Amy Thomas, Sherlock Holmes fan and up-and-coming author, is a Woman You Should Know. Several years ago, Amy was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, however, despite the incredible physical challenges she faces every day, Amy completed two novels, “The Detective And The Woman” and “The Detective, The Woman, And The Winking Tree“, which were published by MX Publishing in the last year.
Her novels are pastiches, starring Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. Irene is a strong female figure with great individuality and independence. While Sherlock Holmes does appear in the novels, Irene is most definitely the heroine. Many of the modern spinoffs of Sherlock Holmes stories have marginalized, sexualized, or objectified women, but Amy’s take on Irene as a woman who is in charge of her own destiny, while still retaining vulnerability, is refreshing.
Amy is also part of the Baker Street Babes, a group of Sherlock Holmes fans who began podcasting together and quickly gained a cult following on the internet. The Baker Street Babes were featured during the London Olympics and just recently reached 500,000 podcast listens.
In Amy’s latest book (February 2013), “The Detective, The Woman, And The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes“, Irene Adler is enjoying a quiet, undisturbed life in Sussex when the mysterious disappearance of a local farmer named James Phillimore throws her world into turmoil and forces her to enlist the aid of her friend and former enemy Sherlock Holmes.
Irritated by his flatmate John Watson’s romantic inclinations, Holmes journeys to Fulworth to assist “The Woman” in her investigation. Along the way, the two uncover the darkness, intrigue, scandal, and unexpected loyalty that lie at the heart of a seemingly-innocent village and a case filled with diabolical deception.
Women Talk: 10+ Questions with Amy Thomas
You are obviously a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. How did you discover and fall in love with them?
AT: I come from a literary family, and while I was growing up, it seemed like one or more of us always had a book in hand. At one point, my older sister was reading the Sherlock Holmes Stories, and I checked an audiobook version out of the library. I think I was around eight or nine at the time. In particular, a story called “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” was very memorable for me. It’s still one of my favorite Holmes stories because it’s suspenseful, mysterious, and fantastically plotted. I went on to listen to and read other stories, and I was very sad when Sherlock Holmes “died,” though my sister reassured me that he returned.
If you were to recommend a Sherlock Holmes story to someone who has never read any, which one would you choose and why?
AT: I would definitely choose “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the story that introduces the character of The Woman, Irene Adler. It has all the elements of a fantastic Holmes short story – humor, adventure, mystery, engaging characters, and that indefinable something that makes the Holmes stories come alive in a timeless way.
What did you admire about the character of Irene Adler that led you to write two books about her? And, are there plans for a third Detective And The Woman book?
“Irene is a fascinating character… she’s also one of the many proofs that Sherlock Holmes is not truly a woman-hater, as he is sometimes incorrectly labeled.”
AT: Irene is a fascinating character because she’s one of the few people in the Sherlock Holmes stories who succeeds in changing Holmes’s opinion of them for the better. Her story is told wrong-way-around in the sense that we first meet her as an antagonist to Holmes’s client, but by the end of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” her wit and courage manage to show Holmes that she’s actually more honorable than the man he’s supposed to be helping.
She’s clever, resourceful, modern, and engaging. She’s also one of the many proofs that Sherlock Holmes is not truly a woman-hater, as he is sometimes incorrectly labeled. His eventual respect for Irene reveals that his attitude toward the female gender is more complicated than people sometimes admit.
I would definitely like to write a third book. I have some ideas, and I hope to get into the story later this year.
Do you see any correlations between Irene’s character and your own life?
AT: Irene is certainly somewhat out of place as a woman in Victorian England. She’s successful and wealthy, but her checkered past and unusual mind put her at odds with the feminine ideal of the time. That alienation is something I relate to as a young woman who has always had academic and intellectual ambitions and a certain amount of discomfort with the culture of small talk and casual socialization.
Are there other female characters from literature who you’d like to write about? What scenarios would you place them in?
