Being a staunch supporter of Richard III, I have a very soft spot for Yorkshiremen, especially the ones called Dick. When you add a mutual passion for Sherlock Holmes and science into the mix, you’ll understand why Dick Gillman is one of my favourite people.
Dick has, so far, written some twenty Sherlock Holmes in the original short story format. The majority of these can be found Amazon worldwide. The latest publication, ‘Julia Moriarty – in memorium’ can be purchased as both a paperback and as an e-book. He was kind enough to talk to me about his work and our mutual interest, Sherlock Holmes.
Hi Dick, Welcome to the blog. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Well, I’m a Yorkshireman, 67 years old (but aged about 25 between the ears) who now lives in Brittany, France with his wife and 2 dogs. Prior to retiring and beginning writing, I taught Science for 25 years in the East Midlands. So far, I have written 20 Sherlock Holmes stories in the short story format so beloved by the master, Sir A.C.Doyle.
Why do you think Sherlock Holmes is still so popular?
I came to reading the canon late in life although I watched classic black and white films of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson in my early teens. As a scientist, I enjoy Holmes’s cold logic and clear thinking but it is also the Victorian setting and language of the stories that appeals to me. I enjoy writing in a ‘turn of the century’ style, it has a certain innate elegance and seems to add a further layer of intrigue for the reader. It is, to my mind, a literary time machine.
Holmes’s popularity endures because of his ability to solve seemingly impossible cases; his clarity of thinking and reasoning skills are, in themselves, timeless. He has a certain gentlemanly charisma and maintains, for the most part, a dispassionate view of all his cases. He is the true professional.
What is the hardest part of writing a story for you?
Ah, this is a difficult question to answer. Whilst I have a certain overview of the story, until I sit down and write it, I really don’t know how it will develop. The plot changes direction as I write and as further ideas pop into my head. As I read more, during the writing process, more opportunities for the plot present themselves and they change the course of the story. It really is an organic thing that grows as I write. I find it most difficult when the ideas dry up and I lose direction. It’s then that I struggle.
Quite often when I am writing a new story, I find it really hard to link together some disparate plot ideas that are tumbling around in my head. Some, I know, will have to go into other stories but finding that bridge, that ‘glue’ that connects them sometimes comes as a truly ‘Eureka’ moment. They usually happen when I am doing something fairly mindless, with my brain in neutral and I will suddenly freeze, stop whatever I am doing and, literally, say out loud, “WOW!” It is such a wonderful, exhilarating moment!
I know it well! How do you approach your research?
Generally, I have an idea for a story and I will search the internet for locations and events during a particular Victorian / Edwardian time frame. As an example, I make sure that I quote the right railway station for a particular train journey that uses the correct railway company. I even try and make sure that the ticket is the right colour! I also try and make sure that any gadget that appears in my story had actually been invented, for example the dry battery or the safety razor blade.
Doing research is a fun but time consuming exercise. I find The National Archives a great place to browse online and if I find a great resource, I try and share it with my writer colleagues. I also find that I use Google Earth ‘Street View’ quite a lot when I am looking for areas for plot locations. It is fairly easy to find Victorian buildings which I can then describe accurately when Holmes and Watson visit that location.
The importance of reliable research sources cannot be overstated. Have you read other pastiches? Do you have a favourite author among them?
I have read some pastiches and, like all things in life, some are better than others. I enjoyed the collected works of the various authors in the ongoing MX Publishing Sherlock Holmes anthology. I am a traditionalist when it comes to Holmes and Watson stories and I shy away from aliens, time machines and re-incarnations. One of my pet niggles is when an author doesn’t research the period properly and then uses language which is not historically appropriate. Some use their own life experiences which they tend to incorporate into their stories. Prime examples being saying the American term ‘gurney’ instead of hospital trolley or paying ‘3 pounds 59 pennies’ for something! It is akin to Holmes saying to Watson, “I assure you, Watson, it is undoubtedly correct… just Google it.”
Authors whose pastiche work I have read and enjoyed include the American writer, David Marcum whose book ‘The Twisted Skeins’ I found entertaining and, of course, those of my host, Geri Schear. Some other authors’ pastiches that I have read have been quite dark whilst others have have touched on almost ‘adult’ subjects. These I have not enjoyed and discourage me from reading more by the same author.
