|Mattias with his new book and his BSI bow tie|
My Swedish friend Mattias Boström surprised and thrilled me recently by sending me an inscribed copy of his new book Från Holmes till Sherlock ("From Holmes to Sherlock" in English). The photos make me wish I could read Swedish. Although he’s already well known to fellow enthusiasts of the Master around the globe, I asked Mattias a few questions about himself as well as about the book. This has turned out to be international week here at Baker Street Beat!
Obviously, you’re a Sherlockian of some depth and experience. You’re even a member of the Baker Street Irregulars! Tell us a little about your Sherlockian journey.
It started with a bang. I was 16 and stumbled upon the Sherlockian world, fascinated at once, especially by the scholarship and all the Sherlockian theories. It was the quasi-academical side that got me hooked. I breathed Sherlock Holmes.
Then followed correspondence with Sherlockians all over the world. I was a teenager and had plenty of time to write several letters every day. I published newsletters, magazines, booklets, wrote articles and essays, and I was active in many Sherlockian societies.
Then came years when my activity was low and I even forgot to subscribe to the Baker Street Journal – horror, horror, I call them my dark years – because of that parallel thing called life – but Sherlock Holmes has always come back to me. And the BSJ, too.
In 2007 I was invested as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, and as you might guess, that was a huge teenage dream coming true. I couldn’t help raising my arms in the air when it happened at the BSI dinner.
How did your new book come about?
I have thought about writing a non-fiction Sherlock Holmes book for ages. But why write another one when there already are so many? And so many really good ones!
In February last year I was frantically tweeting expert comments during season 2 of the BBC tv series “Sherlock” when I received a tweet asking me when the book was to be published. What book? I replied. I didn’t understand. But then I understood, and I realized that if I ever should write a big book about Sherlock Holmes there would never be a better time than now, when the general Sherlock Holmes interest is so widespread. And I actually had an idea how to write this kind of book in a way that no one had done before.
I wanted to treat the subject like any popular history book, and just follow chronologically in the footsteps of the Sherlock Holmes success, from the 1880s until today. And I wanted to concentrate on the men and women who made the success possible, rather than writing about the contents of the stories, films etc., because the lives of people can be interesting to any reader, even if the readers aren’t especially interested in the subject itself.
It must have been a massive research project!
Yes, and I really needed to do many hundreds of hours of research. Since I wanted to write the book as narrative non-fiction, and watch the events from the perspectives of the involved persons, I needed a lot of information about the men and women behind the success. Not just Conan Doyle himself and his family, but also editors, publishers, literary agents, illustrators, actors, producers, directors, pastiche authors and influential fans.
This information was mainly to be found in autobiographies, in published and unpublished correspondence, and in many biographical articles and essays in e.g. old issues of the Baker Street Miscellanea. Some of the research material I found in the most unlikely books, like the memoirs of Barbara Cartland or Derek Jarman. I’ve also searched for facts in old newspapers, available digitally online, and I’ve had tremendous help from some of the big Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle collections and archives in Europe and America.
Especially the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection in Portsmouth, with all of the material from the late Richard Lancelyn Green’s collection, was important, since I needed so much information about Conan Doyle’s sons Adrian and Denis, and access to their business correspondence. Without that information I never could have showed how the Conan Doyle Estate interacted with others in the Sherlock Holmes world from the ‘30s to the ‘70s.
For me the most important part of the book is that period, since it shows how the popularity of Sherlock Holmes could survive after the death of the creator. This is also the period and the activities that very few have written about before, mostly because so little has been known about what was actually going on behind the curtain.
In my book I present some previously unknown facts regarding the years when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was alive, but in the later half of the book there are big chunks of unknown facts.
When do you expect us to be able to read it in English, which we eagerly anticipate?
First the book will be published in Swedish, on August 21. The book was also recently sold to Denmark and will be translated and published in Danish during, I guess, 2014. No other countries have bought it, but it’s early days yet, and maybe more translations will follow after it has been published in Sweden, especially if reviews and sales are great. It is however quite seldom that Swedish non-fiction is translated to English. Let’s hope this will be an exception from that. There are evidently a lot of things in this book that would suit an international market, and maybe the chronological narrative style even more than the new facts I’ve found.
How popular is Sherlock Holmes in the Scandinavia countries?
Traditionally Scandinavia has been a great market for Sherlock Holmes books. Films and tv series are equally popular. And there are Sherlock Holmes societies in Sweden and Denmark.
That goes back a long time, doesn’t it?
Yes, especially in Denmark, where Sherlock Holmes Klubben i Danmark (The Danish Baker Street Irregulars) was founded in 1950. The first Swedish society was active during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the present one, The Baskerville Hall Club of Sweden, was founded in 1979 and has approximately 80 members.
Do you get a chance to visit Sherlockians in other countries, such as the U.S. and the U.K., very often?
Not as often as I would like to, but I try to go to the BSI birthday festivities in New York every second year. I’ve also been to a couple of the activities of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London through the years, but that’s even more rarely than the New York trips. I would very much like to go to some of the smaller scion society meetings, but it’s quite a long way to travel for just one evening. However, I now look forward to the first Sherlockian conference I’ve ever visited, which will be Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Place, in Minneapolis in August, where I’ll be one of the speakers. That will be a memorable weekend.
You have a new daughter, Molli. What are you doing to raise her as a Sherlockian from an early age?
She’s six weeks and she’s adorable. I’ve introduced her to my collection of deerstalkers, and I whisper the name Sherlock Holmes at the same time as I stroke her on the back, and with a fairy tale reading voice I’ve read for her some short bits from my book. It doesn’t have to be negative just because it’s brainwashing. And I’ve already promised my friends in the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes that she will be a perfect member of their society. Well, I can’t promise that she will be a Sherlockian, but I will do my best, and at least I hope she will be quite a nerdy young girl.