… lives in Middlesbrough! How can this be? To find out how, you have to inhabit the world of author, Melvyn Small… and I hope you will.
One of our customers recommended this series to me, but it was only when a friend gave me a copy of Holmes 1 and said “Fiona, You’ll love this” that I actually read the books and became hooked. Golden Age Crime is normally my preferred reading, but I devoured Holmes 1 , 2 and The Darlington Substitution novella just as quickly as I could get my grubby little hands on them!
So I plucked up the courage and asked Mel if he would talk to us about how the novels came about and to tell us more about Indipenned the website that he has set up so that indie authors can promote their books.
How on earth did you come up with the idea for Sherlock to be based in Middlesbrough! And where do you get your ideas for the stories?
The idea came from watching the CBS television show Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Doctor Joan Watson. I liked how Elementary had moved the premise on from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original canon, but thought they could have pushed it on a lot further. That got me thinking about what I would do. The way I saw it there were certain elements the character had to retain in order to still be Sherlock Holmes, things like his predilection for data, deduction and logic. He also needed to be special, singularly unique, and slightly out of phase with the world he inhabits. Other than that, I thought a lot of the other things could go.
I pared the character down to its core characteristics and placed him somewhere else. The place I decided upon was Middlesbrough, somewhere I know quite well. After that I started having fun with it. Fortuitously, Middlesbrough has a Baker Street, however it’s not long enough to have an address of 221B. Consequently, my Holmes lives at 22 Baker Street, Flat 1B.
As I started rebuilding the character in a different time and place it became a problem-solving exercise. What would he do? How would he meet Doctor Watson? Why would they become involved in the crime investigation? Essentially, it becomes a nature versus nurture study in which the core character is augmented with elements taken from his environment. This is not to say he doesn’t retain some of the characteristics of the original incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, however there are some aspects of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes that would not sit well in this new location. For example, Middlesbrough’s Holmes doesn’t have the arrogance of his predecessor. Excessive hubris is not something that goes down well in that area of the world. I think this works well, in that it makes him more enigmatic and a little more likeable.
The stories can come from quite sketchy ideas. I try to dream up something I’ve not seen before and work it from there. As with recreating the character, this then becomes a problem-solving exercise. I never write in order, so I’m constantly trying to get from A to C via B in a way that flows organically. I think this works quite well in that it allows me to engineer a few twists and turns along the way. I’m also helped by having strong ideas about the characters and how they would react to the situations in which they find themselves. Sometimes it’s as if the characters are writing the stories themselves.
Given I’m quite new to writing fiction, I set myself a challenge with each story. The first, A Scandal in Boro, was based on Sir Arthur’s A Scandal in Bohemia and was about establishing this new version of the character. After that I had the idea for a mystery without a solution in The Goldfish Bowl, then there was a love story, which was followed by a good old murder mystery. By the third or fourth story I’d grown enough confidence to start having fun with it. Although I might steal the character names from the original stories, the stories themselves are pretty much my own with the odd nod and the occasional wink to the Conan Doyle stories. The Blue Debacle at the beginning of Volume 2 started from nothing more than a pun on the title of Sir Arthur’s The Blue Carbuncle.
I think the thing that tickles me most is that the stories are chronicled by Watson, who, like me, is also new to writing. The books are purposely written in a style that leans towards the more flowery, a common trait of new writers who are trying too hard. This gives the prose the wordy feel of the original canon. Also, given that Watson is writing the stories and not me, any mistakes that weren’t caught in the edit are his fault not mine. Ha!
Have you always written or was it the Sherlock idea that set you off on the writing path?
The Holmes books are the first works of fiction I have written since leaving school far too many years ago. During the period since, I have had many ideas for stories, but thought it would be difficult to turn these ideas into a full-length novel. When I went back and looked at the original Sherlock Holmes stories it struck me that I didn’t need to write a novel and that you could tell a good story in a much shorter form. The irony is that the two books I ended up writing have a story that arcs across the piece, which has been described as an episodic novel.
How easy/difficult was it for you to get the books published?
I steered away from the more traditional route to getting a book published. I just wanted to get my book out there and so had planned to self-publish. I didn’t find the prospect of sending a manuscript to various literary agents and publishers only to hear nothing or, at best, receive a templated rejection letter particularly appealing.
Fortunately, as I was about halfway through the writing process, I came across an independent publisher in Billingham, the town I grew up in, called Sixth Element (6e). They took my manuscripts and they turned my scribbles into professional-looking books.
6e are very particular in what they do and place a lot of emphasis on the quality of product they produce. Personally, I wouldn’t have thought much about the type of paper that needed to be used, the look and feel of the cover and such things. Finding someone to guide me through the publishing process was a godsend really. In the beginning I didn’t even know that the description on the back of a book was called the blurb. I’d the heard the word but assumed it was some sort of slang. I could have googled all of what was involved, but what price your time and the cost of the mistakes you may make? It was much better to pay 6e to do things like proofreading, type setting and cover design.
The other benefit of independent publishing is that you retain control. You have a copy of the ebook to send out to reviewers. You also have a good understanding of how effective any promotional work you do is, in that you have a good insight into how many people are buying the paperbacks and ebooks. The hard part is that it is pretty much down to you to get the word out about your book. Without the network and marketing budgets of the big publishing companies, it’s a fair old slog.
Why did you create the Indipenned website?
Indipenned is the consequence of some observations and ideas I had after my first book was published. It appeared that there are a lot of great books published by indie authors that are not getting the attention they deserve. I’m not saying my book is a classic, but it’s had some great reviews both locally and from around the world. Given how it is based on another author’s work, I’m pretty sure a lot of publishing companies wouldn’t be interested in publishing it. They would see it as pastiche of fan fiction, something that it definitely is not. Actually, I once sent A Scandal in Boro to a large literary agency. They said they loved the story, but couldn’t find an agent willing to take it on.
I founded Indipenned to help support those involved in the creation of great books that don’t fit the mass-market. It is an online platform that encourages and promotes independent literature. We think there are a lot of independently-minded book lovers out there, who are happy to journey outside of the mainstream in search of something different. We want to help them by providing an online destination crammed with quality independently-written books. We have nothing against the work published by the large publishing houses. We’re not in competition. We think indie and the mass-market can coexist. It’s about getting great books into the hands of appreciative readers.
In order to give the books of indie writers some of the advantages of the authors signed by the big publishing companies, Indipenned includes a number of facilities to support those working to create imaginative and original literature. These features include an online bookshop, exclusive to independent authors, along with a number of facilities that will help writers develop and promote their work. Each writer gets their own area of Indipenned to showcase their work and communicate with potential readers by posting short stories, blogs, news items and notifications of upcoming events such as book launches and signings. Those involved in the creation of independent literature can also collaborate with each other and share their experiences of independent authorship by posting knowledge articles.
It’s still early days, but we’ve had some great indie authors join us and we’re well on the way to becoming a go to place for all that’s good in the world of independent literature.
Thank you Mel for taking the time to talk to me and good luck with the writing and Indipenned too.
If you’d like to know more about Indipenned then follow the link to the Indipenned website and if you would like to find out for yourself about Middlesbrough’s very own Sherlock Holmes then we have a few copies left… one set is currently winging its way to a Boro lad based in Australia… just drop us an email and we’ll get back to you.