Andrew Lane is the author of the best-selling Young Sherlock Holmes books. Not only is he a life-long fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective, he is also an expert on the books and is the only children’s writer endorsed by the Sherlock Holmes Conan Doyle estate. We caught up with Andrew to find out more about his latest book Lost Worlds which features the hunt to track down mythological creatures so rare that most people don’t believe they exist.
Your latest book Lost Worlds is also inspired by another famous Conan Doyle novel, The Lost World. What is it about Arthur Conan Doyle’s books that inspire you so much?
Conan Doyle is, I believe, one of the first truly “modern” writers. If you go into any bookshop, the authors from the period of time when he wrote the first Sherlock Holmes story (1881) are usually shoved onto the shelves labelled “Classic Literature”, but Doyle is still on the “Crime” shelves. This says something about his style, which was very direct and simple to read. There are no blocks to understanding, in the way that there are, for instance, in Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins. He also created what I consider to be the first modern character in literature – Sherlock Holmes. Characters before then usually had one characteristic – they were flighty, or courageous, or mysterious, or seductive, or whatever. Holmes is mercurial – he shifts between moods, he is alternately charming and obstreperous, he is obviously suffering from mental issues (obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder) and yet not only does he not know that he is ill, he makes an advantage out of the fact. And Doyle didn’t actually realise what he was doing – early on he was writing stories just to make some money while he was waiting for patients to turn up in his practice. I find Doyle and all his works endlessly fascinating.
In Lost Worlds your characters are hunting for mysterious creatures, or cryptids. Is this something you have a particular interest in?
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been interested in the idea that there are things out there that we just don’t know about. It sounds very ‘X-Files’-ey, but scientists now estimate that we have only identified about a quarter of the living species currently on the Earth, and geographers estimate that 61% of the Earth’s surface has not been explored. There’s a lot of space out there for these unknown or supposedly extinct species to be hiding in. To be fair, most of the unknown species are going to be plants, bacteria or insects, but there’s still a chance that bigger things might be discovered. The coelacanth – a fish which can grow to the size of a man – was discovered happily swimming around 80 years ago, having been thought to have completely died out 65 million years ago. More recently, new species of deer and marsupial rat have been discovered wandering around the rainforest. The reason why this is important, rather than just a zoological curiosity, is that these creatures might have things in their DNA that can protect against disease, or stop cancer in its tracks, or regenerate nerves. These abilities might have been bred out in our current roster of species, but might be out there in lost or unknown species. Take the horseshoe crab, for instance, which isn’t a crab, has copper-based blood and appears to be immune to bacterial infection. It’s also my favourite ever animal, but that’s another story for another time. Getting back to the question, I have a subscription to ‘The Fortean Times’, and every month I get obsessively interested in their reports of odd animals that have been seen somewhere in the world. Or, sometimes, in someone’s back garden.
You also include a lot of cutting edge technology in your book such as the robot ARLENE. Where does the idea for this part of the book come from?
The cutting edge technology comes from the fact that I qualified as a physicist, rather than a writer, and that I worked for 27 years for the military. I’ve got a strong interest in how technology can help soldiers on the battlefield, but also morally how we seem to be handing more and more responsibility to the machines. There’ a also the question of balancing the books out – given that I’m dealing with a low-tech zoological theme, with the cryptids, I wanted to balance that out with something more high-tech, and military robots seemed to be the answer. And they’re slightly creepy as well, which helps.
As well as children’s books you also write in a number of other genres (adult thrillers (under a pseudonym), TV adaptations (including Dr Who) and non-fiction books). Do you think this requires different skills/focus and which do you enjoy the most?
It sounds like a platitude, but the book I enjoy writing the most is the one I’m working on at the time the question is asked. Yes, writing a ‘Doctor Who’ novel or a ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ novel is different from writing a non-fiction book or one of the ‘Lost Worlds’ novels, but that’s like saying using a saw to cut a piece of wood is different from using a screwdriver to fasten two bits of wood together. It requires using different muscles, and different techniques, but you’re trying to achieve a common aim – in the case of writing it’s that simple thing of telling a story without too much other stuff getting in the way, and in the case of DIY it’s about trying to build a set of shelves that are level and won’t fall down.
Which character from your novels would you most closely relate to?
I used to be tall and thin, with an interest in solving puzzles, so I found Sherlock Holmes to be something of a role-model. Now that I’m older and fatter, I’m more and more like his brother Mycroft. Sherlock would run around all over the place to solve a crime, while Mycroft just wants the evidence to be bought to him so that he doesn’t have to get out of his armchair. I sympathise with that point of view.
If you know any children looking for a great adventure story suggest they check out Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes or Lost Worlds or they can hunt for cryptids and play the Lost Worlds game at www.thelostworlds.co.uk.