I enjoyed Mike Hogan's book of spooky stories so much that I decided to ask him a few questions about it - and about his other Sherlock Holmes writing ventures. Here's the interview:
1. The Skull of Kohada Koheiji and Other Stories is rather tightly themed as all five stories deal with the apparently supernatural. Why did you decide to do that?
I was looking for a hook to hang a collection of stories on when I read a short book by Sir Hugh Cortazzi (ex-UK ambassador to Japan) on the highly successful Japanese Village Exhibition that was held in London in the 1880s. I was entranced by the concept and I wanted Holmes and Watson to visit. You may recall the scenes in Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy when Gilbert visits the Village and supposedly gets the idea for “The Mikado.” What better, I thought, than to mix Holmes and Hokusai and have him battle the Skull?
Although I have been guilty of one ghost story in which Holmes fights “real” ghosts, I decided that no ghosts or ghouls need apply as characters in the Koheda novelettes. The villains all have their feet firmly on the ground. If I’d had more experience as a writer (especially of Holmes pastiches) I wouldn’t have used ‘mummy/skull/vampire’ etc. in the titles as Holmesians think they’re in the Holmes vs Zombies from the Planet X vein, and fans of that genre expect ghouls in the stories and are disappointed.
2. You say at the end of the book, “I aim to write more in the series. . .” Does that mean more with a supernatural angle?
Probably not. I ran out of supernatural steam with the fourth story, and the fifth – “One Little Maid from School” – featured very little in that line. But it gave me an idea for a second series based loosely on Gilbert and Sullivan and theatrical themes. So, much to my own and readers’ confusion, I substituted “The Reckoning of Kit Marlowe” for “One Little Maid” and moved her to a second collection – Murder at the Savoy and Other Stories.
3. In “The Impulsive Vampire,” Watson rather one-ups Holmes by asking a question in a very direct way – and getting an answer – where Holmes would have used subterfuge. What were you doing there?
Having a little fun, really. I was thinking of the scene in “The Blue Carbuncle” – one of several in the Canon of course – in which Holmes wheedles information out of the fowl vendor by playing on his contrariness and pretending to have a bet with Watson. Sometimes, as Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar and good old straightforward Watson’s approach works and Holmes flounders in complexity. I do the same in “A Scandal in Tite Street” (a riff on Holmes’ clergyman scam in “A Scandal in Bohemia”). Holmes remains an incorrigible complicator of course.
4. There’s certainly humor in the Canon, but there seems to be more in these tales and also in your Young Winston series. Was that deliberate or is it just what comes out of you?
Both, really. I’ve lived in Africa and Asia since my teens and I would be even more out-to-lunch than I am if I didn’t revel in absurdities. Today the caretaker in my apartment block complimented me by saying that I must be doing well as I was remarkably fatter than a year ago. So incredibly fat am I, he said, that I must be vastly rich!
The other reason is to do with Watson. I feel that living with a functioning sociopath like Sherlock Holmes would drive you to drink or the gas oven unless you could have an occasional chuckle at his foibles. In the Canon I think Holmes called it a pawky streak that he had noticed in his friend Watson; a spiky humour that flashes now and then – as in Jamrach’s Menagerie in my “The Impulsive Vampire.”
5. There is a lot of history in these stories, including historical personages. Did that take a lot of research? Is history a special interest of yours?
The research was fifty percent of the fun of writing. I’m a big history buff – though the Victorian era is new to me as I have previously focused on Ancient Rome, Elizabethan London, and the Navy of Nelson’s time.
6. I much enjoyed the Young Winston series. Of course, he can’t stay young indefinitely. Is it your intention to stop the series with the trilogy that’s in print now?
Thank you, Dan – I’m very happy that someone as skilful at recreating the characters and period of the Canon as you would enjoy the series. I planned two trilogies, 1887 and 1888. In the first Winston is just old enough to be a viable character who could learn the sleuthing business, and the second, of course, is the year of the Whitechapel murders; Winston wouldn’t want to miss facing the Ripper. It will be a challenge to write (perhaps not possible) as Winston’s only thirteen in 1888 and I don’t want him in too much gore. I’ll get to 1888 later in the year - the outline cover images by artist Alex Singleton are done.
7. What question haven’t I asked you that you want to answer?
What I am up to perhaps? I sat down today and wrote five lines of the first novelette in a Sherlock Holmes series Murder on the Brighton Line which will probably be set on trains, ships and other Victorian modes of transport.
And I can’t miss a chance to promote my semi-autobiographical book now re-edited and titled Hamlet and Me. The story features a not-quite me at not-quite twelve with Peter O’Toole, Laurence Olivier, and Sid James in supporting roles! The novel is on Kindle and will be out in paperback in a few weeks. It will be followed by my first foray into Ancient Rome with the working title Romulus and the Pope (a novel set in 475AD) which should be on ebook this month and paperback in September/October.