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The Sign of V by Damon Cavalchini

Holmes ith Violin by Paget

Sherlock Holmes, the pipe-smoking, cocaine-taking detective whose adventures were faithfully recounted by his loyal companion Dr Watson, is undergoing something of a make-over. Just as the BBC reinvented him for a modern television audience, now Fringeworks will be reinventing him as a steampunk hero, bringing him to life in the first of an ongoing series of novels revisiting the original canon of Sherlock Holmes. Known as The Moriarty Paradigm, the series will be set in an alternate British Empire created by the genius of James Moriarty, time traveller.

The third novel, The Sign of Four, will be re-imagined as The Sign of V by author Damon Cavalchini. This is his first published novel, although he has had a number of short stories published over the years. As an Australian, Damon will be bringing an international perspective to the series. It will be published later in 2013.

> We asked Damon how he felt about working with an alternative universe, and in particular one created by Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

I love it. The special thing about this is that we are working in an expanded version of the canon. Not just the characters but Conan Doyle’s stories. At its core, this is still the Sign of Four but in a bigger world, a world with layers upon layers. While these stories are all standalone, they connect with each other rewarding the person who reads all of them while still being great fun for the person who picks up a single book to sample.

As for Moriarty, he’s the great shadow, the spider in his web. In these stories, we get to see the web. He has a purpose. A great and terrible purpose which will surprise and challenge people’s expectations. Besides who wouldn’t want to share a world with people like Adrian, David, Mike and Jonathan? Some of the ideas being thrown around are breathtaking and can’t wait to have an inside view as they teased together. And the next group of writers are already Toby-like chasing our scent.

> Obviously this book is all about pulp action and adventure with a steampunk setting. How can it still be Sherlock Holmes?

Haven’t you seen Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century? Or Sherlock Hound? Or even the Guy Ritchie movies?

Conan Doyle himself summed it perfectly in the Sign of Four when he had Holmes criticise Watson for attempting to tinge his accounts with romanticism. At their heart, the Holmes stories are adventures. I’m simply following in Watson’s footsteps and working a love-story or an elopement (we all know about Watson and Mary) into the fifth proposition of Euclid.

In steampunking the canon, we’re bringing the entire world of Sherlock Holmes into our universe, not picking up a character, dumping him in a strange land and calling him Sherlock Holmes. The Holmes, and the Watson, of The Sign of V are the Holmes and Watson of the canon. Holmes hasn’t suddenly become a mad inventor or taken up aqua-aerobics.

Besides plenty of other people have already placed him into many different times and settings. Even most of the Basil Rathbone movies moved him out of Victorian times. Yet there are those who claim Rathbone is embodiment of Holmes. If you get the character of Holmes right, he can exist anywhere.

> The original story had four antagonists, after whom the story was named. Does the V signify a fifth?

Ah. This V. He’s just this guy, you know.

V is many things to many people. A name. A place. A number. A letter. A date. A man in a porcelain mask looking for a date on Guy Fawkes night. The one thing I can tell you is that it is not an alien lizard disguised as human while trying to take over the world.

At least not in this draft.

Conan Doyle himself was ambiguous about how many people should be involved. The Sign of Four (or as it was originally published, the Sign of the Four) was at one point going to be the Sign of the Six, hinted at a bigger, untold story. Forget about the V, you have no idea how long I agonised over whether to keep the ‘the’ in the title. Eventually I left it out because it is more mysterious.

In the end, I guess you are going to have to wait and read the book to find out.

> As an antipodean, how familiar are you with Holmes? What sort of impact has he had on your writing?

Being the convict of the pack, I bring a criminal perspective that is extremely useful in writing Moriarty. Besides Sherlock Holmes often travelled aboard and he is as loved ‘down under’ as he is at home.

Holmes’ London has always been a fictional retreat for me. As I’m typing this, it is 38.3 degrees Celsius in mid-January. Which is slightly warmer than in the UK and not at like Holmes’ pea-souper cloaked London.

I remember writing a very bad Sherlock Holmes pastiche to be performed by my English class when I was about 11 or 12. It was another of those stinking hot days and there were five of us who had to perform this ‘mini-play’. Naturally I played Holmes and somehow avoided heatstroke in my makeshift deerstalker (I have no idea what my mum made the costume out of but I do remember it was slightly warm). This early work grew and eventually I created my own ‘Holmes-like’ character who has appeared in a couple of short stories.

You could say Sherlock (and Doctor Who) helped inspire to me write. Doctor Who made me love the broad brushstrokes of fiction and imagination while Sherlock Holmes taught the power of a fantastic short story. These weren’t vignettes or standalone scenes. They were whole novels squeezed into a few pages.

Even now I regularly visit the world of Sherlock Holmes with Watson and Conan Doyle’s occasionally sparse descriptions as my travel guide. The Holmes’ stories were a universe away for the imagination of a young man and they remain a much loved pleasure for an older one. They were full excitement and mystery and some great writing. I mean who else but Holmes could describe Inspector Jones as being as ‘tenacious as a lobster’ and still be taken completely seriously?

And, on a personal level, he’s the reason I wanted to learn the violin at school. Okay, it became a viola when my teacher realised I could read the alto clef but the reason for me picking it up was the same.

Posted by Fringeworks in Fringeworks News on Monday, January 21st 2013 at 1:04 AM
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