An interview with George Mann

George Mann is an author of fantasy-historical-detective stories, but he has also just edited Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of steampunk Sherlock Holmes tales. George talks to us about the collection and why he thinks it works. The book can be bought from Amazon here. The book is fron TITAN books.

Hi George, first things first. Do just tell us a bit about yourself before we talk about your Sherlock Holmes project
I’m a UK based author and editor, best known for my series of Victorian fantasy novels about detective duo Newbury & Hobbes. I’ve also written new stories for Doctor Who, have a second ongoing series of novels about a vigilante in an alternate 1920s New York, and I’ve edited a number of original science fiction and fantasy anthologies. I think that about sums it up!Encounters of Sherlock Holmes

Why Holmes? Why steampunk? Why horror? How do these things mesh?I’ve had a keen interest – or rather, obsession – with Holmes ever since I first read the ‘canon’ at the age of 13. I’ve always wanted to be involved in telling new stories about him, and the anthology was the excuse I’d been waiting for.
I think the fascination with dropping Holmes into steampunk, fantasy or supernatural stories stems from the desire to see how he reacts in those situations. Holmes is the arch-rationalist, who operates only on logic and scientific method. He has no time for emotions or the supposedly ‘unexplained’. So when he faces them, it’s an opportunity for us as readers and writers to hold a mirror up to ourselves and question our own beliefs. How would we react, if this logical man cannot find an explanation? It’s a case of the rational vs the irrational, and I think there’s a lot of drama and story in that. I think that’s why people keep coming back to the idea.

Is there something in Holmes that (like Shakespeare) make him particularly protean – particularly capable of being interpreted multiple times for multiple generations?
There are a couple of things in this.

Holmes was one of the first major recurring characters in genre fiction, and as such became popular throughout the world, as more and more publishers reprinted the stories and people were exposed to his investigations. More than that, though, Doyle’s stories were simply so good, so original, that they became genre defining, and of course the character of Holmes is synonymous with that. There’s a reason he’s known as ‘the world’s greatest detective’ – because the stories resonate so well, even now. Holmes was ahead of his time, and although the technology has developed tremendously, the methods and processes used by Holmes – an early form of forensics – are still used today.

I think Doyle also realised that readers like a puzzle and a challenge, and get a great deal of enjoyment from seeing Holmes unpick what, on the surface, appears to be an impossible situation.

Then, of course, there’s the sheer flexibility of the format. Just like Doctor Who, who can go anywhere in time and space, Holmes can deal with any puzzle that’s thrown at him, and the more bizarre, difficult and outlandish it gets, the more he revels in it. I think that’s probably the real genius of Doyle, actually – hitting upon a format for stories that’s so open and endless that we’re able to tell new tales of Holmes even now, well over 100 years later.

Holmes seems to be having something of a revival at the moment: film, TV, Antony Horowitz – now this. Is there something about the times we live in now which make Holmes seem particularly relevant?
In difficult times people look for heroes, and failing that, they look for fictional heroes that at least give them some comfort that people like that might be out there in the world. Holmes is familiar to everyone, all over the world. Indeed – some people even believe that he was a real, historical figure. He’s become like Robin Hood, and transcended his origins to become a myth. But key for me is the fact he’s actually ‘one of us’ – he stands outside the authority of the police and takes an interest in the affairs of normal people, as well as princes and kings. Wouldn’t we all like to think there was someone like that we could go to for help?

Of the original Holmes canon, do you have a favourite story and why?
It has to be The Blue Carbuncle. Every year at Christmas I watch, listen to or read a different version of the story, and it never fails to get me in the seasonal spirit. It has everything – a great mystery, a great atmosphere and Holmes being Holmes.

Do you have any similar projects on the horizon? 
Well, there’s another Holmes anthology in the works, for starters! There were just too many writers I wanted to work with for this first book, so we’ve already decided to get started on a second, which is due out next year. Other than that, there’s another Newbury & Hobbes novel this year, The Executioner’s Heart, along with a short story collection, and I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a Holmes novel, too.

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