In The Footsteps of a Gigantic Talent, by Bonnie MacBird

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Bonnie MacBird photoToday we are happy to feature an article from Bonnie MacBird. We so enjoyed her book, Art in the Blood. It is such a well written book. She takes the much loved characters of Holmes and Watson and gives them a human-ness that the originals lacked. Very Clever. Excellent story.

In The Footsteps of a Gigantic Talent

By Bonnie MacBird, author of ART IN THE BLOOD

The editor of this publication suggested that it must have been a challenge to emulate the great Arthur Conan Doyle and I have to agree, that in some sense it is hubris. Conan Doyle is one of the great writers, and certainly one of the most enduring, of all time.

When I set out to write ART IN THE BLOOD, a brand new Sherlock Holmes adventure, it was my intention to reproduce to the best of my ability the style and voice of Conan Doyle, whom I’ve loved since the age of ten.  To describe what I did, I’m going to start with the external details of getting the voice right.

Here, I took a kind of two-pronged approach.  The first was a more right-brained actor-ish approach of mimicry, where I began each day by reading Conan Doyle aloud, and sort of took into my body the rhythms and inflections of the language and the style. The second was a more analytical approach – sentence structure, vocabulary, punctuation.

But… to get too hung up in the second approach  while drafting a good story would have resulted in a stylistically accurate but stilted book.  And so that second approach was applied later during my extended self-editing process.  More important, and first… was to create a good story that moves.  Conan Doyle above all provides a great “ride.”

Art in the Blood jacket

The far more important elements are storytelling and character.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a very modern writer for his time in the sense that his work contains much more dialogue, less introspection, and less description than most of his contemporaries.  In this way, it resembles screenwriting and his stories move at a pace and with narrative drive that is not unlike what we are used to, today.

Sir Arthur wrote 56 short stories and four novellas, but no full-length novels about Sherlock Holmes, and nearly all are told in first person by Watson. When considering a full length novel, I consciously chose to deviate from Conan Doyle in the following ways:

  • A novel needs more “tentpole” scenes – or scenes of high emotional content, or action, than a short story, in much the same way that a longer suspension bridge needs more posts.
  • It helps to have some thematic content in a novel.
  • I made the choice to occasionally use sentence fragments in the writing which wasn’t done back then…
  • And… I decided on a couple of things I chose to avoid:
    No long flashbacks (not my favorite parts of the novellas)
    No “recycled” deductions (i.e. the scratched watch) I wanted them to be new.

All that being said, the addition of thematic content was perhaps the largest departure.  For that I chose a subject dear to my heart, and that is the Janus-faced gift of the artistic temperament. Although we think of Holmes as a master of deduction, and logical thinking (“Crime is common. Logic is rare”) he is really as much an artist as he is a scientist.  And along with artistry comes a sensitivity to stimuli which often makes for an emotional nature. Such is Holmes’ and I wanted to explore this further, but… without diminishing the heroic and logical nature of the man.

Character is probably the single most important aspect of the Doylean world. Not only Holmes, but Watson is critical and important to get right.  He’s quite an intelligent, brave, observant and very funny man, and all that had to be in the “voice.”  Without humor, there is no good Holmes story.  It’s as critical as any single element.

Finally, there was a level of research that Conan Doyle, who was writing in his own contemporary (and eventually past) time did not have to do.  That took additional time to lay in, check, and recheck. I got so into the research that I decided to create annotations for those who enjoy it as I do, and those are available for readers online at

Writing in this style was a labor of love, and a creative challenge that felt like a combination of doing a sudoku but making it beautiful by executing it in wet-in-wet watercolor.  Evasive, challenging, and demanding both logic and artistry and everything I could give it.  But most of all… just great fun.  Can’t wait to have another go. I am well into book two, UNQUIET SPIRITS.

Bonnie MacBird

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“In a world with more than its share of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, it is rare for one to soar above the rest, but Bonnie MacBird’s Art in the Blood achieves this singular feat and deserves a tip of the deerstalker.”  —OTTO PENZLER, editor, “The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories”.

“Bonnie MacBird’s ART IN THE BLOOD has the three key ingredients for a delicious pastiche: Meticulous research, plausibility, and grand fun!” —LESLIE S. KLINGER, editor, “The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes”, The Annotated Dracula, A Study in Sherlock, The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library, BSI, consultant to the Robert Downey films.

“A thoroughly entertaining Sherlock Holmes adventure worthy of Doyle himself.  … vivid period detail, a superb, labyrinthine plot, snappy pacing and, most importantly, a deep respect for the classic characters.”  —BRYAN COGMAN, Producer/Writer, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and co-author of “Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones”.

“A pitch-perfect Holmes and Watson, ART IN THE BLOOD bristles with the intelligence and wit we love in the original adventures.  Dark, funny and surprising to the end.  No one who loves Sherlock Holmes should miss this.” —PETER SAMUELSON, producer of Wilde, Tom & Viv, Arlington Road, Revenge of the Nerds, and many other films.

“A riveting journey…from the bohemian art studios of Paris and the familiar streets of London to the darker side of the Industrial Revolution, all carefully researched and excellently evoked.”
—CATHERINE COOK, winner of the London Society of Sherlock Holmes Howlett Award 2014, Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collection at the Westminster Reference  Library, London,   BSI.

“An amazing tour de force …Thank you, Bonnie for an extraordinary day of reading.”
— RICHARD SAUL WURMAN creator of TED, TEDMED, E.G., WWW, and 555 Conferences

Note to editor: title refers specifically to a Conan Doyle quote “the footprints of a gigantic hound”

Author: Merry Citarella

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