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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

UP TO SCRATCH

UP TO SCRATCH

ON WRITING FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES BLOOD TO THE BONE

ANDREW SALMON
 

Blood to the Bone is the second Fight Card Sherlock Holmes tale to be penned by award winning Sherlockian author Andrew Salmon. His first Fight Card Sherlock Holmes novel, Work Capitol, is also available on as a Kindle e-book and in paperback…

The first novel in the Fight Card Sherlock Holmes series, Work Capitol, presented a number of daunting challenges. Not only did I have to learn how Victorian fighters plied their trade, but also how Sherlock Holmes would put his inimitable spin on the science of pugilism. Added to that was the responsibility of discerning how Watson would describe a fight in the language of the time.

Research and a lot of pondering led me to the solutions. Hearing from readers since the book's release, I was pleased to see these solutions were met with positive reactions. The book even snagged an award nomination along the way. Holmes fans enjoyed the book, which was a tremendous relief to me and the Fight Card team.

Now, all I had to do was pull it off again! More than that, actually, as the second book could not and should not be just more of the same. No matter how much readers liked Work Capitol, the new one had to be different. We writers don't like to repeat ourselves.

Well, with the fight stuff all worked out and a first attempt at determining how Watson would narrate a boxing match successfully under my belt, I felt I was slightly ahead of the game. Also, in my research for the first book, I had collected a vast treasure trove of information, trivia, dates, events, names, places, etc.

One of those pieces was supposed to be an important clue for Holmes to discover in Work Capitol – except, when all was said and done, I'd forgotten to use it! So, I had that in my back pocket for the second book as well. Hey, it was a good clue – far too important to throw away.

Next came a read through of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's bare knuckle boxing novel, Rodney Stone, to set the tone. The novel provided me with an opportunity to pay homage to Doyle – we must never forget, it is his sandbox modern day Holmes scribblers play in after all.

My tip of the deerstalker takes the form of the pub Holmes, Watson, and my female fighter visit as the Waggon and Horses is visited by Doyle's characters in his book. What's funny, when you think about it, is that, really, two sets of his characters visit the pub a century apart in real time. Rodney Stone also gave me the title for my book, Blood to the Bone, from a phrase used to describe a true blue fighter common at the time.

With all of the above in my corner, I felt pretty good about the next book. And the research sealed the deal. We historical fiction writers are like fishermen. We cast our nets upon history in the hope of finding something interesting, something different, unsung, something today's readers may or may not know about, but we think they'd get a kick out of reading about.

My nets landed smack dab in the middle of the forgotten Victorian female pugilists of the 1800s. As the first book had not featured a female lead, this find immediately struck me as something different yet still staying well within the world of bare knuckle boxing. Endless research showed me the female fight game was a great element, which simply couldn't be ignored.

But how the heck was Holmes going to fight in the women's ring? Stumbling upon the tag-team aspect of women's boxing saved the day. Discovering that couples used to face off against other couples with the ability to tag up like wrestlers and switch partners saved my bacon. Holmes and my female lead could now step up to the scratch line together. Phew!

But what brought them together? Wait a minute! Tag-team couples! What if a husband in one of these tag-teams suddenly disappeared and Holmes and Watson were asked to investigate? Yeah, that would work. Okay, I had Victorian circuses, the forgotten boxing booths of the time, the somewhat obscure history of female bare knuckle boxing, a couple of other little known chapters of history (too spoilerish to talk about here) and a lunar eclipse thrown in for good measure. We were off to the races.

Then tragedy struck.

I had my ducks in a row, the opening scenes playing out in my mind and on my computer screen as I typed away, when my wife's best friend, Linda Gavin, passed away suddenly in July. Best friend? They had been as close as sisters these last 18 years. My wife's grief took precedence and the tale was set aside as we struggled through the shock of it. There was the celebration of life memorial to attend as well and this was a moving, unforgettable event – one we should all hope for when our time comes.

It was during this sad time I got the idea to model the female fighter in my Holmes tale after Linda. No small tribute, as Linda was a strong believer in gender equality and would have adored the character of Eby Stokes but, also, her husband, Doug, was a life-long Sherlock Holmes fan.

I had named a character after Doug in two previous Holmes tales a different publisher had brought out in recent years much to Doug's delight. As one always feel helpless when tragedy strikes another, here was something I could do for Doug, and he was moved when I told him of my plans at the memorial. I told him I would be dedicating the book to Linda as well as changing the name of my female fighter to Eby Stokes – Eby being Linda's maiden name.

I took things a step further by asking cover artist Mike Fyles if he would be willing to use Linda's likeness for his depiction of Eby Stokes. Mike's a great guy and readily agreed. I sent him off a pair of shots of Linda in her youth (boxing is a young man's and young woman's game) and he came back with the incredible cover you see on the book.

Things got a little spooky with the cover.

Take a look at his rendition of Eby Stokes. She does indeed resemble Linda, but what he did not know was that she always posed for photos with her hair down in front of her left shoulder. Always – except in the shots I sent Mike, as these had been shots of her in her youth.

I had made no mention of it to Mike, wanting him to be free to go where his considerable talent took him. Yet there is Eby Stokes with her hair hanging down in front of her left shoulder! Coincidence? Something more? We can each come up with our own answers. It sent chills down my spine, that's all I have to say about it.

As I gradually got back to writing the tale, the book took on more personal importance to me. Holmes tales deal with logic, deduction and adventure, not overburdened by emotion. This being my eighth Holmes tale, I was well versed in this. But now the book was to be my tribute to our departed friend. I had to make it a fitting tribute and I had to create an Eby Stokes to make Linda proud.

Have I succeeded? That's up to you, dear readers. I gave it everything I had, but the proof is in the reading, and I hope the story entertains and keeps you guessing.

It was a bitter-sweet experience writing Blood to the Bone. Thanks for getting this far with me and I hope you enjoy the book.
 

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