I think all writers are curious about the way our peers work. That’s particularly so when we enjoy reading the fruits of their labours.
Fellow Sherlockian and Yorkshire native Dick Gillman is author of sixteen Sherlock Holmes short stories. His tale, The Man on Westminster Bridge, closes Volume II of the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.
Not only does Dick really capture the character of Holmes and Watson, but he has an eye for Victorian detail. I interviewed him to see what I could learn about the man and his process.
Hi Dick, let’s start with the obvious question: when did you first become a Holmes fan?
Hi, Geri. Thank you for asking me to contribute to your blog. I, perhaps, came at this from a different angle than the ‘usual’ Sherlock Holmes fan. I liked to watch B&W films of Basil Rathbone in the role and that sparked my interest. I wasn’t a big reader for pleasure as a child and I only became interested in the canon later in life.
As a teenager, I think one of my aunts bought me a copy of ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ as a last minute, ‘What do you buy a young adult’ kind of Christmas gift! That is what really set me off reading Sherlock Holmes. Having said that, I am fairly sure that I haven’t actually read the whole canon. A terrible confession!
We’ll keep that secret between ourselves… What’s your favourite Sherlock Holmes story of the ones you have read, and why?
That is a difficult question! I think my favourite is The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. I love stories with a great plot and characters that really stand out. Milverton, especially in the TV version with Jeremy Brett, (played by the great Robert Hardy – ed.) was a superbly vile, manipulating villain. The recent ‘Sherlock’ adaptation brought the story into the 21st century and maintained that sense of control and menace exuded by Magnussen (nee Milverton).
Tell us about your own writing. What have you written and where can readers find your stories?
So far, I have written sixteen Sherlock Holmes tales in the original, short story format favoured by Sir Arthur. Twelve of them are available as e-books at both Amazon and Smashwords and three are in a single paperback edition, The Julia Moriarty Trilogy on Amazon. The sixteenth story, ‘The Man on Westminster Bridge’ is the final story in Volume II of the record breaking anthology of Holmes stories published in October last year by MX Publishing. I was very proud to be ‘anchor man’ for Volume II.
I began writing Sherlock Holmes stories after I had quite a severe heart attack in 2004 and had to retire from teaching. In retirement I think I suffered a ‘Home Alone’ experience with the change from interacting with two or three hundred people each day down to being on my own with Truffle our black Labrador and my laptop! Quite a change! The result of this upheaval was that I began to write stories.
My first story, ‘The Star of Bithur’ was really an attempt to do something creative and to fill my day. It wasn’t intended for publication. However, family and friends enjoyed it and so I began to write more stories until finally, in 2013, I self-published this story on Amazon. Since then, I have been writing and publishing five or more stories each year. To find out more about me and all my stories just Google my name, Dick Gillman. (For more information about Dick’s books, plus links, check these sites:
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/7301770.Dick_Gillman — Ed.)
You have a wonderful character in the form of Julia Moriarty. Tell us a little bit about her.
Ah! Julia! She is my heartthrob! I will let you into a secret. I have a thing for redheads. Julia Moriarty came into being as I felt that after the demise of the Professor, there was a void. No villain could match the master and so I had to create one… so Julia Moriarty was ‘born’.
Julia Moriarty is the sister of Professor James Moriarty. She is a strikingly beautiful red head. Pure evil with not a trace (up until now) of compassion. She is equal in intellect to her brother and she has sought to resurrect the spider’s web of criminals that he controlled. Since her release from prison in Europe, she has sought revenge on Holmes… something that will undoubtedly continue. She appears in the first story of the trilogy in an explosive fashion in a story entitled, ‘The Shadow of James Moriarty’. As a result of their first meeting, Holmes swears to destroy her. Holmes describes her as “the very embodiment of evil”. Readers can be sure that their paths will cross again in the future. Interestingly, in my recent story, ‘Sherlock Holmes and Miss Violet Dixon (deceased),’ there is just a hint of her fallibility, a potential weakness in her character that Holmes may now try and exploit.
