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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Billy and Me.



Back around Christmas, I was invited by the excellent George Mann (writer of Engines of War, the current Eighth Doctor comics, and much more) to participate in a Sherlock Holmes anthology to be published by Titan Books. It seemed a bit of a daunting ask, but I was prepared to give it a go -- I had, after all, read the entirety of the canon back during my days in the hospital, and I'm a fan of nearly every iteration of Holmes I encounter.

The concept for Associates of Sherlock Holmes is one I would've been into regardless of my involvement: a collection of short stories written from the points of view of characters in the canon other than Watson. I immediately had a fabulous idea for Toby, Holmes's loyal dog, but the list George sent me of 'taken' characters showed that someone before me had already had a similar urging.

I had a few thoughts. No one seemed to have taken Holmes himself, who was up for grabs, but I wasn't feeling quite so daring. (I am, after all, the same person who wrote an Iris Wildthyme story that involved me writing as little for Iris as possible for fear of getting her wrong!) Plus, I've never written a mystery before, and while I know I can put together a story with slow reveals and replay value, I'm not quite sure whether I can pull together a legit Holmesian plot just yet.

Then I remembered Billy.

Billy doesn't get a lot of talk because, well, he didn't get a lot of talk in the stories. He was Holmes's page boy in maybe three stories total, plus the plays. And while even big names like Moriarty and Irene Adler aren't as all-encompassing in the canon as their popularity might lead us to believe, they still play major roles in the stories they're in. Billy... not so much. So it might be fun to let him stretch a bit.

I wrote back to George with the idea of Billy being sent to Watson with a communication of Utmost Importance. What was it? Who was it about? He didn't know -- but a good chunk of London seems to think it involves them. And so Billy unwittingly steps through three unwritten mysteries, getting glimpses of bigger stories that could potentially happen behind the scenes.

This seemed like a great idea until I realised I'd also have to come up with at least the bare bones of those stories. But I rather enjoyed the idea of a Billy's-eye-view of things -- not the entire tale, but just enough to know that something is amiss and Sherlock Holmes will soon be on the case.

But upon receiving my first draft, the editor pointed out something that knocked it off its feet a bit: Billy and another character mentioned were not contemporaries. This seemed odd to me, as when I'd read the canon (which was admittedly while morphined up after major surgery), the timelines seemed like they ought to sync up. It was explained that this technically was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's mistake... he had flubbed Billy's age by having him appear as a young boy in stories approximately twenty years apart!

But the editor had a fix -- really rather a clever one that handles both my story and Doyle's little whoops. I'll let you wait and see what it is.

As an aside, when I imagined Billy, I had a very specific person in mind:


Recognise that kiddo? Possibly not. I didn't. It's a young Charlie Chaplin, playing Billy in the aforementioned plays. You'll see mention of the pride he takes in the buttons on his fancy jacket. This is what I'm talking about.

So... yes. I'm in a Sherlock Holmes anthology. Bit pleased about that. Bit nervous. Hope you enjoy it. Etc.

You can preorder Associates of Sherlock Holmes, which also features stories by Cavan Scott, Andrew Lane, Ian Edgington, and many more. My story, 'Page Turners,' is... in there somewhere.