The Yorkshire author taking Sherlock Holmes to pastures new

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Yorkshire horror specialist Simon Clark has gone global with his new book, Sherlock Holmes. Tony Earnshaw

Several years ago Simon Clark came up with a short story entitled ‘Skinner Lane’. It was inspired by a thoroughfare that ran past a cemetery close to where he lived in Pontefract.

Looking back was there a sense of quasi Victoriana about the milieu and the vibe that fed his muse? Not exactly channelling Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but maybe influenced by him, albeit subconsciously?

It perhaps explains why one of Yorkshire’s most prolific horror writers – 22 novels since 1995 plus novellas, anthologies and guest appearances in others’ books – has just made a seamless segue into the timeless world of Sherlock Holmes.

Clark never gave a thought as to whether he could adopt the form and styling of Conan Doyle until he was invited to pen a tale for The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures.

Believing he couldn’t write in the vein of Doyle his first response was to refuse. But then he gave in and delivered The Adventure of the Fallen Star. The end result – which was accepted – proved to him that “all my teenage years of reading Conan Doyle hadn’t been wasted. To my surprise I could at least echo Conan Doyle’s style.”

Some time later he was asked to consider compiling an anthology of new fiction. He suggested a book of Sherlock Holmes stories. Thus The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad was off and running.

The book features 15 new stories by a phalanx of accomplished writers that includes northerners Paul Finch, Tadcaster-based Mark Morris and Clark himself. Clark admits that he is amazed that so many stories, comic books, plays, films and TV series continue to be made based on or around Sherlock Holmes. The demand for pastiches and genuflections is as strong as ever.

“Global interest in the original Holmes books and new stories is extraordinary. I doubt if anyone can really explain why but it’s a wonderful opportunity for writers and readers to explore new and inventive takes on the man from 221b Baker Street.”

The stories include Finch’s The Monster of Hell’s Gate (the tale of the Nandi bear, a guardian spirit of the African veldt that rips apart its victims) and Denis O. Smith’s The Adventure of the Colonel’s Daughter in which Holmes and Watson journey to Russia to investigate a murder and a murderer who may not be the killer despite all evidence to the contrary.

Is it a different discipline skipping from writing original material to editing others’ offerings? Clark admits until he took on this particular role he’d “never edited a single word” of anyone else’s work. He worried about becoming a tyrant, of imposing strict deadlines. The end result, he says, was “extremely pleasurable.”

“I’m enormously proud of this book. It was different and, at times, nerve-wracking, because I had to impose strict deadlines on the writers. I did wonder if I would have to become a tyrant but I needn’t have worried. Everyone sent me their stories before the deadline.

“I asked a group of wonderful writers to produce a Sherlock Holmes story with a difference. They all rose to the challenge and helped create a remarkable anthology.”

Clark, now 57, has been writing fiction since his teenage days in Wakefield, inspired by what he calls “mind films” – mental film shows playing out in his head. He was published in a variety of magazines throughout his 20s and had a story broadcast on Radio 4.

His inspirations are many and varied, from Arthur Machen, Dylan Thomas and Franz Kafka to Hammer horror, Doctor Who and John Wyndham, creator of the Triffids.

In fact it was Wyndham, author of The Midwich Cuckoos, The Kraken Wakes and, of course, 1951’s The Day of the Triffids that provided Clark with one of his biggest successes, the 2001 sequel The Night of the Triffids. Translated into half a dozen languages and adapted for audio, it remains Clark’s biggest commercial success.

However it is Blood Crazy – an end-of-the-world story set mainly in Yorkshire with adults rebelling against their own children – that generates the most fan mail.

“I explored ideas about how to build a society and what makes us tick as human beings and accidentally stumbled on something that has a powerful effect on many readers. It’s the novel I’m most proud of,” he says, adding that he signs more dog-eared copies of Blood Crazy than any of his other books.

Clark’s cult status means he is now an inspiration to new and up-and-coming writers. He’s flattered by the notion but he says such praise often leaves him tongue-tied. One moment stands out.

“Once I was stopped in the street by a stranger who told me that after reading one of my Yorkshire-based novels he decided to move from Ireland to Leeds! That’s one effect of my books that I never anticipated.”

The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad is published by Constable & Robinson.DS

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