The ‘Julia Moriarty Trilogy,’ which showcases the first three stories in which Julia appears, was taken up by MX Publishing and has been released as a paperback on Amazon.
Excellent news! I can assure everyone out there in blog-land, they’re a great read. What are you currently working on?
This week finds my head empty of a plot. I have literally just finished and published ‘Sherlock Holmes and The Emerald Spirit.’ There are a few ideas kicking around in my head which will, I hope, coalesce into something over the next few weeks. Usually, it is something that I read that becomes the catalyst for a story. I do have the odd ‘Eureka’ moment when I might be in the kitchen and suddenly, in an instant, stop what I’m doing and say ‘Wow!’ as a new idea pops into my head.
I have been asked by that famous Sherlockian, David Marcum (of MX anthology fame) to release all twelve of my stories as a ‘real’ book. After a lot of thought, I have begun the re-editing process and I think that this may well come to fruition in the spring!
Something to look forward to. David knows what he’s talking about, so I’m glad you’re taking his advice. What does a writing day look like for you? Do you have a word count and do you write every day? Do you have a regular place in which to work?
Being retired, you would think that I had all the time in the world to write… but I haven’t! When I have a plot in my head, I tend to really go at it. I don’t have a ‘start at A and get to B’ plan to write it, the story is organic and dynamic. It rolls along, grows in my head as I write and as my imagination creates it. I don’t know how it will end until I get there.
Usually, my stories are about 10,000 words long and when I write, I don’t have a set figure to complete each day. I keep writing whilst the juices are flowing and stop when my head can’t take any more and I’m exhausted. Usually, this is between 1000 and 2000 words at a stretch. I don’t have set writing days, when a story is flowing I will continue with it day after day. If I get stuck and I can’t see where the story is going (and it does happen), I will leave the story and do something else.
Where do I write? Usually at the dining table which is strewn with my rubbish. Next to my laptop is my clipboard to scribble notes on, various pens, my coffee cup, computer leads, a pile of books to review etc., etc. I’m afraid I am a geek and various gadgets may find their way to my impromptu desk.
Our house is quite large here in France and unless we are having friends to dinner, I spread out my stuff on the dining table. The table in the kitchen will seat 4 so Alex (my wife) and I usually eat there… and that has an advantage as it’s nearer to the wine!
When I am in full writing mode I like to write in a quiet room, I can’t cope with music or with the TV on in the background. My pet hate is ‘Eastenders’ which I can’t stand so I retire to our bedroom with my beanbag computer tray-thingy and I sit propped up with a pillow on the bed to type. I must say that having access to ‘OneDrive’ has meant that I can save my work to ‘The Cloud’ in the dining room and then (without moving my laptop) I can carry on working in the bedroom with my little Netbook.
Who is your first reader and do they read your stories as you’re writing, or do you make them wait until the story is finished?
The first reader of my story is always me. My wife refuses to read any of the story until it is finished as she doesn’t want to spoil the experience of reading the whole thing. Usually, I send a copy (as soon as I’ve read it through) to my friend, Jayantika Ganguly in India. She is the General Secretary of The Sherlock Holmes Society of India and likes a sneaky preview of my work as soon as I have finished a story. Once I have done what I can to edit the story, my wife then casts her editorial eye over it and I then do my pre-publication corrections.
Are there many Holmes fans in your area? If not, what do you do when you feel a need to chat to someone about Sherlockian stuff?
Living in Brittany, in the Finistere region, (which literally means ‘the end of the Earth’) rather cuts me off from meeting other Holmes fans ‘in the flesh’. However, I make up for it by conversing with other folk around the globe via email and Facebook. When I do need some help or information, I turn to my ‘virtual’ friends. I find that they are hugely knowledgeable on matters Sherlockian and more than willing to help.