was the short novel, “The Loss of the British Bark Sophy Anderson” (Gryphon Double #3, 1992), a rather straightforward tale that takes one of the cases Watson mentions merely as an aside in the Canon. This is a case that Holmes solved but Watson tells us he never got around to chronicling. Such is the case with many of the seemingly throwaway lines or intriguing hints of cases that were never completed by Watson. “The Case of the Giant Rat of Sumatra” being the most famous and the most intriguing — largely on its notation by Holmes that it “is a story for which the world is not yet prepared!” What could be more intriguing? So intriguing in fact, the story has been written in pastiche form by at least five different authors, in five different books, over the last quarter century!

My “Sophy Anderson” story is one that has never before been attempted in pastiche when it was originally written in 1992. It concerns the past goings on aboard another luckless ship, but Watson never offers any hint or direction in the Canon about the case, so it was left up to me as the writer of pastiche, to fill in the blanks. That’s what many pastiches do, add to or reinterpret the Holmes myth. This story was my first Holmes pastiche and it was great fun to do, but hard work nonetheless. In late 2006 I did an extensive rewrite for this new Ramble House book edition. I feel this new version improves the story substantially.

Due to the kindness of author, Sherlockian, and good friend Michael Kurland, I was invited to contribute original stories to two of his recent Sherlockian anthologies. Kurland is the author of the popular Moriarty series of novels, among much other fine work, and hence a natural to edit such a theme anthology of new Holmes stories. The premise in his first anthology is to retell Holmes stories told by anyone else except Holmes or Watson.

My own story, “Mycroft’s Great Game” in Kurland’s My Sherlock Holmes (St. Martins Press, 2003), is a darker than usual look at the brothers Holmes; Sherlock and Mycroft, and the troubles between them as told by Mycroft himself. It offers a new twist on the relationship between the brothers and the meaning of the stories chronicled by Watson as “The Final Problem” and “The Adventure of the Empty House” which now mask entirely different events. In my story I use the Canon accurately yet interpret the motivations of people and meaning of events quite differently. I think it makes for an interesting twist. Now as they say, the true story can be told!

Kurland’s second Sherlockian anthology was, Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years (St. Martins Press, 2005). The premise here is to tell what happened to Holmes during the missing years, commonly known as the Great Hiatus. These are the years between “The Final Problem” with his supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls and his return to London in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” but my story here is something quite different. This story takes Holmes upon the strangest case of his career and causes him for the first time to doubt his own senses.

This is the pastiche of which I am most proud. It was also the most difficult story to write, as it uses a totally new idea, but still keeps true to the style and characters created by Doyle. It was quite a challenge to make it all work well and read well. If I were a pipe smoker I am sure it would have presented quite the three-pipe problem. Eventually I worked it all out successfully and now it offers some interesting interpretations of the Canon. This story was also nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar Award for the Best Short Story of 2005, so I assume I’m not the only one who liked it.

All in all, writing Sherlockian pastiches can be fun but it can also be a lot of hard work. There is often much research involved, even little details have to be correct, and you’d be surprised how even a die-hard Sherlockian who has read the Canon many times can stumble on the tiniest of fact or detail. You also have to work within the parameters set by Doyle and that is not easy, many writers imagine it to be easier than it is, resulting in stories that just don’t work.

To write a successful Sherlockian pastiche you first must begin with an interesting premise — something new and original, daring or bold. Something that is exciting and will have the same effect on the reader. However, too wild an idea can result in an utterly fantastic or even outrageous premise that might not only stray too far from the Canon, it may be totally unbelievable as a Holmes story. This unfortunately, seems to be a major problem with some of the pastiches I read by other writers these days. If you depart from the Holmes formula — meaning the language, modes of behavior and characters that must ring true to Doyle and the Victorian/Edwardian eras — it had better be for a very good reason.

I’ve always tried to couch the fantastic nature of my Sherlockian pastiches — which is what makes them fun and interesting after all — firmly within the framework of the Holmes stories as Doyle wrote them. That framework holds these stories together as a Holmes tale even as it allows the reader to delve into something entirely new and different as a Sherlockian adventure.

Writing the Sherlockian pastiche offers the writer an opportunity to create a new adventure about one of the most popular and beloved characters in fiction. You can, for once, create your own story line, your own interpretation of the events and characters, crimes, and personalities we all know and love. And each writer of a Sherlockian pastiche brings that love of the characters and Canon with them in any story they write. These are not only pastiches, they are stories of admiration, stories that say in all humility, “thank you, Arthur Conan Doyle”.

These then are the secret adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the untold stories that in some cases fill in the blanks left by Doyle in the original stories, and other cases reinterpret the myths to tell the story of what really happened. I hope you enjoy reading them as much and I enjoyed writing them.

Now come, Watson! The game is afoot!


Gary Lovisi

December, 2006

Brooklyn, New York


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