Q: I’ve been thinking, (shocking, isn’t it?) will we ever know what the wedding of Russell and Holmes was like? There seem to me a lot of interesting theories floating about.
And a related question: This may be a subject you choose not to comment on, but have you read any of the Mary Russell fan fiction? I’m specifically thinking of some of the stories from the Hive. (I discovered it one night when I was longing for new things to read, but had no desire to leave the house for the bookstore – it saved the day!) How is it to see other people writing episodes for characters you created?
A: No, I never read any of the fan fiction on places like the Hive, mostly because I’e2’80’99m afraid I’e2’80’99ll read something there and, five years down the line, incorporate it into a book thinking it was mine originally. I rarely read Holmes pastiches for the same reason, in case I confuse ACD’e2’80’99s stories with those of more modern authors.
Besides, if I stumble across a variation on Sherlockian erotica involving that infamous wedding night, the indignation will no doubt fester in my mind and come out some nasty way, like writer’e2’80’99s block. Best not to look.
Q: E.N.Harrison wants to know, Could you tell us the precise nature of Russell’s professional position at Oxford after A Monstrous Regiment of Women? I know that in later books she describes herself as doing some “informal tutoring” which sounds like she advertises her services to students struggling with the material. Except that doesn’t sound like something Russell would much enjoy—do you mean that she conducts actual tutorials under the aegis of her college? Does she have a fellowship or some other official position within the college? Does she have her M.A., and if so when did she acquire it? Is she at Somerville or Lady Margaret Hall? Or even Shrewsbury? Erm. Not to deluge you, or anything, but any comments you would care to address on Russell’s academic career would be valued.
A: I’e2’80’99ve deliberately left Russell’e2’80’99s academic career vague, for a number of reasons. First, to Americans the whole system is terribly confusing, and I didn’e2’80’99t want to have to work in an explanation of how a Master of Arts degree is converted after a certain number of years to a D.Phil, or how the colleges and the university itself are related, or the gradual stages in which women’e2’80’99s degrees reached equity with those of men, or the meaning of the different kinds of academic gowns, or’e2’80’a6.
You get the picture. This is one of those areas in which I find it’e2’80’99s better to write as if speaking from one expert to another, leaving the details aside. This not only impresses a lot of people with how knowledgeable you are in so many areas, but glosses over the possibility that you really don’e2’80’99t know what you’e2’80’99re talking about.
Basically, I think you could assume that Russell’e2’80’99s position in regards to her college is largely informal, since it would be highly impractical for her to have any kind of position there that required her regular presence. I mean, look at the academic year of 1923-1924: She meets Dorothy Ruskin in August (LETTER OF MARY) and is involved with that, then is dragged off to Dartmoor (THE MOOR), followed immediately by the pounding of Ali’e2’80’99s fist on their door (JUSTICE HALL) which takes us to the end of the year. Then Mycroft summons them to London and shoots them off to play THE GAME in India, followed by San Francisco (LOCKED ROOMS) and heaven only knows what will befall them on their way home.
Would you want a tutor so perennially distracted as this?
(And people ask me if I’e2’80’99m not afraid Holmes will get too old for the series. With five books over nine months, I think it more likely the poor fellow will collapse of exhaustion.)
Q: The Iris lady asks, Do you ever have trouble creating a villain? I have a terrible time demonizing even a fictional character. Makes writing a murder mystery a tad difficult. I always keep seeing the villain as a multi-dimensional person who has been influenced by his background and experience, and turning him into a sympathetic character. Go figure.
A: So what’e2’80’99s wrong with having a multi-dimensional person who is basically sympathetic as a villain? Better than a two-dimensional stick figure with a sign around his neck saying, Bad Guy’e2’80’94Hate Me.
Q: Melissa says, Hi, I’m living on Orcas Island in the San Juans. I actually moved out here after reading “Folly”, how could I not? I was wondering if you were planning on setting any other books out here?
A: I’e2’80’99m in conversation with my editor about what comes after TOUCHSTONE, and we’e2’80’99re leaning (sorry, Russell fans, but I will have spent the better part of four years in the Twenties) towards another San Juan book, and bringing the existing stories together into a San Juan cycle. It’e2’80’99s going to mean a trip up there this fall to research, oh, the arduous tasks we writers are forced to undertake!
Q: Clever Ruth asks, Am I correct in thinking that yourself and Val McDermid share Mutt, the dog who appears in Night Work? I read Hostage to Murder recently and noticed the mention that Mutton had been left behind in America with some friends in the bay area, then appearing in Night Work as Roz and Maj’s dog?
A: Very good, you win today’e2’80’99s Sharp Eyes prize. Yes, I adopted Mutton in NIGHT WORK, and then Val and I had to puzzle over how old the dog was before I allowed it to wander through THE ART OF DETECTION. There are a number of these tongue-in-cheek incursions out there, friends tipping hats to friends.