Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Hurrah for one of my American Readers

'Lady Di'  said in a review that if The Sign of Fear were read carefully enough readers would discover how clever it is (!)  

Sunday, 7 July 2013

"Seventeen Steps to 221B"

This book, which recently arrived at the Carr residence, is a collection of essays by such noted Sherlockian scholars as Dorothy L. Sayers ('The Dates in the Red-Headed League'), Professor S.C. Roberts ('The Chronological Problem') and Gavin Brend ('The Route of the Blue Carbuncle'). First published in 1967 by Harper /Collins, it now forms part of the Otto Penzler Sherlock Holmes Library of books available on Amazon.There are seventeen pieces in all, and the title comes from that famous put-down of poor Watson in 'A Scandal in Bohemia':

"You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps that lead up to this room."
"How often?"
"Well, some hundreds of times."
"Then how many are there?"
"How many! I don't know."
Quite so!You have not observed, and yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed."

Anyone aspiring to write in the style of Conan Doyle would do well to read a longish effort ('The Adventure of the Deptford Horror') said to be written by his younger son, Adrian:  "Holmes lifted the stick to the carriage-window and tilted it so that the daylight shone upon the handle."You will perceive," he went on, "that there is a slight but regular scraping that has worn through the polish along the left side of the handle just where the ring finger of a left-handed man would close upon the grip. Ebony is among the toughest of woods and it would require considerable time to cause such wear and a ring of some harder metal than gold. You are left-handed Mr. Wilson and wear a silver ring on your middle finger."

And: "It was one of those grey, brooding summer days when London is at its worst and, as we rattled over Blackfriars Bridge, I  noted that wreaths of mist were rising from the river like the poisonous vapours of some hot jungle swamp. The more spacious streets of the West End had given place to the great commercial thoroughfares, resounding with the stamp and clatter of the dray-horses, and these in turn merged at last into a maze of dingy streets that, following the course of the river, grew more and more wretched in their squalor the nearer we approached  to that labyrinth of tidal basins and dark, evil-smelling lanes that were once the ancient cradle of England's sea trade and of an empire's wealth."  

If this was produced by Adrian, he was a better writer than his father!

Friday, 7 June 2013

The 'Englisher Hof'

On a recent visit to Meiringen I was given a private tour of the hotel Conan Doyle called The Englisher Hof and a walk along the corridor containing the room in which he stayed - not even the staff are sure which one it was. When we returned to the Hotel du Lac in Interlaken the owner described a dinner held there for either 'A' or 'The' Sherlock Holmes Society, waxing quite lyrical and saying everything was very jolly with the diners in their deerstalkers, etc. On hearing I had written five books on Holmes (all of which he promised to buy!) he gave me a Holmes medal, saying he'd been given two by the Society so I was very welcome to take one away with me. Altogether 'a grand day out'.  

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Down and out in Paris and London

"On the second day I thought of pawning my overcoat, but it seemed too far to walk to the pawnshop, and I spent the day in bed, reading 'The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes'. It was all that I felt equal to." (My italics) - George Orwell. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Trumpeter R. Walmsley and the Battle of Maiwand

On March 20 Hall's Fine Art Auctioneers will be offering certain items which may be of some interest to anyone following Watson's misfortunes in Afghanistan. As a young soldier of eighteen, Trumpeter R. Walmsley marched from Kabul to Kandahar with  the rest of Major-General Frederick Roberts' Field Force to relieve the Garrison there. It was being besieged by the victorious Ayub Khan after the Battle of Maiwand,  and as a result of this march and military engagement Walmsley was awarded a medal described by Hall's as an 'Afghanistan 1878-80 with Kandahar Clasp' and also a 'Kabul to Kandahar Star'. An Afghan
Tulwar is also being auctioned. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

"MET 150 - Baker Street Revisited

A centre-spread in the March 2013 Railway Observer celebrates one hundred and fifty years of the Metropolitan Railway, the world's first "Underground", which went from Paddington via Baker Street to Moorgate and came   into operation on January 10th, 1863.
The re-enactment used steam locomotive no. 1 and electric locomotive no. 12 (aka "Sarah Siddons") for a V.I.P. Special starting  from Kensington (Olympia) on 13th January this year. All the electric locomotives which hauled the 'slam-door trains' from the 1920's to the 1950's were named for famous Londoners and, as well as Siddons, included Thomas Lord, John Lyon and (No.8) Sherlock Holmes! Were any Sherlockians  waiting at Baker Street to see this re-enactment?!
In "The Bruce-Partington Plans" an observant Conan Doyle writes about a similar line, The District Railway, calling it  the "Metropolitan  Underground". From 1872 this ran west London trains on what later became the southern section of the Circle Line, and Doyle describes how Holmes deduces that the body of the unfortunate Cadogan West must have been placed (by the villains of the piece) on the roof of the steam train when it paused briefly at Cromwell Junction near Kensington and fell off  at a sharp curve which caused the train to roll just before Aldgate  East Station.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Some of my fellow Sherlockians have recently written a series of emails about the battle of Maiwand, in which Watson was so badly wounded he was sent home and eventually met Holmes.
I first began to take an interest in this iconic pair eleven years ago - when I saw a modest memorial in Beverley Minster  to a group of men who died marching up from Quetta to relieve Kandahar, under siege by the victorious Afghans, at the same time as Major-General Frederick Roberts was bringing a similar force from Kabul.
The famous painting of the Last Stand of the 66 Regiment of Foot, showing Bobbie (the Regimental Mascot) standing calmly in the middle of the carnage, can be found in Colonel Leigh Maxwell's book My God! Maiwand  first published by Leo Cooper in 1979. It also appears in what must be the definitive account of the battle by Richard J. Stacpoole-Ryding in association with the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum: MAIWAND The Last Stand of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment in Afghanistan, 1880, published in 2008 by The History Press.
My own book, In Search of Doctor Watson, written soon after my visit to Yorkshire but not published until 2011, has an account of the battle of Maiwand and some speculations about who may have been the original Model for John H. Watson - which I hope you will find interesting.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

How to Become a Successful Writer

"You can't be naive enough to think that we writers achieve status on merit alone."
"Actually, I rather think I am," I said.
He laughed. "You've got to put yourself about more. Make contacts. Get yourself talked about. Show them who you are."
"Difficult, when I'm not awfully sure of that myself."

From the short story 'Poisoned Tongues' by Susan Moody