“…I could not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he turned his energy and sagacity against the law….” (SIGN)
I’ve known Rob Nunn for several years now online, and was lucky enough to meet him this past August at “Nerve and Knowledge II,” an annual conference on Holmes and his medical world. He’s has always struck as a nice guy–fun to talk to, knowledgeable, a dedicated teacher and family man, and a great Sherlockian. I would never, ever in a million years have pegged him as a bad influence, capable of corrupting The Great Detective. But he has….
An Interview with Rob Nunn:
How did you “meet” Sherlock Holmes?
It seems like Sherlock Holmes has always been a presence in my life. I grew up during the time that Sherlock Hemlock was a fixture on Sesame Street and to this day, The Great Mouse Detective is still my favorite Disney movie. I ordered a copy of Michael Hardwick’s “Revenge of the Hound” from a Scholastic book order when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I really met the true canonical Holmes in the winter of 2003 when I was given the Castle “Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes” for a Christmas present. From there, I devoured the rest of the canon, Doyle’s apocrypha, pastiches and scholarship.
What is your favorite Canon story and why?
“The Sign of Four.” This story has so many great elements to it! You of course get to see Holmes’ deductions with Watson’s watch and Sholto’s murder, but there’s also romance. And the boat chase is the best action scene in the canon, in my opinion.
What is your favorite movie or television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and why? Were you inspired by any particular one of them?
The Granada series is the best for my money. But, the Robert Downey Jr. films hold a special place in my heart. The first movie was the first media representation I saw of Holmes outside of books and I think it imprinted itself on me.
What inspired you to write this particular book?
I was reading the DK Sherlock Holmes book one evening, and it dawned on me that no one had explored the idea of Holmes using his superior intellect for nefarious purposes. Over the next few weeks, I read and reread as much of the canon and books about the canon as I could with an eye on how things would change if Holmes were a criminal instead of a detective.
Can you provide a brief synopsis of your book?
“The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street” follows Holmes and Watson’s lives from their meeting at St. Bart’s to the night on Von Bork’s terrace. But in this alternative history, Sherlock Holmes has decided to become a criminal after seeing his work go unrewarded after the Musgrave Ritual case. Along the way, we get to see how Scotland Yard, Mycroft, Moriarty and the rest of Victorian London deal with Sherlock Holmes, the criminal mastermind.
How closely does your book hew to canon? Why or why not? Was this a conscious decision, or did it just happen?
Very closely. My premise is that Holmes would be the same man that Doyle created, only his focus has changed. I had pages and pages of notes and quotations to make sure that “The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street” would be as canonical as possible.
Did your book require a lot of research? If so, did you uncover any especially interesting facts?
So much research! I really loved the Sherlockian research, but two research nights stick out. One was a night I spent researching the French wine blight for one of Holmes’ capers, and another night I spent on Google books reading books from the Smithsonian collection about explorers in Mongolia and Tibet. It was amazing to read first-hand accounts of these times from my own home.
Are you using Watson as a narrator? Why or why not? If so, did you find it difficult to mimic his voice? Did you use any particular “tricks”?
I learned quickly that I couldn’t do a Watsonian voice. I knew my limitations and didn’t want readers to be turned off by a forced narration, so these stories are told in the third person.
What did you most enjoy about writing your book?
The research! I got to dive back into some classic Sherlockian scholarship with a focus and spent many nights learning about obscure topics that would never cross my path in daily life.
What was the hardest part about writing your book?
Keeping everything straight. I wanted to use or reference every story from the canon according to William Baring-Gould’s chronology. I also made it a point to tell or mention every unpublished case that Watson gives us from the original stories. I was constantly jotting down ideas on scraps of paper and trying to keep all of my ideas and notes in some kind of working order.
I also really wrestled with how to use Irene Adler in my book. She has such cachet outside of the canon, but I wasn’t sure how or if she would have an interaction with a criminal Sherlock Holmes. I’m pretty proud of the spin I was able to put on her story. It’s still very canonical, while being very different.
Did you include any original characters? Can you describe them for us?
I tried to use a lot of names that weren’t necessarily fleshed out in the canon. McMurdo’s boxing match against Holmes was a lot of fun to write. I also noticed that Lord Balmoral appears in a few stories but is only mentioned in passing. I turned him into a character who looks down his nose at Holmes, but Holmes ultimately gets the upper hand.
Who is your favorite character in this book?
Watson. He’s such a loyal companion and good man in the canon, I was worried that his moral compass would trip me up by making him second in command for a criminal empire. But I focused more on his friendship with Holmes, and Watson remained a good man, I think. He just makes some choices that the police might not like.
Do you have a particular writing process? Would you like to share it with us?
My wife and daughter go to bed pretty early, so most of my writing was done at night. I have a room with all of my Sherlockian books, so that’s where I set up my writing area. Once I had my outline drafted, I just started writing. The beginning of the book was the hardest thing to write because I wasn’t in a groove yet. After a few aborted attempts, I finally decided to start the book with the meeting at St. Bart’s. From there, I would follow my outline each night.
If I came up with an idea or question for a section that I had already written, most of the time I wrote it down and would come back to it on another pass. I also had a friend reading my manuscript to catch any glaring errors, so some nights were dedicated to correcting those when he sent them in. After I had finished my first draft, I printed it all out and just went through it with a red pen. The manuscript looked like a murder scene when I was done. Red ink everywhere!
Then it was time to start back over with another draft. After three drafts, I felt pretty happy with what I had overall and focused on fine-tuning certain points of the story.
Are you involved in any Sherlockian groups?
I am the head of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, and a member of The Beacon Society, The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis, and The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn
Any advice for aspiring writers?
I’m a fifth grade teacher, and writing this book has changed my views completely on how I teach writing. You can’t be a good writer unless you write, and write a lot! I would guess that every writer has gotten stuff down on paper, and immediately thought it was terrible. I know I did. You just have to push through that and the good stuff will come out.
How did you feel when you first saw your book–in actual book form?
It was amazing. I knew the package was coming, so when it arrived on my porch, I made sure to open it with my wife and daughter. Writing the book was great, but seeing how happy my daughter was to see my book was the best part of this whole process.
How would you categorize your book? Is it mystery, thriller, horror, romance…?
I would classify it as a hypothetical fictional biography. I’m not sure that would be a very big section at the bookstores, though.
What sort of reader is most likely to enjoy your book?
Canonical readers who can appreciate a different take on the stories. I didn’t try to create new cases for Holmes to solve that retread old ground, but I don’t have Holmes fighting Martians either. If you appreciate the overall arc of Holmes and Watson’s lives, then I think you will enjoy “The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.”
Where can readers get a copy of your book?
It is available from MX Publishing (http://www.mxpublishing.com/product/9781787051744/The+Criminal+Mastermind+of+Baker+Street) and select independent bookstores now. It will be available from Amazon in November.
NOTE: The Beacon Society Mr. Nunn mentions is an organization dedicated to providing ways, means, and methods by which teachers can use Sherlock Holmes in their classrooms. For more information, follow the link: http://www.beaconsociety.com/
Parents (or Grandparents) interested in fostering or encouraging a child’s interest in Sherlock Holmes can find information on the Junior Sherlockian Society here: http://juniorsherlockian.com/