I first encountered Sherlock Holmes in the school library when I was 12 years old. There he was on the shelf, under D for Doyle, tackling the ferocious Hound of the Baskervilles. I fell in love with this magical super sleuth soon after cracking open the spine. It is a romance that has endured all my life.
The appeal of Holmes is manifold. He’s the ultimate superhero, yet he does not have to change costume or rely on supernatural or alien powers to aid him in his quest to right wrongs and unmask the villain. Instead, he relies purely on his own intellect. And strangely, Holmes’ idiosyncrasies, the drug taking, the misogyny, and the arrogance, make him all the more appealing. He’s the outsider who brings order to a chaotic and troubled world.
I continued reading Conan Doyle throughout my school years. While at university in 1975, I asked to write my final dissertation on the author and his brilliant creation. I was told, however, that Sir Arthur was not significant enough of an author to warrant such an undertaking. This shocked me; I viewed the man as a master at using language to create mood, tension, character, and mystery. The clarity of his storytelling is superb.
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As a reaction to this directive, I began working on what I thought would be an article about the films of Sherlock Holmes. This piece grew and in fact developed into a book length manuscript, which I sent off to a publisher. I fully expected the submission to languish in the slush pile, unread and forgotten. Remarkably, this was not the case. It was accepted and Holmes of the Movies was published the same year I received my degree.
Peter Cushing, who portrayed Holmes in the 1959 film The Hound of the Baskervilles as well the BBC Sherlock Holmes series from the mid-60's, was kind enough to write the Preface for the book. I even traveled to Pinewood Studios to meet him. He was a wonderful man—and the first of the acting Sherlocks I was lucky enough to encounter.
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In 1996, I became the editor of Sherlock magazine. While there, I got to meet Jeremy Brett during his reign on TV as the Great Detective. My meeting with the actor inspired Bending the Willow, my book about Brett and the Holmes series. I’m pleased to say Bending the Willow is regarded as the definitive book on Brett and his Sherlock shows. The title came from a remark Jeremy made about playing Holmes. He said that he wanted to be true to Doyle’s conception of the character, while adding touches of his own. He was, he observed, ‘bending the willow but not breaking it’.
Clearly, Holmes has had a sizable impact on my professional life. Yet he also played a starring role in my personal life. In 1998, I met my wife, Kathryn, through Sherlock Holmes.
She placed an advertisement in a Holmes journal, seeking out Holmes fans in the North of England who were interested in forming a Sherlock Holmes society. Of course, I responded.
We met in a coffee shop in York, and had an immediate rapport. Together, we formed our Sherlock Holmes society and ran it successfully for 10 years. In the process, we fell in love. My wife is the love of my life; she’s not only my best friend but, regarding my writing, is my most perceptive critic. And if it hadn’t been for our love of Sherlock we probably would never have met.
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Conan Doyle’s wonderful character has remained shimmering golden shadow in my life since I first picked up that school library copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles all those years ago. He has brought me pleasure, excitement, a certain amount of literary success—and a loving wife.
I continue to write Holmes novels to this day. My most recent novel, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ripper Legacy, places the good detective on the hunt for England’s notorious killer. With each work, I take a leaf out of Jeremy Brett’s book: I try to bend the willow a little while remaining true to Sir Arthur’s incredible creation.
David Stuart Davies is the author of seven Sherlock Holmes novels and "Starring Sherlock Holmes", which details the film career of the famous sleuth. His non-fiction work Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes is regarded as the definitive work on the subject. David’s two successful one-man plays, Sherlock Holmes–The Last Act and "Sherlock Holmes–The Life & Death" have been recorded on audio CD by The Big Finish. David is the author of other works of crime fiction; his latest novels are The Scarlet Coven and Blood Rites. Currently, he is the general contributing editor for Wordsworth Editions Mystery & Supernatural series. He is a Baker Street Irregular and a member of The Detection Club. He has given talks and dramatic presentations on Holmes and from his collection of ghost stories, The Halloween Mask, at various literary festivals, libraries, and conferences and has been a guest speaker on the Queen Mary II. Follow David on Twitter.
Featured photo: Cover of "Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection"