Andy’s original idea
This was the initial proposal that Andy wrote to explain the series of books that he wanted to write. It’s what persuaded the Conan Doyle estate, and the publishers, that this series was a good idea.
The first Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1887; more books come out every year. In the intervening 123 years, thousands of novels and short stories written by countless hands – some well known, some not – have made their way into print. Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly the most recognised, most popular fictional character in the world.
And it’s not only in books that Sherlock Holmes appears: his adventures have been enjoyed on radio, on television, on film, in computer games, in comic strips and on the internet as well. 2009, for instance, saw the release of a highly successful, high-profile movie directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downie Jnr as Holmes.
Holmes is a complex character – ranging from an analytical and energetic champion of justice on the one hand to a drug-addicted depressive couch potato on the other. That complexity is undoubtedly why he appeals so much to so many readers. And yet, in all the many stories that have featured Sherlock Holmes, there have been few that actually attempt to explain how he came to be this way.
Young Sherlock Sherlock is proposed as a series of Young Adult novels showing how a teenage Holmes comes to terms with the fact that he is different from his friends whilst getting involved in mysteries whose effects will be felt all the way from his own dysfunctional family to the highest echelons of the British Empire.
Why Young Adult? Two reasons:
“There is an increasingly large market for heroic fiction series about teenagers, as demonstrated by Alex Rider (by Anthony Horowitz), young James Bond (by Charlie Higson), Harry Potter (by J.K.Rowling), the His Dark Materials trilogy (by Philip Pullman), the Alpha Team series (by Chris Ryan) and the Boy Soldier series (by Andy McNab and Robert Rigby), as well as many others;”
“The Sherlock Holmes stories as written by Arthur Conan Doyle and then added to by other hands typically contain no sex and no swearing, and show justice triumphing over evil – all things that are appropriate to good teenage fiction.”
The books will integrate elements of Sherlock’s personal life – the death of his mother, the unfortunate marriage of his sister, the peripatetic army career of his father, the mysterious Government business in which his brother is engaged – with wider political and social concerns (slavery, Empire, poverty, etc). Accurate not only to history but to Conan Doyle as well, they will chart the growing pains of a lonely teenager against a backdrop of international turmoil and intrigue.
As well as having a solid main plot, the books will be structured to do three things:
“Cast light on some aspect of the Victorian world;
“Explain how Sherlock Holmes picked up the abilities and habits that he later displays in the stories and novels by Conan Doyle:
“Explore the psychology of a lonely, gifted individual who finds it difficult to make friends or find love;
- his analytical mind;
- his knowledge of bizarre facts;
- his distrust of women;
- his knowledge of boxing and of Eastern martial arts;
- his theatrical abilities;
- his ability to play the violin.
At the heart of the books will be Sherlock Holmes himself. Born in 1854, he will be 14 when the books start. Each book will see him older than before, and by the end of the last book in the series he will be 18 and heading for Cambridge.
Sherlock is tall for his age, sensitive, with a natural belief that justice should always be done. He finds it difficult to make trivial conversation, and has few friends, although those he has he is fanatically loyal to. He reads voraciously (spending many hours in his father’s library), and although he is physically strong he has little love for team sports. He is a loner, but something in him cries out for human contact.
Sherlock is sent away to stay with his aunt and uncle at the beginning of the first book. A tutor is engaged to keep up his education. That tutor is Amyus Crowe – an American, and a giant of a man in his mid-sixties with a shock of white hair, a massive appetite for life and knowledge and a secret history of which Sherlock gradually becomes aware. In later books, a violin tutor named Jared Stone will be introduced to counterbalance Amyus Crowe’s influence.
The Holmes family live in a large manor house in Hampshire, where the family has resided for many generations, descended from a line of local squires. They have several servants, and the grounds of the house cover many acres.
Sherlock’s parents are Siger and Violet Holmes. Siger is a retired Indian Army military officer with a brusque manner and a fondness for foreign travel. Violet is a quiet, sensitive artist, related to the French Vernet family.
Sherlock has two siblings: Mycroft (ten years older, working in Government in a mysterious post) and Charlotte (five years older, engaged to be married to a Russian aristocrat).
Sherlock’s tutor, Amyus Crowe, has a daughter who will be introduced in the first book. Virginia Crowe is about Sherlock’s age; calm, self-possessed and a bit of a tomboy – she rides, she shoots and she can climb trees better than most boys. She and Sherlock gradually form a relationship, but Kate’s experiences of being drugged with laudanum in the first book affect her health, and in subsequent books she becomes frail enough that Sherlock worries about her.
