Charles Veley, author The Last Moriarty, shares how he re-imagined Doyle's Sherlock in his new book.
About two years ago I was mid-way through writing The Last Moriarty when I had some misgivings. Oh, it was great fun living my first hours every morning in the London of Sherlock Holmes, where it’s always 1895, more or less, the world is bright with promise of new discoveries, and the game’s always afoot. I loved my imaginary travels at Sherlock’s side with Watson, on high adventures that could save the Empire. And I knew the first rule of writing is to write what you love and never mind the consequences. Who cares if your book never gets published - the writing itself is its own reward!
But, dang. If I was going to finish a book, and show it to the public, I still wanted reassurance that someone (other than my wife – who’s highly literate but, thank goodness, hardly impartial) would actually want to read it. I knew Sherlock was already in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most portrayed movie character of all time. He’s also the hero of more than a hundred spin-offs from the original tales that people can buy today, right now, with one-click shopping. Writing fun aside, I thought, maybe I ought to spend my time with a project where the field wasn’t so crowded?
So I asked a good friend, a Hollywood screenwriter, to take a look at what I’d written. His response inspired me to keep going. He began it with, “I wondered what kind of original idea drove you to take this on.”
His words made me realize that I hadn’t just been living in 1895 London for the sheer fun of it. There really was something driving me – I had thought of a new idea and I somehow just had to explore the consequences. As in, “If that happened, what then? And then, and then, and then?” What I needed to do was to understand that I was being driven, and then tell my worrying other self to forget the crowded field and just get on with following the story where it led me.
Where did my new idea come from? It started from sheer curiosity. I had wondered about Sherlock’s past -- his pre-Watson days. I also wondered why he had such an affinity for the violin and if he had taken lessons. Having played a violin myself, and not very well, I thought the learning process probably hadn’t been easy for him. I also wondered why Watson repeatedly described Holmes as a cold, impersonal, calculating intellect. I wondered if Watson might be protesting too much. And I wondered what might have happened to Colonel James Moriarty, brother of the late Professor Moriarty, who Watson refers to in the opening paragraphs of The Empty House .
These musings all brought me to an imaginary event in Holmes’s university days, right before he decided to pursue a career of detection. In TLM that part of his past comes back, not just to haunt him but to change his life. Now Sherlock must do more than solve a difficult mystery and defeat some very, very bad guys. He now must also look inward.
My friend had some kind and encouraging things to say about this new idea, which spurred me to get to the finish line. Since then a number of readers of the completed book have had similarly kind words. Quite a few readers have even asked for more, which is the happiest outcome I could ever have imagined.
So I’m glad I kept on re-imagining Conan Doyle’s classic hero. As a bonus, these days in my first hours every morning, I’m with Holmes and Watson again. Lucy James, a character from TLM , has joined us. It’s now 1896, and we’re in Holmes’s London, or in Dover, near the famous white cliffs, or in Bad Homburg, the spa town in Germany made fashionable by Prince Edward, the playboy son of Queen Victoria and uncle of that imperious troublemaker, Kaiser Wilhelm.