AT: This is a truly fantastic question! In the Sherlock Holmes universe, I’m fascinated by the character of Mary Morstan, wife of Dr. Watson, who is patient enough to put up with years of her husband traipsing around with Sherlock Holmes. At one point, Holmes even says she would have had potential as a detective herself. I’d love to write her side of the story some day.
In the non-Holmes world, I love the character of Flavia de Luce, the preteen detective heroine of the books by Alan Bradley. If I wrote about her, I’d have to restrict myself to fanfiction, since Bradley is still writing, but I’d like to cross her over with the Holmes universe some day and see what I come up with. She’s an extremely resourceful and humorous character, and I encourage people to check out Bradley’s books if they haven’t yet done so. Flavia herself is a child, but the books are written very much for an adult audience.
Tell us more about the Baker Street Babes! What is your involvement with them?
AT: The Baker Street Babes is an international, all-female, Sherlock Holmes-themed podcast that was featured during the official coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games. We cover all kinds of topics, from the original stories to the BBC Sherlock television show, modern Holmes novels, and everything in between. In addition to podcasting with the Babes, I review Holmesian literature for our website.
Would you mind giving us some insight into what living with Crohn’s disease is like? And, has this side of your personal life played a part in your writing?
AT: I was diagnosed with Crohn’s when I was eighteen, and I’m coming up on ten years. I had a year of remission, and the other nine have been lived with active disease. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the healthy tissue of the digestive tract. There is no known cure.
Crohn’s is a sickness no one can see on the outside. That’s a blessing in some ways, but it means that friends and employers, even sometimes family members, can’t always see and relate to the challenges it presents. In addition to the obvious digestive difficulties it causes, it can also have added symptoms like serious fatigue, muscle aches, and chronic pain, all of which I experience constantly.
As a result of having had the disease to a serious extent for a long time, I’ve had many hours at home. That’s a definite blessing when it comes to writing. I rarely have the excuse that I have too much to do to finish a book! I have the opportunity to spend long hours at a time on my stories, and I find that easier than writing for a short time here and there.
I often find that good writers are also voracious readers. Which authors take up the most room on your bookshelf? And, what are the top three books that have inspired your writing aside from the Sherlock Holmes stories?
AT: I have a particular fondness for the elegant brevity of modern classics written by authors like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wharton. I also love works that evoke life in the southern United States, written by authors like Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams. In addition, I can’t fail to mention the amazing Jane Austen.
Picking only three books is a challenge, but the ones that spring immediately to mind are Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, Les Miserables by Hugo, and The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. These might seem like wildly divergent choices, but what unites them for me is the ability that each has to evoke a very specific mood. I only need to hear or read the titles, and I immediately feel a feeling specific to each. Though I don’t in any sense lay claim to the excellence these works display, I seek to continue to develop and hone the ability to use words to create rich and lasting impressions.
And lastly, because we’re all curious, how did you fall into the book business? What words of wisdom would you share with other women who want to start writing stories of their own?
AT: I wrote my first novel as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2011. I had no idea if publication was even a possibility for me until I joined the Baker Street Babes in early 2012 and met a Holmes-focused publisher as a result. My journey was a bit atypical, and I feel very blessed to have connected with a publisher who was interested in my work as quickly as I did.
I have two main pieces of advice. The first is to just finish. That sounds simple, but it’s the thing that trips up a huge number of would-be novelists. It’s much harder to sell a manuscript if it’s not yet written. Of course, finishing a book is no guarantee of being published. Finish for the sake of finishing, and then publication comes later. There’s no point in being hung up on the question of what may or may not happen after, since there’s no way to know. Finishing an entire, full-length book really can be its own reward.
Second, I recommend seeking out publishers who publish frequently in the genre of your story. Your book could be amazing, but if you send it out to 100 publishers who never even look at books of your type, you’re wasting time. If you do a bit of research ahead of time and compile a list of publishers who actually take books like the one you’ve written, you’re already ahead.