The Language of Bees (cont.)
This is the final Tuesday of our Twenty Weeks of Buzz, and (appropriately) continues last week’s post concerning the nineteenth novel. However, I shall be putting up a bonus post next week on The God of the Hive, entitled, “Writing a god into being.” You might want to read the book first…
The first Russell and Holmes novels took place largely within the British Isles, and then mostly within England.
Beginning with O Jerusalem, however, the duo are as apt to be outside of England as within: Palestine, India, San Francisco (twice, as Holmes gets his own story-within-a-story in the otherwise Martinelli tale The Art of Detection) with hints of Japan and a future adventure. But England awaits, and I decided that after three books elsewhere, it was time to send them home again, if nothing else than to care for the bees that have been Holmes’ avocation since Conan Doyle retired him around the time of Victoria’s death.
But how to make The Language of Bees, my ninth Russell and Holmes, new and enticing—for its author if no one else? What would keep her eye on the story and her fingers on the keyboard? After more than a million words about them, what new things could I say about these two people?
Over the course of eight books, the Russell stories have developed any number of links. Knowing, for example, that I wanted to set a book in what was in 1919 called Palestine, I left unfinished the chapter in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice where the two go to that British protectorate. Instead of detail, that chapter functioned as a brief outline of their experiences, because I intended to return (in O Jerusalem) not only for a closer look at the time and place, but for an interesting shift to a previous stage in their relationship. In turn, O Jerusalem hints at the British nature of a pair of apparent Bedouins, setting the stage for those two Bedu to turn up in Sussex for Justice Hall.
If nothing else, these unfinished threads give reviewers a chance to prove how closely they have read the book: a murderous falling balcony in The Game (book seven) is not resolved until the following Locked Rooms (book eight,) which brought delight to critics of The Game who jumped on my dangling plot points.
But mostly, I write these unfinished scraps with a vague intent of providing myself with an intriguing situation to explore in the future—not that I have much idea how, just that there is something in that raw bit of place, person, or idea that holds promise.
Thus, way back in the second book in the series, I set the scene for The Language of Bees ten years later: In A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Russell makes mention of Sherlock Holmes’ son:
…something in his hands reminded me of Holmes, and of Holmes’ lovely, lost son.
And later, when Russell is trying to convince Holmes to help a troubled young Army officer:
“And if he were your son? Would you not want someone to try?”
It was a dirty blow, low and unscrupulous and quite unforgivably wicked.
Because, you see, he did have a son once, and someone had tried.
So, with this setup, I could have my characters return to Sussex but, rather than find themselves in a situation they had been in before, be suddenly confronted with a radical departure: Sherlock Holmes as a father.
It is an entirely new language for the man.