What would you most like your readers to know about you that they would not likely read in your official bio?
Now, if I wanted my readers to know something I’d shoehorn it into my bio! I don’t have any amazing accomplishments or superpowers. In fact, my rubbish superpower is that I can recognise songs from the first few notes.
Tell us Scribblers a bit about The Secret Notebook of Sherlock Holmes and what inspired this collection of vignettes?
The Secret Notebook is a collection of 29 short stories which take a light-hearted look at some of Sherlock Holmes’s early cases. When I was growing up, Sherlock Holmes was all around-on the television, at the cinema, in the library-and he’s still as popular today, if not more so. I’d thought about writing a collection of linked short stories for a while, as a fun project, and Sherlock sprang to mind. I was also incubating an idea for a Sherlock-inspired novel, but didn’t feel experienced enough as a writer to embark on it at that point. Writing the short stories helped me to get into the right mindset.
How much time do you put into research before you begin writing?
For this book, I mostly researched as I went along. I did a master’s degree in Victorian Literature and I’ve read all the Sherlock stories, so I had a fairly good base to work with.
I loved your supporting cast, from Watson and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, and Lestrade. Who was your favorite in these stories?
I enjoyed writing all of the supporting cast, and also imagining encounters between Holmes and various real people, but my favourite would have to be Mrs. Hudson. We know so little about her in the original stories that I wanted to give her more of a voice, and hint at what she had to put up with!
Do you see one of them having their own story to tell?
It’s already happening! When I got feedback from my beta-readers, a few said that they were confused by one of the stories, which involves a burglar called Fingers Molloy. I rewrote the ending and asked my husband to read it. His response was ‘You have to write another story so I find out what happens next!’ So when I finish answering your questions I’m going back to my outline for the sequel, which I hope will be a short novella. Then I’m going to start editing the draft of the Sherlock-inspired novel I mentioned earlier, which I finally wrote in last year’s NaNoWriMo. I do write non-Sherlock stories too, honest!
How do you normally start your stories – with a phrase, a character?
For the Sherlock stories, I had a sort of list in my head of elements I wanted to include in the book-eminent Victorians, interesting settings, familiar supporting characters, and odd situations. So I started from there and then worked out how Holmes and Watson would become involved. It was quite different from the way I normally write a story, which usually starts with a flash of a character doing something, and the rest grows around it.
Is there a difference in your writing process when you are creating a short story or series of short stories such as these vs. a full-length novel?
Definitely. A standalone short story will come out of nowhere or in response to a prompt. For the Sherlock collection I knew what I wanted to include, and started from there. For the full-length books I’ve drafted, I need to know at least a bit about what will happen in each chapter, and the overall plot, before I start writing.
If you could cast anyone to play the roles of Holmes and Watson, who would you pick?
I love the partnership of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, to the point where I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles. I’m not sure they’d suit my version, though!
Would you share an excerpt from The Secret Notebook of Sherlock Holmes?
Of course! Here is the beginning of the first story in the collection, ‘The Case of the Yellow Book’:
I watched as Sherlock Holmes, eyes narrowed, released a drop from his pipette into a flask of colourless liquid. There was a fizz, a puff of smoke, and the flask’s contents turned electric blue.
‘Amazing, Holmes!’ I cried. ‘What does it do?’
‘Absolutely nothing,’ Holmes smiled. ‘But it is rather attractive, don’t you think?’
I coughed as a pungent smell wafted towards me. ‘The aroma, less so.’ The front door bell jangled heartily and I flapped at the air in front of me. ‘Sometimes, Holmes, your timing is as off as your experiments.’
Billy the page appeared moments later, smirking. ‘Pleased to announce Mr . . . er . . . ’
‘Wilde. Oscar Wilde.’ The owner of the name stepped forward with a flourish of his bowler hat. He was a tall, broad-shouldered young man, wearing rather a loud checked suit. ‘Do I have the honour of addressing Mr Sherlock Holmes?’
‘You do indeed,’ Holmes said, looking him up and down.
‘I see that you are sizing me up,’ the young man observed with a smile. ‘Indeed, people who judge by appearances are the only sensible ones — no! That wasn’t it!’ He frowned. ‘I may as well come to the point. My notebook, full of epigrams which I have polished to a high shine, has been stolen!’
How do you balance the need for self-promotion vs. your writing time?
I’m not sure I’ve got the hang of that yet! I tend to be all or nothing. When I sit down to draft a long story, I work more or less full-time on it until it’s complete. I’ll allow myself the odd Twitter break, and I’ll blog once a week, but that’s about it. Once the story’s finished, it’s set aside for a few months while I do something else - or several somethings else. I’ve been itching to start the sequel to Sherlock since mid-March, but I’ve been so busy with creating and promoting the ebook and paperback, and getting another project off the ground, that it’s taken until mid-May to begin the prep!
Are you a pantster or an outliner?
This is a real sit-on-the-fence answer, but somewhere in the middle. I need to have a good idea of the steps along the way in the story, and the main characters, but that’s probably a few pages of scribbles, not a detailed outline. I get to know my characters, and what they would or wouldn’t do, as I write them.
Name your real life hero or fictional hero and how have they influenced your life?
I don’t have a hero as such, but I admire the author Joanne Harris. After the huge success of Chocolat, she’s gone on to write really diverse books, not just produce sequels, which is probably what a lot of people wanted her to do. She also speaks out and campaigns about authors’ rights, among other things. And she’s excellent on Twitter. Her integrity and candour is inspiring.
What’s your favorite book from childhood?
This is tough as I read so much as a child, but probably Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. My nan gave me her copy, which was a lovely blue bound book with the original Tenniel illustrations. I loved the silly songs and the topsy-turviness, and later I grew to appreciate the darker side of the stories.
If you were to give only one tip to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Don’t talk about writing, get on and do it! (good advice to myself, too!)
What books or other project do you have coming out in the near future?
My next book is a collection of flash fiction - really short stories, nothing over 500 words, with the working title Bitesize. It’s with beta-readers at the moment, and I plan to release it this summer.
Liz Hedgecock grew up in south London, did an English degree, and then took forever to start writing. She writes short stories in between work, raising a family, and picking up Lego, and is working on something longer.
Liz was a runner-up in the Cheshire Prize for Literature 2014 and also in the inaugural Lacomic Cup comic writing contest.
The global link for The Secret Notebook on Amazon is myBook.to/NotebookSH
Further info can be found at http://lizhedgecock.wordpress.com.
For bite-sized pieces, follow Liz on Twitter at @lizhedgecock.