Accomplished authors in their own right, father-daughter duo Charles Veley and Anna Elliott have been teaming up to bring a whole new take to the Sherlock Holmes stories. Shaking up the typical narrative is the introduction of Lucy James, a headstrong, independent American actress – who also turns out to be Holmes’ daughter. Together with the stabilizing presence of the ever-faithful Watson, they become partner sleuths, navigating their way through the worst crimes, facing down archenemies, and unraveling mysteries.
BookTrib caught up with Charles Veley and Anna Elliot to talk about creating the daughter of Sherlock Holmes, the resurgence of Holmes in pop culture, and working together.
BookTrib: Lucy James is such a fantastic character, and she’s been so well received. I don’t want to define her only as “the daughter of Sherlock Holmes,” because she’s such an independent character who can definitely stand on her own right, but at the same time, it’s a really interesting role to fill in the Sherlock Holmes story. How did you go about not only creating her as a dynamic, independent character, but also fitting her into the original Holmes narrative?
Anna Elliott: First of all, thank you! Lucy James is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing, so I am always so happy to hear she’s connected with readers. Much of the credit of course in her creation goes to my dad; he came up with the idea for her as this fiercely independent, brilliant orphan who only as a young adult learns that she is in fact the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. Right there, that’s just a fantastically fun backstory to build on, especially for anyone who loves the Holmes stories and characters as much as I do. So from there it was just imagining what that would look like: a blend of Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant intelligence and detective abilities, combined with the more modern feminist sensibilities that were just beginning to come to the fore during that era.
Charles Veley: Many thanks from me as well! As to fitting Lucy into the original Holmes narrative, the most important thing is to know the facts of her world: what Conan Doyle tells us and what history tells us. The Sherlockian community has created tons of scholarly materials to help with that. In particular, there’s Leslie Klinger’s wonderfully detailed ‘The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes,’ which even has a very helpful chronological chart at the end of the first volume. Once I knew the background, Lucy fit herself in – from the moment she enters D’Oyly Carte’s office in ‘The Last Moriarty,’ she has a charismatic presence for Watson, who’s our eyes and ears for that story, and even for Holmes. She takes charge. It’s just a matter of staying true to what she would do given her backstory and the current circumstances.
BookTrib: Sherlock Holmes has risen in popularity over the years: you have the BBC television series Sherlock; the CBS television series Elementary; the films starring Robert Downey Jr.; and the film starring Ian McKellen, just to name a few. What’s notable about all these different adaptations of the character is that his personality is incredibly different in each version. Similarly, your Sherlock Holmes is different from the other ones – how did you go about creating your take on the iconic character?
AE: I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes ever since I was little and my dad used to read me the stories at bedtime. So I think that’s really the foundation for my own take on his character: just an absolute love and reverence for the original Conan Doyle canon. But at the same time, Doyle wrote the Holmes character as very much multi-faceted, and I think that’s why all of those various adaptations you mentioned (all of which I’ve seen and really enjoyed) work so well: each plays into different facets of Holmes’ character, be it the detective, the drug addict, the amateur boxer . . . For me, though, reading the original stories with my dad, my favorites were always the ones where Holmes shows a bit of a softer, more human side. My top two favorites are probably ‘The Blue Carbuncle’ and ‘The Abbey Grange’ because at the end of them, Holmes chooses mercy over strict legal justice.
So speaking for myself– although I think this is true for my dad as well– when it came time to create my own take on his character, that was the aspect of Holmes that I was most interested in exploring. I think Lucy’s character plays into that particularly well (again, kudos to my dad!), because here Holmes now has the brilliant, headstrong daughter who forces him a bit to confront his more human, emotional side. The scenes I’ve gotten to write between the two of them where you get those glimpses of Holmes really adjusting to his role as a father and having to deal with that human connection have definitely been some of the most fun for me as a writer.
CV: I would just add that we also watched the Masterpiece Mystery series in which Jeremy Brett plays the role of Sherlock. This was from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. I remember thinking at the time that his was the definitive portrayal of the Doyle character. He still is the Holmes I see in my mind when writing for the Sherlock and Lucy series.
BookTrib: As a quick follow-up to that question, with all the recent new media of Sherlock Holmes, would you like to, or do you have any plans to turn this series into a television show or film?
AE: We would love it if that ever happened. If anyone out there knows any TV or movie producers, please feel free to press copies of our books into their hands!
BookTrib: Let’s talk about collaborative efforts for a moment: some people work great with other people, and some others don’t. I know you’ve been collaborating together now for a few years, but when you two first started writing together, were there any hiccups, or different approaches that you had and had to iron out? Also, do you have any advice for others who want to work on collaborative projects and books?
AE: Honestly, before writing these books I would never have thought of myself as someone who would collaborate well with another author. But I actually couldn’t love it more! I think it helps that my dad and I split the narrative pretty cleanly, and while we plan out a good bit of the plots together, I write the chapters narrated by Lucy on my own, and he writes the Watson ones. So we each trust each other to do our individual jobs, which I think is really the key.
We both have enormous respect for each other as writers, so while there are definitely some times when my dad handles a narrative choice differently than I would have, I’m totally happy to trust that choice is the right one, and he does the same for me. Again, I have to give my dad huge props because these books were originally his conception, and he really has been so generous about sharing and adjusting his vision for them with me, and letting me take Lucy’s character a bit in my own direction. I guess my best advice to others thinking about collaborating would be to really try to check your own ego at the door and just think about telling the best story possible.
CV: Working with Anna is so much fun it really isn’t work at all. Seeing what she comes up with is like opening a present on Christmas morning and discovering that it’s just what you wanted!
BookTrib: Finally, your plots are so well planned: not just in the character interactions, but the mysteries as well. Has there ever been a plot you really wanted to use, but have ultimately decided you couldn’t do?
AE: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. We do work out the plots in advance quite a bit — that’s one of my favorite parts of the process, tossing ideas back and forth — and then we tweak and adjust as needed during the writing process, because what sounds good in an outline doesn’t always work when it comes to the actual writing of the book. I don’t think we’ve ever had to toss whole book ideas out the window, but there have definitely been sub-plots that I or my dad thought would be fun but that there just hasn’t been space for in a book. We keep wanting to do something really cool with Zoe’s character, and keep not really having room for it in whatever story we happen to be working on. Poor lady! You never know, though, maybe one of those ideas will work in a story in the future.
CV: Yes, and Zoe does appear in The Return of the Ripper, which will come out this spring.
For more information on the series and authors, please visit their website at sherlockandlucy.com
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Charles Veley has loved Sherlock Holmes since boyhood. As a father, he read the entire canon to his then-ten-year-old daughter at evening story time. Now this very same daughter, grown up to become acclaimed historical novelist Anna Elliott (the Twilight of Avalon trilogy; The Pride & Prejudice Chronicles), has worked with him to develop critically acclaimed adventures in The Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mystery Series! Following the release of The Last Moriarty (2015) and The Wilhelm Conspiracy (2016) – books #1 and #2 in the Sherlock & Lucy series, penned solely by Veley – in 2017, Veley and Elliott’s collaboration has brought readers Remember, Remember, The Crown Jewel Mystery, The Jubilee Problem, and Death at the Diogenes Club.
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