Charlie Higson: Holmes again

Charlie Higson: Holmes again

After the success of the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson (Puffin), it is no surprise to see the spotlight shift to the youth of another iconic fictional character, this time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective, Sherlock Holmes. In June, Macmillan Children's Books will publish Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud, the first in a trilogy by Andrew Lane based on the teen years of Sherlock Holmes.

In the first book, it is 1868 and 14-year-old Holmes is sent to stay with an aunt and uncle in Hampshire after his father is posted overseas, to India. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, Amyus Crowe.

Lifelong fascination

Author and journalist Andrew Lane has been fascinated by Sherlock Holmes since reading A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle as a child. Writing this series has given him the opportunity to explore, and indeed create, the sleuth's formative years.

Lane says: "My agent, Robert Kirby at United Agents, also represents the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle and, when they discussed a young adult series based on the detective, he spoke to me because he knew I was massively keen on Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to write a series of books that could be put on a shelf before the Sherlock Holmes books start, where the character would be consistent and grow through the series.

"If you look at the character of the adult Sherlock Holmes, he is quite dysfunctional. He could be a manic depressive— there are days when he doesn't sleep and he's obsessive about detail; he's distrustful of women all the way through the series; but he also has this fascination for the arts and music.

"What I wanted to explore in these books was what had happened to a relatively normal 14-year-old to turn him into this adult and this will be a deeper thread running through the series.

"In the first book, you learn that Sherlock's real father is fighting in India so I introduce two alternate 'father figures' for him, Amyus Crowe who teaches Sherlock about puzzles, detail and tracking skills, and in the second book, Rufus Stone, who will be a more bohemian, artistic character. In the subsequent books, Sherlock will vacillate between the two and that is what leads to these two different sides of his character developing."

Creating a buzz

"The first story, based on a mystery about some venomous bees, was sparked by something in one of the last of Conan Doyles' stories about Sherlock Holmes. Watson asks Sherlock what he is doing in his retirement and he replies, "I have been keeping bees, fascinating creatures', and I wondered why? Bees had not appeared in any of his stories, but I can set up that interest in the Young Holmes stories.

"A major difference in these books from Conan Doyle's is that I will tell the stories through Sherlock's eyes as a young 14-year-old, not through the character of Watson, because, according to Conan Doyle's books, Sherlock and Watson have not yet met.

"Writing from Sherlock's perspective also helped me to keep the stories engaging and contemporary, as he speaks like any young person today, although I also wanted the books to have the historical distance of Victorian England. There are quite a few action scenes to keep up the momentum, for example in one scene Sherlock runs through the Rotherhithe Tunnel underneath the Thames, and there are more reflective scenes where Sherlock has a question he has to answer.

"There is so much richness in the Victorian era for me to explore. It was a time when people's spiritual questions could begin to be answered by science, so although there will be strange and seemingly bizarre mysteries in these stories, they will all have a scientific explanation at their heart. I will keep the stories very much in the style of Conan Doyle and respect the approach he took."