Matty (Matthew) Arnatt is something of a vagabond. A year or two younger than Sherlock, he lost his family some time ago and now survives by barging along the canals, working wherever he can. Matty is instinctive where Sherlock is intellectual; emotive where Sherlock is restrained. He admires Sherlock’s abilities while Sherlock values Matty’s down-to-earth attitude. The two of them meet in the first book, with Matty becoming a precursor not only to John Watson in the Conan Doyle tales but also to the “Street Arabs” that Holmes later employs in London. As the books go on, Matty takes on some of Sherlock’s deductive abilities while Sherlock learns from Matty how and when to rely on his emotions.
The books will start in Hampshire at the Holmes manor house. Each book will then switch to a different location: London, of course, plus the USA, France, Russia, India and even China. The rationale for using foreign locations is that Sherlock, at the insistence of his tutor, Amyus Crowe, and under his care, is taken on a series of “grand tours” of foreign parts in order to broaden his mind. Of course, the places Sherlock goes to, either through his choice or through Crowe’s, have some connection to a mystery that has its roots back in England.
As the books go on, Sherlock will realise that there is a secret society which is attempting to undermine the British Empire and replace it with something else. Their plots involve twisted science and are aimed at causing terror and political change. For a while he isn’t sure whether this organisation is German or French, but gradually realises that it is international in scope. Baron Maupertuis, the villain of the first book is, literally and metaphorically, a puppet of this organisation, and as the books go on Sherlock will get closer and closer to the dark heart of the conspiracy.
The books will take advantage of whatever historical events were occurring during the years 1868 to 1873. These might include, in no particular order:
- the effects of the Crimean War (ten years before)
- the opening of the Suez Canal;
- the Franco-Prussian War;
- the aftermath of the Irish Famine (including Fenian attacks in London);
- the completion of the first railway line to join the Atlantic and Pacific oceans;
- the unification of Germany under Bismark;
- the American Civil War;
- the completion of a tunnel through the Alps;
- the first discovery of what was to become known as Cro-Magnon man;
- the increasing use of the telegraph as a means of communication;
- the increasing popularity of photography.
The appearance of real historical figures will be minimised (there are already enough books in which Holmes meets Theodore Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Queen Victoria, and so on). However, it’s tempting to include characters such as Charles Dickens if there is a compelling plot reason (and Dickens was in the USA in 1868…)
The books will not be told first person by anyone (avoiding comparisons with the way that Watson narrates most of the Conan Doyle Holmes stories). Neither will they adopt a faux Conan Doyle style (in the same way that Charlie Higson deliberately avoids writing like Ian Fleming in his Young Bond books). For immediacy of impact, and also to allow access to the mental processes of several characters, the books will be written in the third person in a simple, accessible style.
There will be no hint of science fiction or the supernatural. Dracula will not turn up, neither will Sherlock become involved with H.G.Wells’s Time Machine or Conan Doyle’s own Professor Challenger.
The books will avoid parody and pastiche in favour of realism, careful research and a certain darkness of style.
The young Sherlock Holmes should be treated as a normal, lonely, gifted adolescent, rather than a historical freak.
Other attempts at “Young Sherlock Holmes”
Two previous attempts at portraying a teenage Sherlock Holmes have been made:
In 1982, Granada TV produced Young Sherlock: The Mystery of the Manor House, an eight-part children’s series in which a teenage Holmes investigates strange goings on in the countryside. The series was very low key – more Enid Blyton than Conan Doyle – and it spawned two Young Adult novels
In 1985, Steven Speilberg produced a film entitled Young Sherlock Holmes (or Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear in the UK). The film had Holmes meeting Watson at school, where they are pitted against a cult of oriental assassins based in a pyramid hidden below the streets of London who kill their victims using darts coated in hallucinogenic drugs. All a long way from Arthur Conan Doyle, and owing a lot more to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies.
The copyright situation
The character of Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain in the UK, and is thus free for use. The character is still in copyright in the USA, and will remain so until around 2020. Any book published in the USA which uses Sherlock Holmes as a character must be authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate.
The Conan Doyle Estate, through its representative in the USA, Jon L. Lelleberg, supports the use of the character in these books, and their publication in the United States.
The first book
The first book in the Sherlock Holmes: The Early Years series will either be entitled The Colossal Schemes of Baron Maupertuis or Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow of the Marionette. [Actually, in the end, it was published as Death Cloud]
The plot of the book will involve a series of strange deaths in which people die in their beds, swollen and disfigured, while a strange shadowy cloud is seen escaping from their open windows. Speculation runs rife concerning some supernatural force.
Possible titles for further books include:
- The Giant Rat of Sumatra
- The Repulsive Story of the Red Leech
- The Remarkable Worm Unknown to Science
- Colonel Warburton’s Madness
- The Segregation of the Queen