Beekeeping for Beginners, and other points of view
A few years ago, I started playing with ways to work bits of third-person viewpoints into what are otherwise memoirs. Those don’t actually fit, of course, since “I” have no way of knowing exactly what “he” is thinking, even if I’m standing next to him at the time. However, the book I was working on (Locked Rooms) required being able to see certain events from others’ eyes, and short of having Holmes write down what he was seeing—or worse, sit and describe every nuance—jumping out of Russell’s point of view was the only way to do it.
But really, if Mary Russell were writing her memoirs, would she permit herself to 1) describe only what she knew at the time, and not what she learned later, or 2) sit and listen passively as one character after another told her where they’d been and what they’d been doing? I don’t think so. And although I’ve had a couple of letters gently remonstrating me for this occasionally awkward combination of first and third voices, I think most readers find it a smoother read than having Holmes forever pulling out his pipe and beginning, “Well, after Damian and I got onto the fishing boat, I had to decide…”
Some months ago, my editor asked me if I’d write a story the publishers could do especially for e-book readers, tying it into Pirate King. It could be anything, she said: maybe there was a minor character somewhere who’d caught my imagination, or a new tale fitting into the gaps between two of the books? And as I thought about it, my mind kept coming back to those alternate points of view.
We all know how Russell’s story begins (If you don’t remember, it’s here.): She was fifteen when she first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with her nose in a book as she walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him. But what about the man sitting on the ground? What on earth did he make of this young girl, wearing her father’s clothes, acting the smart-aleck?
I turned to watch the owner of the slow footsteps approach. The lad was wearing an old and too-large suit, a jersey in place of shirt and waistcoat (it had been cold that morning when I—and, it appeared, he—had set out) and a badly knit scarf, with a cloth cap pulled down to his ears and shoes that, despite being new, pinched his toes. His nose was buried in a book, as if to demonstrate his noble oblivion to any world-famous detectives who might be hunkered on the ground.
And because Russell is, after all, only fifteen years old, much that is going on around her is beyond her experience—not only outside of her point of view, but her vision.
But not Holmes’.
Beekeeping for Beginners is on sale today, here. (In UK markets, July 25th.) Let me know what you think of it.