I'm going to share a secret with you: I don’t read Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Or at least, very few. And the better they promise to be, the leerier I am of them. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t read pastiches. What do you, think I’m crazy? No, remember I’m a writer, not a reader. Not that writers shouldn’t read pastiches. Far from it. I’m pointing the finger squarely at myself. You see, I’m a sponge. I’m a mimic. I’m very strongly affected by the last thing I’ve read. If I had been reading Dylan Thomas while I was writing The Strange Curse of Eliza Doolittle, I’d have had to name it Eliza’s Christmas in Wales.
So I didn’t. I stuck to a steady diet of John Watson, M.D., with Pygmalion for dessert. A little taste:
Toby, of course, had long since joined his lop-eared dewlapped ancestors in the next life. Rather amazingly, Mr. Sherman, Toby’s owner, was still rattling along this mortal coil, still stuffing animals, still manning the shop in Pinchin Lane. We hung on his bell till we heard the window on the second floor being wrenched open above us.
“Stand back, Watson,” said Holmes, pulling me aside. Glad I was that he did so; the first thing that came out of the window was a bucket of dirty water, which splashed to the pavement at our feet. The second thing was Sherman’s head in a nightcap.
“Go away!” he yelled. “I’ll have the law on you!”
Well, you say, everybody strives to sound like John Watson. And to that I say, some do, and some don’t. It’s not a matter of good or bad writing, it’s largely a matter of intention. For me, the music is of paramount importance.
And then there’s the matter of edges. The territory a pastiche inhabits is the edges of the Canon. Luckily, Doyle left wide edges to work in. The stories are chock-full of detailed facts, but those facts are always about the case, and almost never about Holmes—or Watson. It’s all those details that a pastiche fills in. For instance, I know that Holmes kicked his
But the point is, I can’t have that idea, because someone already had it, and executed it brilliantly. The more pastiches, especially good pastiches I read, the narrower the edges become.
So, enjoy the pastiches. Hell, enjoy my pastiches. And I promise, when I move on from writing Sherlock Holmes stories, I’ll catch up on my reading.