First up, let me say a big thank you to you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions about the up-coming release of Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets.
Thanks, Alexandra! It’s great being here. And you’re most welcome;† always happy to take time out to talk about stuff! Baker Streets, especially, is a huge labour of love for me, so I’m keen to rattle on about it.
This is Abaddon’s first anthology release, so, can you tell us a little bit about why an anthology now. And, more importantly, why the Victorian-world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes?
Why an anthology? Our sister imprint, Solaris, has made a lot of ground with anthologies; they have five coming out this year alone, and are really starting to get attention as champions and innovators of the short form. I thought Abaddon was in a really good position to add to that. We have our own very distinct sensibility—risk-taking and consciously pulpy—and anthologies are a great medium for expressing those values.
They’re also a brilliant opportunity to find new talent and to give old hands space to step outside their respective boxes, both specifically parts of my mandate for the imprint. The only surprise, really, is why we didn’t start doing them earlier.
To your second question, strictly speaking, the anthology isn’t set in the Victorian world at all. Of the fourteen stories, only two of them are set in Victorian London; one of them’s a Victorian London with superheroes and one of them turns out to be… well, not quite what it seems. The anthology’s not just a collection of Holmes stories, but of alternate Holmeses: male Holmeses, female Holmeses, Holmes as architect, Holmes as high schooler, future Holmeses, contemporary Holmeses, historical Holmeses, even a secondary-world fantasy Holmes!
As for why… I didn’t want to set an anthology in any of Abaddon’s existing shared worlds; they got their writers and their storylines as it is, and I didn’t think it would add anything. I didn’t want to do zombies or anything like that either (at any rate, there are so many zombie anthologies out now that I’ve been feverishly picturing them swarming the bookshop, biting other books and turning them into zombie anthologies). So then I had the idea of taking a beloved classic setting or character and inviting authors to move them to different times and places, reinterpreting and reimagining them.
Sherlock and John were a natural choice. I’ve long felt Holmes was an uncomfortable fit for his Victorian world; he’s manic, wild, uncaring of convention, unconcerned with niceties, obsessed with the hunt. A fey, dangerous bastard bent on his own ultimate destruction. But the public imagination always drew him as this stuffy, pompous, superior Victorian gentleman. What the new TV shows have done is shown that, taken out of context, the real Holmes shines through. Perfect for what I had in mind.
As the commissioning editor, did you focus on specific authors you wanted to write for the anthology?
Sort of? I commissioned a few authors I’ve already worked with (albeit not with Abaddon Books), whose style I knew and who I thought would have fun with the project; authors with previous form writing about Holmes, who might enjoy the chance to break him out of his box and go crazy.
But the real opportunity with a collection like this was to find people I’d never worked with before. So I hit the convention scene, sent out some emails, yanked on the tenuous threads of my professional web, and got some people I was excited to be working with.
It’s a good mix: mostly British and American authors, with one South African and one Australian (I hope to cast my net even further afield next time). And it’s about two-thirds women; that was important. There’s a lot of nonsense said these days about how the only reason women are underrepresented in publishing is because there aren’t enough of them writing, and it’s tosh.
And following on from the previous question, did you give your chosen authors a fixed set of parameters, or did you let them have full rein on their imagination?
Basically “do something new with Sherlock Holmes.” I didn’t want to prompt anyone, or to narrow the scope. I didn’t even ask for outlines in advance so that I could make sure I was getting a reasonable mix of settings (as a result, I got a lot of modern-day settings). I wanted the authors to surprise me, and was hugely pleased with the result.
What surprised you about the subsequent stories, and what left you wanting more, if anything?
One thing surprised me, sure. I’ve already said how out of place Holmes feels in Victorian London, but what the stories really highlighted was how out of place he is anywhere. He’s an ornery fucker,‡ pushing against the world he lives in, challenging assumptions and railing at injustice. If there’s something out of true in the world he’s in, he’ll run straight towards it and butt his head against it ’til he bleeds.
The job of the stories was to show different sides of the characters. What I found was, the side of Holmes you see in any given story is the one that clashes most with his world. Baker Streets shows you his rationalism best amidst superstition and magic, and his cynicism best amidst idealists and artists; he identifies the merely unlikely amidst the impossible, and the impossible amidst the mundane. He’s at his most charming when others are brusque and to the point, and his bluntest among phoneys and well-wishers.
It’s nothing I asked for, but it’s a theme that runs through the whole collection. I was quite pleased when I noticed it.
So what’s next for you, and will we see more anthologies from Abaddon?
Ooh. Well, there’s continuations of a lot of Abaddon storylines coming up — I’m getting the MS of the second Gods & Monsters next month — and I’m in talks with a very exciting new author about a new SF series for next year that you’ll be hearing about before too long. I’m still keen on bringing out novellas, which has allowed me to run with some slightly riskier, less commercial stuff and has spawned a new novel series (E. E. Richardson’s Ritual Crimes Unit series, the first full-length novel of which we should be announcing soon — you heard it first here!).
Whether you’ll be seeing another anthology depends on how Baker Streets goes, of course, but it’s looking pretty damn likely…
Thanks for having me here! I like it on this site. Roomy. *wiggles in imaginary seat, sips from mojito* I hope to be here again some time!
†I was going to do some gag about “a big ‘you’re welcome'” and maybe set it in bigger type, but realised that would be a bit of a dad joke, so I didn’t. #growingasaperson
‡Can I say “fucker” in the blog? ‘Cause I just did. Twice.
David Thomas Moore has been a plague on time and space, stealing the Mona Lisa days after completion, crashing the great Bankotron 5000 central finance system in the year 2213 and snatching six irreplaceable scrolls from the Library of Alexandria and setting fire to it to cover his retreat. He was finally brought to ground in Shanghai in 1901 by Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes Holmes, a seventeenth-century crime-fighting preacher from the colony of Virginia, and his companion John-on-Watts, a grizzled tribal medic from the nuclear wastelands of the twenty-fifth century. Now reformed, David lives in Berkshire in twenty-first-century England with his wife Tamsin and daughter Beatrix. Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets was his first anthology as editor.