In sharp contrast, the illustrated children’s books of American author, educator and publisher, Derrick Belanger, are both informative and fun for kids. They give young readers an early taste of Sherlock Holmes and, hopefully, will encourage a new generation of readers. Agatha Christie I have barely dabbled with but I did very much enjoy the recent television drama of her book ‘Witness for the prosecution’. Oddly enough, I really don’t have a favourite Holmes pastiche author.
Can you remember your first introduction to Sherlock Holmes?
I think, as I mentioned above, my interest was sparked by watching old Sherlock Holmes films of the 40’s and 50’s. Following on from that, I was given an anthology of Holmes stories by an aunt and my interest grew from there.
What can you tell us about your current work in progress?
Having ‘pinched’ back my story ‘The Mazlov Knot’ from David Marcum, as editor for Volume 6 of the MX anthology for my own collection, ‘Julia Moriarty – in memorium’, I am now working on a new story to replace it. The working title for this story is ‘The Fallen Photographer’. I’m 5k words into the story but I’m waiting for the pot of ‘glue’ to join up the ideas in my head. I’m struggling, at present, to find a way to move the plot forwards. It will come, I’m sure.
Who are your heroes, fictional or otherwise?
Heroes in real life? My first would have to be Jacob Bronowski, whose book (which I still treasure), ‘The Ascent of Man’, I found most profound and moving. A wonderfully intelligent man who had an enormous presence on the small screen.
My second would be Galileo Galilei, a scientific genius and philosopher who put truth before the edict of the church. I felt humbled as I sat inside the same black and white marble church in Pisa where Galileo had sat, observing and timing the swing of an incense burner with his pulse. Whilst in Italy, I was truly delighted to have stumbled upon his final resting place in a church in Venice. Galileo suffered terrible religious persecution for his heretic observations of the solar system. My favourite quote of Galileo’s is, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”
My favourite fictional hero would, of course, have to be Sherlock Holmes.
And your favourite quote from Sherlock?
There are lots of famous quotes. Someone gave me a t-shirt with, perhaps, the most famous… “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” But my personal favourite, tongue in cheek one, is “You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.”
What else can you tell us about your stories?
Let me say, right from the start, that I am addicted to Ginger. Not just the spice, but also ladies with beautiful, auburn hair! When it came to creating a new villain to replace that ‘Napoleon of crime’, Professor James Moriarty, I saw an opportunity to indulge myself and so Julia Moriarty was ‘born’.
She is the flaming red haired sister of James, just as intelligent and equally evil. Where her brother could instill fear with but a single, malevolent glance, Julia Moriarty is a much more ‘hands on’ villain. She dresses as a fashionable lady but thinks nothing of violently disposing of those who inconvenience her, regardless of any collateral damage to the populace. In another setting, she would be equally at home as an elegant pirate!
The relationship she has with Holmes is one that could be seen as bitter-sweet. Both have a grudging respect for the other’s intellect and have but a common goal, to destroy their opponent. Holmes has sworn to see Julia Moriarty hang and he describes her as “the very embodiment of evil”. He is drawn to her as a moth is inevitably drawn to a candle flame. For her part, Moriarty has sworn revenge for the death of her brother at the hands of Holmes during their final struggle at the Reichenbach Falls. Julia Moriarty’s character simply oozes menace but, in her conversations with Holmes, there is just a hint of teasing. I took great delight in exploiting this when I wrote the penultimate story of the collection, The Mazlov Knot. At two points in this story, when survival of one or the other is balanced on a knife edge, Julia Moriarty appears to try to almost seduce Watson. Is this to simply goad Holmes or does she, perhaps, enjoy some perverse pleasure from the moment? One can only wonder at her motive.
The seven Sherlock Holmes stories that make up the ‘Julia Moriarty – in memorium’ collection cover the years from 1894 to 1902. It records all their encounters during this period but, in the end, there can only be a single outcome… but at what cost? The final, climactic story with its fall from grace is unmissable. ‘The Broken Watch of Meiringen’ signals the end of an era and resonates with my friend and hosts own fine book, ‘Return to Reichenbach’. I will reveal nothing further of the tale except to say that Professor James Moriarty’s watch now resides as a memento on Holmes’s desk at 221b Baker Street.
You can find all of Dick’s stories on Amazon