Today I am happy to feature author David Wilson, author of the Abigail Craig mysteries. His most recent work, however, is a retelling of Sherlock Holmes. I have always been a fan of mystery, and though a Conan-Doyle connoisseur, I nonetheless appreciate the reappearance of the great detective who, like a Jungian archetype, makes up part of Western collective consciousness. Thank you for being with us, David!
David’s first book, The King’s Park Irregulars, was published in early 2012 with his second, Sherlock Holmes and The Case of The Edinburgh Haunting, due for publication in October 2012.
Although The King’s Park Irregulars was his first published novel, like many writers, his ambition to write can be traced back to childhood. Throughout his life he has loved reading and the joy of being whisked along in a story by the writer, or discovering new subjects through non-fiction is something which will never go out of fashion or fall from favour. Although always having held an ambition to write, it was only when he was seventeen and purchased a crisp new copy of Teach Yourself Creative Writing that he started trying to put things down on paper. Particularly of note was the assertion by the author that fiction writers do talk to themselves and it is quite normal, which he found particularly reassuring, so he said to himself, ‘why not?’ Some short stories followed but nothing was really done in earnest and, as he embarked on his working life at that time, nothing came to fruition. But the ideas and the ambition were still there, as was the love of books and reading and so, just twenty three short years later, his first books are finally being published with, he hopes, many more to follow.
David is currently working on the follow up to The King’s Park Irregulars which should be published in 2013, again following the antics of Abigail Craig and her group of friends around Stirling, where David also lives with his wife, the historical non fiction author, Lynne Wilson.
For more visit David Wilson’s website www.davidwilsonwriter.com
Sherlock Holmes and the Edinburgh Haunting
In March 1882, when John Watson is invited to Edinburgh to visit his cousin, the eminent Dr
. Patrick Watson, he convinces Holmes to accompany him on what he believes will be a relaxing holiday. But where Sherlock Holmes tends to go, then surely a crime must be detected. What begins as a chance encounter of a seemingly simple mystery at an Edinburgh home, soon takes Holmes and Watson in to conflict with the Edinburgh Police, an investigation involving murder and corruption, and crossing paths
with the local populace including Dr. Joseph Bell. As Holmes works more closely with a young Edinburgh constable on the case, it causes Watson to question not only his own position, but his very relationship with Sherlock Holmes.
1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Does this describe you? Could you say a bit about your early writing experiences? Your favorite work?
I’m not sure that I would go as far as Asimov, but I would certainly say that when I’m not physically writing it would be safe to say I will be thinking about it. However the practicalities of daily life, be it family or work, must inevitably come before the desire to write. I have always written in some form since I was a teenager, although in an ad hoc fashion, and I never went so far as to show anything I had written to another living soul. But my interest in the process and in generating ideas for stories and writing kept going even when I had to put the physical act on the back burner. I suppose we should be very grateful that as writers we have the ability to work wherever and whenever we wish to, at least in some form, and no time will be wasted. It just becomes a matter of making the time in which to write it all down and that would seem to be the challenge!
2. Not unlike many an author, I come from an academic background where writing fiction is a somewhat closeted affair. Can you talk about when you decided to “write for real”? How and when did you make the decision to write for publication and give your work the time and energy it so deserves?
My decision to try to make this more than a hobby came about four years ago and was largely the result of a mutual decision with my wife. Lynne has a great interest in the Victorian era and had the desire to write a historical non-fiction book. With my interest in writing fiction the two seemed to just come to an inevitable launch at the same time. We spoke about it and then decided to put in the work to see what we could do. I am happy to say that Lynne has now published several books, and with the help of her encouragement I have written two and I am working on my third at the moment. That maybe makes it sound a little easier than it actually was – I certainly have had my share of false starts, ideas that seemed good but in reality, once trying to write them, it turned out that they were not ‘quite the thing’. But it is a labour of love and the desire to keep trying again propels you forward, and when something seems to be working, then it makes the whole endeavour completely worth it.
3. As an author and medical humanist, I am always interested in the intersections of history and fiction. Given your recent novel (set in the 1800s), can you say a bit about the relationship between research, history and the creative process?
This is an interesting question since, in my mind at least, you could not have the book without the creativity, but without the historical information, the idea would most likely not have moved forward in the first place. The book came from a great interest in Sherlock Holmes and a curiosity as to what may happen if the great detective, not only came to Edinburgh, but he and Watson met the very historical characters on which they are believed to have been based.
