Friday, 26 March 2010

Guest Interview with Sherlock Holmes Writer and Scholar Alistair Duncan

Cut Short by Leigh Russell

I am very excited to be introducing my first guest here on my blog, as I interview Alistair Duncan, the well known Sherlock Holmes scholar and author of books on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whose latest book, THE NORWOOD AUTHOR, has recently been published.

Alistair, welcome to my blog and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed here.

Thank you. It's nice to be here.

1. Many fans of Sherlock Holmes give little thought to his creator, Conan Doyle. What first sparked your interest in him?
I was initially far more interested in the creation rather than the creator. For me Conan Doyle was the man about whom a few pages appeared at the beginning of the Holmes books that I owned. My interest really gained momentum when I found myself living in South Norwood where Conan Doyle himself had lived.

When I wrote my first book, ELIMINATE THE IMPOSSIBLE, it naturally included some details on Conan Doyle. As I researched I became more and more interested. This reflected itself in my second book, CLOSE TO HOLMES, where the balance between Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes became something closer to 50/50.

Finally this interest culminated in my third book, THE NORWOOD AUTHOR, where the book is primarily focused on Conan Doyle.

2. Even though I write fiction, I spend quite a lot of time researching my books. I wonder what proportion of your time is spent on research, and what proportion of your time is spent writing?
Good question and it has varied for each book. Taking the last book I would say that the allocation of time was roughly 50/50.

3. How much of your research is conducted on the internet and how much of it consists of studying original documents and consulting other scholars?The internet is often a good starting point for any research but it is not good to rely on it. I generally begin with the internet and if a promising lead comes up I pursue it through libraries and other sources. For my latest book internet research was far less than the other two and most of my time was spent in front of microfilm readers at Croydon Library where films of the old Norwood newspapers are kept.

4. Can you share with us the most surprising fact you have discovered about Conan Doyle?I unearthed the fact that he became president of the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society. Very few books (in fact only one that I found) mentioned that he was even a member of the society. None had mentioned that he became president.

5. Were your books commissioned? If not, can you tell us how you set about finding an agent?
At the risk of shocking people I am, in fact, agentless. I posted a synopsis of sorts to an internet authors' discussion forum and was contacted directly by a small independent publisher. Things went from there.

6. You mentioned The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Can you tell us something about the society? Can anyone become a member or do you need to have red hair - or have published a scholarly work on Sherlock Holmes?
The original society began in 1934 but was suspended due to an unfortunate event otherwise known as the Second World War. When the Festival of Britain was held in 1951 it demonstrated such a continued fascination with Holmes that a small group decided to resurrect the society.

Unlike some other societies the SHSL does not operate any old-fashioned admissions policy. An interest in Holmes is deemed sufficient.

7. What does the future hold for you as a writer? Will you continue to research Conan Doyle or are you going to branch out in other areas?I fully intend to continue researching him but I think any future written output in that area will take the form of short articles rather than books. I now wish to focus my energies primarily on my first attempt at fiction.

8. Am I right that Sherlock Holmes became popular in the nineteenth century when people lived in fear of crime which the police struggled to control? Do you think the current crime figures explain the popularity of contemporary crime fiction?
Holmes did indeed become popular in the 19th century. This was largely due to the increase in literacy that had been brought about by the 1870 Elementary Education Act which introduced the first compulsory state-funded schooling. I do agree that part of his appeal was down to the fact that he continually outwitted the official police at a time when they were not popular with the public. The public (particularly the working-class) had a distrust of the police. This had not been helped by what was seen as their dismal attempts to capture Jack the Ripper a few years earlier.

I think the modern interest in crime fiction is only partly motivated by current crime levels. I believe that if we lived in some crime-free Utopia crime fiction would still sell. I believe that is down to our love of a good puzzle and the fact that the ultimate puzzle is one where you're trying to catch a killer.

Alistair’s latest publication, THE NORWOOD AUTHOR, is available on amazon. It makes a fascinating read. You can see my review of THE NORWOOD AUTHOR on amazon.


Joanne said...

Interesting thoughts on research. It's such a huge part of writing, in fiction and nonfiction both. I find that researching characteristics, occupations, places, really serves to inform my fiction, adding layers to the story I wouldn't have considered, as well as much authenticity. Thanks for sharing your journey here.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Joannne, I'm amazed how much I've researched the background to almost every scene I've written. I'm aware that I write about worlds I don't inhabit and many of my readers are police officers, medical practitioners,etc. The list of acknowledgements in the front of my books is growing... and I haven't mentioned most of the people who have helped me. I've mentioned before how wonderfully helpful people are, from market traders to university professors in forensic medicine, fire officers to furninture experts. Everyone loves to help, and just as well as I am generally pretty ignorant about everything - unlike my guest, Alistair Duncan, who is a genuine expert in his subject.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for the interesting interview.

I know nothing at all about Conan Doyle, but my son's girlfriend is an avid Sherlock Holmes reader and I think has most or all of the books. I must tell her about this.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Debs, please do. It's interesting to find out about the background against which Conan Doyle was writing.

Leigh Russell said...

Just noticed I've invented a word, "furninture", in my reply to Joanne. I've said it before... it's just as well I'm not a proof reader!

fizzycat said...

Facinating, did not know about the status of the police in Conan Doyle's time.I agree about people liking a good story to work out.
On the subject of the riddance of Japanese knotweed,my hope is that the little insect involved behaves.

Leigh Russell said...

If not, we'll have to set Alistair on the case to do some research and solve the knotty puzzle, fizzycat!

TomCat said...

His answers were as impressive as your questions.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Tom. Please keep in touch as I can't contact you!
I thought Alistair was interesting and I'll try to drag some more authors over here for interviews in due course.

HelenMWalters said...

Thanks for a very interesting interview.