Interview with Barry S. Brown
By Cherie Jung
Q. You have written two books in a popular series featuring Mrs. Hudson as the brains behind Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. With so many Holmes pastiches being written over the years, what prompted the idea of Mrs. Hudson being the organizer of the 221B Baker Street detective agency?
A. In truth, when I first starting writing mysteries I began with a far more conventional protagonist — a high ranking and disillusioned member of the Philadelphia police force who quit his job to take the position of a small town police chief. After I'd gotten about half-way through a first draft I found my small town police chief to be an extraordinarily boring fellow, and I had to conclude that if I found him dull and uninteresting I could only imagine his effect on more objective readers. Chief Peloso now rests quietly at the bottom of a desk drawer.
Not atypically, a considerable time passed before I got a second idea. I had long been a fan of Holmes and had always had an interest in history and, thinking about the status of women in the Victorian era, it was apparent that for a woman to succeed in a world controlled by men, she would need to be extraordinarily resourceful. An older widow with a limited educational background would face a still greater challenge no matter what skills she had developed over the years. I have no idea what put the thought in my head, but it struck me that, as the landlady of 221B, Mrs. Hudson could have the unique opportunity of fulfilling a dream carefully nurtured with her late husband, Constable Tobias Hudson, of starting her own consulting detective agency. She would only need to bring on a male figurehead who could be trained to undertake the investigations she would direct. As it happened she acquired two boarders and investigators, and the sage of Baker Street was well on her way, Fortunately, I began writing before becoming aware of the wealth of pastiches already developed, and still developing. Unlike the intrepid Mrs. Hudson I might well have been intimidated by that knowledge. As it turned out, the newsletter editor for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London wrote that I am indeed the first to conceive of Mrs. Hudson as the director of the detective agency at 221B, and I now take satisfaction at introducing a much revised, and far more likely, Mrs. Hudson to the world of mystery writing.
Q. Your professional history includes research in mental health, criminology, and drug abuse. Did these studies spark your interest in how to adapt a new angle with the popular Baker Street characters or was an interest in the Holmes cannon the incentive?
A. I'm certain the folk I met (both staff and clients) in the course of my clinical and research work in state mental hospitals, prisons, and drug treatment agencies influenced the characterization of the people created in my stories, but the Canon was in itself a rich and sufficient source of material. Indeed, Doyle's Mrs. Hudson provides a writer with wonderful possibilities. Although she appears in only 14 of the 60 tales of Holmes' exploits she is embedded in everyone's conception of the Baker Street household by virtue of her routine appearance in movie and television adaptations of the stories. At the same time, she is never described beyond Watson's reference to her "stately tread" and is even denied a first name (although some insist she be called Martha, but that's another matter). In short, although known to readers, she is, in fact, a blank canvas on which anything might be drawn. Who could ask for more?
Q. Do you plot each book separately or do you have an idea of what is going to happen over the course of several books? I'm assuming, of course, that there will be more books in the series?
A. There will be at least one more book I assert with reasonable confidence. As I approach each book, I'm not exactly certain what is going to happen over the course of that one so I lack the ability to plan things out as a series. I wish I could. In fact, it was my publisher, Jim Smith of Sunstone Press, who suggested — or told me — I was now writing the Mrs. Hudson of Baker Street series after publishing my first book, The Unpleasantness at Parkerton Manor. Of course, I'm grateful that he did as I find the characters fun and working out the interactions between Mrs. Hudson, Holmes and Watson a wonderful challenge.
Q. Again, with so much being written by Conan Doyle and numerous other authors about Sherlock Holmes, does this make it more difficult to create new cases for Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Mrs. Hudson or easier because you can avoid repeating crimes previously solved by the consulting detective?
A. As you suggest there are so many other authors writing about Holmes that I find it easier to concentrate on Doyle's work almost alone. Obviously, his writings remain the best known and I certainly strive to avoid any of his plots while at the same time trying to fit my stories into the framework that he has constructed for life at 221B and in Victorian London. I might add that for me an important task is achieving consistency of my stories with both events in the lives and functioning of the residents of Baker Street as described by Doyle, and to be accurate in describing life in England of the late Victorian era.
Q. How do you decide on which case will be next for Mrs. Hudson, Holmes, and Watson?
A. One of the things I like to do is to find some historical event that is coincident with the time frame about which I'm writing and is dramatic in its own right. Thus, the fight for Irish Home Rule, and more particularly the actions of one group of Irish nationalists became the springboard to the case described in Mrs. Hudson and the Irish Invincibles while the founding of a rogue empire in the Malay Archipelago by an individual described as the White Rajah of Sarawak became a critical element in the unfolding of the mystery in The Unpleasantness at Parkerton Manor. I like to think that tying my cases to real, if somewhat exotic events lends an addtional interest to my stories. In all honesty however, it makes for a fun piece of research for me.
Q. I know Mrs. Hudson and the Irish Invincibles has only recently been published but is there another book in the works? If so, can you tell us the title and when may we expect it to be published?
A. Thank you for asking. As I suggested above, I am working on a third book which I've tentatively titled Mrs. Hudson in the Ring. The historical take-off point for this story is the transition from bare-knuckle boxing to Marquis of Queensberry Rules, in association with which Holmes may or may not have killed a man in the ring; as well as Mrs. Hudson's heretofore unknown relationship with that fine actress and woman about town, Lillie Langtry. I aim for a book a year which would mean a June, 2012 publication date, but I can never be certain my aim will remain true.
Q. I imagine it must be a bit frustrating to spend months writing a book, only to have the readers devour it in one evening and be clamoring for more?
A. If true — I refer to the devouring and clamoring part, the months writing is accurate — it would provide the most wonderful feeling in the world. In truth, the frustrating part is not knowing what effect your book is having on readers even as you're hoping they're having a good time with what you've written.
Q. Have you been approached yet to make the adventures of Mrs. Hudson a TV or movie series?
A. While Mrs. Hudson remains open to properly respectful overtures, I fear she has received no such invitations to date. I can only conclude there remains a considerable bias against revealing to the general public the true sage of Baker Street.
Q. Are there any other things you'd like to talk about?
A. I would only like to thank OMDB! for giving me the opportunity to share with its readership my thoughts and some of the history around my mystery series.
Books by this author include:
THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT PARKERTON MANOR (reviewed) MRS. HUDSON AND THE IRISH INVINCIBLES (reviewed)
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