Through Lynne and I speaking about it, she came up with some interesting pieces of historical research which then inspired me to write them into the story, as well as generating new ideas for the plot. So there seems to be a very symbiotic relationship between the research and the creativity – they can’t live in isolation of each other and certainly it seems that if they did, neither would flourish.
This is the first historical novel I have completed and one thing I found, which I have seen mentioned by other authors of this type of fiction, is that you need to have your research in place before you get into the writing of the book. The research can take up a lot of time and draw you away from writing the story, which needs momentum, therefore to have that information in place and at your disposal seems to me to be invaluable.
4. Your newest book is a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and I am a huge fan of the original and recent retellings. Can you talk about the decision to write a Sherlock mystery? Did you have any concerns about Sherlock being “overdone?”
I am also a big fan of the original stories although I would certainly have to say that I could not claim to be an expert on the works. I am not sure that it is possible for Sherlock to be overdone since they are such well loved characters and the appetite for them seems to continue unabated. Whether it be new novels or the excellent ‘Sherlock’ BBC series, as long as the stories are done well then I think there are readers who will love to read them. I can only hope that people will enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed writing it.
5. Crime and mystery novels never go out of style, in my opinion. But could you tell us how you keep your work fresh and new, cutting edge?
I would completely agree and in fact I would say that if anything the genre is increasing in popularity. So far I may be lucky in that I have not had to concern myself too much with staying ‘cutting edge’. Sherlock Holmes required a lot of research and reading but being a historical novel it did not require to be at the forefront of policing practices. Similarly the other series I am writing, featuring Abigail Craig, would fall into what seems to be the ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre therefore again my need to be at the cutting edge may not be quite as tough as someone who writes police or forensic procedural crime novels.
Having said that, trying to always write something fresh and new is a continual challenge and I think for any writer it must occupy a large portion of their thinking to try and always offer something new for anyone buying our books.
6. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?
My process seems to have fallen into a set pattern now – the first step is the idea and letting that stew away in my head for a time to develop. I always keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas or dialogue or anything which I feel may be good to add into a story and having done that, then I sit and work out an outline over several pages which gives me the main arc of the story. The characters and locations will most likely come along with the idea and so I can usually start writing soon after the outline is completed.
However, what I have discovered about myself is that on hitting the fifteen to twenty thousand word mark, I have a period of about two weeks where I despair over the whole affair. But this just seems to be the way I am going to work, and when that time comes, I tend to think long and hard about the story continually, where it will go, what’s going to happen and a lot of the issues will start to resolve themselves and I can then continue onwards. Following that, the first draft can be completed and then the necessary revisions can be done since new ideas will always pop up as the writing progresses. Maybe if I were better at outlining the story it would be different, but then, if everyone did it the same way then where would the fun be in that?
7. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism? Beta readers?
I tend to have one or two readers, one being my wife, who will read the book once it is finished and give me feedback. For me personally, I prefer to have feedback from one or two select people whose opinions and judgement I trust implicitly. I worry if I were to go into a workshopping situation then too much discussion may just knock my idea or my story out of kilter and so I prefer to work away in solitude until the book is complete and then look for my readers to give me some feedback on it, which always results in me making changes for the better. I would certainly discourage anyone from sending a book to a publisher or indeed self publishing without having had some feedback to gain a view from a different perspective, since it is true that when you have written something, it is almost impossible to be completely objective when reading it over.
Criticism, if it is constructive, is a great tool to improve my work and I am happy to receive it, even if sometimes my expression may be saying otherwise!
8. We are all looking for agents! Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? How do you find (and get!) a great agent?
At the moment I do not have an agent as my two published novels were sent directly to publishers and I was fortunate enough to have them accepted. I am sure an agent would add greatly to my writing career but that is also a bridge I have yet to cross. In the UK, the Writers and Artists Yearbook is a great source of information but recommendations from other authors would also seem to be a good way to find good agents.
9. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)
In writing, I find Charles Dickens to be the ultimate inspiration, for his amazing works but also the characters he created and the stories he told which encompass every facet of humanity. When you add to that the period in which he wrote these, I think his genius credentials are undeniable. In the modern world, I take inspiration from Alexander McCall Smith whose work is just perfect in my eyes and the antidote to all of the worries of the world.
10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?
I would hesitate to make any recommendations here as I would really still consider myself to be a new writer. What I find to be helpful may turn out to be the opposite for someone else. One thing for sure is that there is a wealth of information and advice out there and when used wisely, it can be of great guidance.