An interview with Wendy C. Fries
Hello there friends, readers, and erm… others. Are you—like so many clever special and all round interesting people—a fan of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and all manner of mystery, mayhem and adventure?
Of course you are.
Now, dear reader, friend… er… thing, please allow me to introduce you, if you’ve not heard about it already (tut-tut), to a massive, three volume anthology of brand spanking new Sherlock Holmes stories.
Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.
The Kickstarter campaign for MX Publishing’s ambitious project reached its initial goal within 48 hours and, with under three weeks to go, is well on the way to achieving its stretch goal. The proceeds from this anthology will be used for the restoration of Arthur Conan Doyle’s (ACD) home Undershaw. Once in danger of being destroyed, it has now been saved from developers and was bought by Stepping Stones—a school for children with learning difficulties.
This anthology brings together some of the best writers of Sherlock Holmes stories from around the world—more than sixty of them in fact. And one of those authors is Wendy C. Fries who was kind enough to play some pixelated word tennis with me.
Jamie Ashbird: What is it about these stories and these characters that keeps their appeal fresh after more than a century?
Wendy C Fries: Two words: Friendship. Adventure. Friendship and Adventure. Friendship and Adventure! (That is technically still two words.)
JA: I believe we’ll be able to find your story in volume 2 (which spans from 1890-1895) of the anthology. Can you give us any kind of clue as to what your story is about?
WCF: A Study in Abstruse Detail has Holmes and Watson sitting fireside and discussing unpublished cases. There are about seventy such mentioned through canon, including “Vigor, the Hammersmith Wonder,” “the famous Smith-Mortimer case,” and “the little problem of the Grosvenor Square furniture van.” In my wee tale I’ve picked about six of this seventy and tell you how Holmes figured ‘em out through a study in abstruse detail…
JA: That seems to be one of the great things about Doyle’s storytelling—giving us these tantalising titles and leaving us hanging.
WCF: It’s a wonderful way to tell us these two have lives outside the pages. They’re doing things even when we’re not reading them… it gives a true sense of living characters.
JA: It does give such a beautiful roundness to them. They are absolutely defined real people. Do you reckon that’s part of why they’ve endured? As well as the friendship, adventure and friendship… and adventure?
WCF: “A beautiful roundness” is a perfect, perfect way to put it! Yes, friendship adventure adventure friendship, that too! But yes, because he implied they went on and did things without us they do indeed feel beautifully round.
JA: When did you first begin writing Sherlock Holmes stories and what inspired you to do so?
WCF: I’d been a professional writer for 20 years when I started writing stories about John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. The inspiration was the BBC’s Sherlock, it was late in 2010, and after reading a fair bit of fan fiction I realised I had my own interpretation of these characters, their motivations, their friendship. I challenged myself to write a thousand words a day about them for a year — I’ve no idea why I set that goal — and I seem to have forgotten to stop.
WCF: Do you think there’s a difference between Sherlock fan fiction and “real” books like the anthology?
WCF: No, nope, nada, nein. BBC Sherlock is fan fiction, much of Shakespeare is fan fiction, every “reboot” of every successful film is fan fiction. There is zero difference. All of them are only as good as the writing, the voice, the heart of them. And we both know how much heart fearless people can put into their stories—and fandoms are overrun with fearlessness because the writers are not attempting to justify million dollar budgets, they’re writing for the sheer joy of it, so they take fantastic style and story risks, they go anywhere.
JA: Now, I’m sorry to do this to you but I’m going to do it anyway. What is your favourite story from the ACD canon?
WCF: Easy peasy: The Yellow Face.
JA: I couldn’t possibly let you get away that easy. It is a lovely story but why such an easy peasy choice out of the entire canon?
WCF: Because it’s a rare story. “The Yellow Face” is about Holmes getting it wrong, it’s about racism, it’s about a child. It’s just not quite like anything else in the canon. And ACD told the tale with surety, no graceless lumbering, as might have been expected for the time.
JA: It is wonderfully told and the end is just so assured and clean. But it is wonderful when Holmes is written as fallible. He is after all human.
WCF: Yes, and while that alone is enough to make the story stand out, it’s not everything, which is why I like it so much.
I love that he tells Watson to “remind” him of the case, should he ever feel too full of himself.
JA: The anthology spans near five decades—do you have a particular era that you enjoy writing or that you enjoy seeing Holmes in?
WCF: I favour writing John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in a contemporary setting because the language is less formal and therefore the stories more approachable, but for canon era, I’d say, like so many others, 1895. By that time their friendship is settled, they’re well-known for what they do, and there’s an ease to the union and a zing to the adventures.
JA: Confession time. I got you to do my job for me and come up with three questions of your own that you wish you were asked more often—the first being the difference between fan fiction and “real” books (see above… up there somewhere… pay attention reader!) Somehow we managed to independently double up on one of them so let’s have a hybridised version of that one:
JA/WCF: The anthology aimed to create a consistency with ACD’s style. In what ways did you have to change the way you write and what was it like trying to write like ACD for MX publishing?
WCF: The first time I tried writing somewhat in ACD’s vein was for The Day They Met and I found it far less intimidating than I’d expected. Once it came to writing the short story for the anthology I made sure to listen to audio books and reread a brace of the stories, to hopefully get the cadence right. It’s surprisingly not too very hard to write like another writer if you read a lot of that writer!
JA/WCF: Did you feel constrained in any way? Is it hard writing in a voice that isn’t your own?
WCF: For the last several years I’ve been writing a great deal of humour into these characters, and while Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are often funny, his boys are not nearly quite so silly as mine, so I definitely had to tone down the humour!
WCF: Would you say writing well is learned or innate?
WCF: There may be three people in three thousand that emerge fully-formed as fantastic writers, but every last one of the 2,997 remaining learned their craft through force of will, as far as I’m concerned. It seems like others just know how to do it because we weren’t there to see their mistakes, yet we’re always there for our own. I can tell you this: Write and write and you will absolutely positively definitely get better. How I wrote five years ago is nothing how I write today and the reason I found a voice is because I just sat the hell down and wrote hundreds of thousands of words. A lot of it rubbish. And enough of it not.
So. Too long, didn’t read? Writing well is learned. And the beauty is, you can teach yourself. If. You. Write. And. Write.
JA: Any last words on the anthology?
WCF: I think every last one of us is proud to be in it because we’re proud to help Undershaw, a physical legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, in a way. ACD’s old home represents both, helps us remember the life of the one and makes the other that teensy bit more real.
You can contribute to MX Publishing’s record breaking anthology and support the restoration of Undershaw and score yourself some fantastic new adventures here.