A conversation with Martin Widmark, Anushka Ravishankar, Katarina Genar and Bikram Ghosh, the four authors of The Sherlock Holmes Connection. The idea was suggested by the Embassy of Sweden in India to have a collaborative project between two Indian and two Swedish writers, who spent two days together in Delhi to brainstorm about the project.
How was it working on a collaborative project?
MW: I loved it. Especially our meetings in the beginning of the project where we sat drinking tea in New Delhi, planning the story. A little like when you were a child, playing with other children. You step into a new world together. The magic world of imagination.
Working in a collaboration like this opens your mind in a new way. There are many darlings to kill … You might get an idea into your head that doesn’t fit into the project and you must adjust without losing your own voice. Like life itself! 🙂
AR: I usually find it difficult to collaborate in a writing project because so much of the writing happens in non-verbal places in my head. But because this was structured in a way that we could discuss common themes and then go back to write in solitude, it was good. There’s also a peculiar joy in using something that’s given to you and creating your own story with it.
KG: Working together was a breeze! We shared many laughs and it was a very memorable experience.
BG: I really enjoy working collaboratively. In the theatre, where I spend most of my time, there’s not a more effective way to work but to collaborate. I was curious to see how it would work with writers. Some people have had experiences where they find artists difficult, jealous, and possessive of their own material, but that’s never been my experience. Even on this project, it was great to see how even famous, senior writers didn’t take themselves too seriously.
Your most fun memory from the time you worked together.
AR: Bikram kept us entertained with anecdotes and stories through the whole time, so there was never a dull moment! Wandering in and around Connaught Place to find interesting places to eat was fun too.
MW: When Bikram and I had a short break and went in a rickshaw to buy tea and met the most wonderful shopkeeper.
BG: Brainstorming around the breakfast buffet. And there was that time Martin and I went to buy tea from Sundar Nagar; and Martin and the shopkeeper Mr Mittal bonded over everything.
KG: I remember in particular the last evening when we were in the garden together. We were talking, exchanging books and sampling Swedish candy. The atmosphere was relaxing yet full of anticipation. Everyone had ideas for their stories and were excited to start writing.
How did the idea of the Sherlock Holmes Connection and the centrality of the magnifying glass come up?
BG: I think Martin first said “Sherlock Holmes”. I must say, I wasn’t thinking that at all. And then in trying to figure out what that actually meant as an idea to us, here and now, we started discovering other elements. We talked about what kind of story each of us wanted to write, as well, and bit by bit, the concept was pieced together.
MW: People seem to love detective stories all over the world. There are some characters that are known worldwide, like Sherlock Holmes. That would be a nice starting point for our collaboration, we thought.
AR: Martin came up with the idea of the magnifying glass of Sherlock Holmes, and then we all discussed it and refined upon it.
KG: Martin suggested that we use Sherlock Holmes’ magnifying glass to tie our stories together. The idea grew from there.
What are your memories of reading Sherlock Holmes? What story or what aspect of the character do you like the most?
AR: The memories of reading Sherlock have all now merged with the memories of the film and the series. So it’s difficult to separate the impressions. But what I’ve always liked about Sherlock Holmes is his extreme logic and his utter obsession with getting to the root of a mystery.
BG: I first came across Sherlock Holmes in an abridged illustrated pocketbook, the form in which most of my generation first read the great classics. You know, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, all the popular Dickens novels, The Count of Monte Christo, Ben Hur and so on. I most remember the story about the underground bank robbery, and of course, the Hound of the Baskervilles.
MW: I love the way that the books are written more than the main character. The author invites the readers to be part of the crime investigations.
For Martin and Katarina: Did you read Sherlock Holmes, as a child? Do Swedish kids read Sherlock Holmes?
MW: Sherlock is much more known in India, I guess. But, as a writer, I do of course know a little about him.
KG: I did not read Sherlock Holmes as a child but knew that he was a detective who used a magnifying glass to solve his mysteries. I am not sure how popular or well-known he is among Swedish children today. Martin Widmark’s books about detectives Jerry and Maya are by far the most popular detective stories among children in Sweden today.
For KG: You write most movingly about the experience of loneliness in a child’s life. How important do you think this is as an emotional experience?
KG: Yes, I do write about loneliness but more importantly about friendship. I think we all feel lonely at times; it’s a universal feeling that both children and adults can identify with. My stories are often about transitioning from loneliness to a feeling of belonging and finding a way to relate to a new environment. The main character in ‘The Girl in the Photograph’, Julia, has experienced a recent change in her life, moving to a new place and trying to adjust to her new surroundings. Readers get to watch her transition from a feeling of despair and wishing everything would go back to the way it were to finding a new friend and a more hopeful view of the future. The girls in the book have a mission, a puzzle to solve, and through collaboration their friendship evolves.
For BG: The school you create in ‘Best Boys’ is a dark and forbidding place. Is that what your memories of life in school are?
BG: For a long time, school was my life. It was the only consistent part of my childhood. So, I remember a lot of things. I loved parts of school life, of course, but generally I hated school. I found it oppressive and elitist: some kids are always favoured, but there are kids who are also always vilified. We had some sadistic teachers in both the schools I attended, and some of them were awfully twisted adults. Even today when I walk into schools, I always catch myself scrutinising the teachers, and acutely examining the atmosphere in the building. I drew a lot from my memories to write the story.
For MW: Your story is set in the inter-World War period. Is this a time and historical background Swedish kids would be familiar with?
MW: No, that was my big challenge during my writing. This period of time, in between the two World Wars, is very little used in fiction for children. There has been a lot of attentions put on the Wars but not the years between.
For AR: Your story is set during the Emergency, which is a period that school kids in India are not taught about in school. I do not think I have read any children’s fiction set in that period at all. Is there a reason you set your story during that period?
AR: My reasons were rather practical. I decided to set it in a period that I knew, which was when I was a child (well, a teenager, and a YA in today’s parlance, but we were still children at 14-15, in those days). And when I started thinking about the mystery, the disappearance of the father and the predicament of journalists during the Emergency just seemed to fall into place—I can’t tell which came first, the story or the setting. I certainly did not set out to inform children about the Emergency. The background serves the story, and not the other way round.