The Original Sherlock Holmes

I have a longstanding adoration for Basil Rathbone, not just because he is – very probably – the sexiest man who’s ever lived, but also because I love his performance as Sherlock Holmes:

Basil Rathbone

I have a box set of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes films Rathbone made with Nigel Bruce between 1939-1946, and it is the most oft-watched box set I own. House of Fear and Terror by Night are my all time favourites, and I have watched both those films over and over again.

For many people, Jeremy Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes and it is, indeed, the case that the Brett version is far more true to the books than the Rathbone one. Rathbone’s Holmes is warmer – there is no evidence of a cocaine addiction, or much in the way of Holmes’s depressive nature. Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes lacks the cold asceticism Jeremy Brett brings to the part. These films are done with a much lighter touch, and there is much more of a sense of very close friendship between Holmes and Watson:

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the Jeremy Brett version – I do, very much, and have the box sets for that one as well, but I would not be able to watch them over and over again the way I do with the Basil Rathbone ones. This is partly because the Rathbone films have a much greater air of nostalgia. Most of them are set in “modern day” – meaning the 1940’s, which, I think, gives them a sort of sophisticated elegance that the Victorian setting lacks. Plus the fact that they’re filmed in black and white, which makes them even more effective, especially in the spookier films, such as The Scarlet Claw.

Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes may not be as cold and clinical as Arthur Conan Doyle’s original, but he is still a master of deduction, and ferociously intelligent (you can tell just by looking at him!):

Inspector Lestrade and Dr Watson are both portrayed as bumbling – if good natured – fools in these films which, of course, is not accurate to the books, but allows for plenty of fine, surprisingly understated, comic moments. There is also the odd bit of accidental comedy when the story runs into the most delicious melodrama that seems quite over the top by today’s standards but – I won’t lie – I love a bit of thunder and lightning, and villainous laughs, and da da da theme music from time to time.

In short, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films may not be the most accurate portrayal, but I think they bring something very special to the stories in terms of style, warmth, cosiness and nostalgia.

Anyway – what sparked this blog post was that it was my birthday yesterday and my lovely Mum bought me a Basil Rathbone bracelet and matching necklace from the utterly fabulous Alternative Boo Teek (for whom I have already expressed my love here):


How unbelievably cool? The photos really don’t do these pieces justice – they’re both literally stuffed with all manner of ghoulish charms – but they are totally gorgeous and combine two of my favourite things – Basil Rathbone and the macabre. Jewellery doesn’t get any better than this.  

And – because it’s beyond awesome – here’s a snap of my birthday cake, lovingly baked for me by my Mum. As anyone who knows their nursery rhymes will recognise, it is the notorious pie from sing a song of sixpence:

Yes, indeed, one of the only things that can come close to Basil Rathbone + macabre, is cake + macabre. Where possible, I always prefer my birthday cake to be just a little bit macabre, ghoulish, sinister or otherwise disturbing.

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Two Things About Lex

Since Lex Trent came out I seem to have done loads of interviews for it. Or maybe it just feels that way to me because a lot of the questions I’ve answered have been replicated and so I find myself trying to think of new ways to answer the same question. I enjoy talking about Lex, so I’m not complaining. Taking time to do your bit to promote a book is a necessary part of a published author’s life.

But there are two questions that have come up a few times now, which I want to set the record completely straight on, and so I’m going to answer those two FAQ’s here on my site as well.

The first one has to do with the fact that Lex’s grandfather in the book suffers from a disease called the Soulless Wake. This is, essentially, a fantasy world version of Alzheimer’s. In almost every interview I’ve done about Lex, I’ve been asked where this came from and, more than once, people have suggested that perhaps it was because of Terry Pratchett’s diagnosis. I want to be completely clear about this: the inclusion of an Alzheimer’s type disease in Lex Trent has nothing whatsoever to do with Terry Pratchett. I have not – and will never – exploit another writer’s illness as a plot point in one of my books. In fact, at the time that I wrote the first draft of Lex Trent – back in my second year of university – Terry Pratchett had not even received his diagnosis yet. My grandfather, though, had been diagnosed with the disease two years previously. This is the reason that it features in the book.

I usually try quite hard to avoid allowing my own life to seep into my novels, but I suppose to some extent it is unavoidable. Everything – both good and bad – that happens to a writer, contributes to who they are. As Dan Simmons has his Wilkie Collins character state in his excellent book Drood: ‘I was a novelist. Everything and everyone in my life was material.’

It was not a conscious decision of mine to address the very serious issue of Alzheimer’s in what is, after all, meant to be a light comic fantasy novel. It crept in, somehow, on its own – I suppose because it was something that was very much on my mind at the time. However, once it was there, I decided to keep it, because it seemed to fit with Lex’s back story very well, and I don’t think that the odd serious scene detracts from the overall light-hearted nature of the book. If anything, I think such moments compliment the rest of it.  

I did not react to my grandfather’s illness in the cowardly way that Lex does in the book. I did not abandon him because he had Alzheimer’s – but I understand the temptation. It is not easy to visit someone you love very much indeed only to have them not really know who you are. My grandfather was still alive when I got my first publishing deal, but although he was told about it, I don’t think he really took it in. If his reaction when I won a short story competition at the age of thirteen is anything to go by, I know he would have been absurdly proud, and if I had signed my deal even one year earlier, then I would have been able to tell him about it properly. This remains one of the few real regrets that I have so far in my life.

My grandparents lived several hours away from us so when we went to visit, the trip involved a full day’s outing. We tried to make it there every six weeks. I went, but I had to force myself to go. My grandmother, on the other hand, cared for my grandfather day after day almost for the rest of his life, and however difficult it was for me to see him every six weeks for a few hours, for my grandmother this was a reality that she lived with permanently. She became his full time carer, despite suffering from health problems herself. The way that she was with him was one of the most brave, loyal, devoted things I have ever seen in my life. I would like to think I would conduct myself with the same grace and dignity if I were ever in her position but I seriously doubt I would be capable of that kind of selflessness. The point I wanted to hint at with Lex was that there are different kinds of bravery. Lucius, who is Lex’s wimpy, weedy, gentle twin brother, could not cope with the thrilling adventures Lex takes on, but he willingly stayed behind to look after their grandfather when he became ill – something that Lex simply could not do.

That is where the Soulless Wake comes from. It is a direct result of my own experience – not an insensitive exploitation of someone else’s suffering.

The second – and far less important FAQ – is people believing that I decided to call the main character Lex because that name is a variation of mine. This is not the case either. It is true that Lex and I share some similarities in that we were both law students; we both share a sort of dread of the idea of working as lawyers; and we both had grandfathers who had Alzheimer’s. But the reason I gave Lex his name was because of this man:

 This, as any Smallville viewer will recognise, is Lex Luthor, as played by Michael Rosenbaum. I was watching a lot of Smallville at the time, and I loved Lex as a character – I thought he was far more interesting than Clark. I also liked the fact that the name ‘Lex’ has instantly notorious connotations. That was the reason that I took it. Lex is therefore named for super-villain Lex Luthor. He is not named after me.

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