posted by Dana
The Femmes Fatales are pleased to welcome Angela Misri, whose book, The Jewel of the Thames, is the first in a series of YA adventures featuring Portia Adams. The books are set in 1930s London and Portia is a budding detective who has suddenly and mysteriously inherited 221 Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Here, Angela discusses writing YA fiction and Sherlockian pastiche. Angela, take it away!
Everything changed for me one spring day in 1992 at an assembly in the gym where, as per usual, I was giggling and whispering with my friends in the audience. Suddenly, my name was called by the principal of the school and I was jostled out from the safety of the herd and to the front of the room. Having not really listened to the preceding speech, I was shocked to learn that a poem I had written as part of a school assignment had been published in an anthology of like-quality poems by Canadian children. The principal smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen on a teacher, and handed me a copy of the coil-bound anthology, turning me towards the audience of my schoolmates and starting the applause that followed me back to my safe haven between my best friends.
That was the moment when I discovered that despite being of Indian descent, there were in fact other options for my life’s work besides medicine or engineering.
Discovering that I could get not one, but two degrees in a field I loved, was the next step. I even got to immerse myself in my favourite genre when I submitted my final paper titled ‘A Psychoanalysis of Sherlock Holmes’, wherein I postulated that the great detective was bipolar. Mostly this was an excuse to read everything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had ever written. Thrice. In addition, I got the opportunity to read outside of the canon, leading to the discovery of the marvelous world of Sherlock pastiche. But it was Stephen King’s short story “The Doctor’s Case” that turned Portia from a vague idea in the recesses of my mind into a true muse who would wake me up at night to scribble down a marvelous clue that only she would notice at a crime scene.
Not only did I scribble at night, but also for hours throughout the day, as I commuted on the TTC back and forth to my full-time job at the CBC, filling 28 Moleskin notebooks with Portia’s thoughts and scenes of Toronto and London in 1930.
Writing pastiche is both fantastic and terrifying. On the one hand you have some borders to write within. – I am safely cocooned in the accepted trope of the consulting detective from Baker Street. But on the other hand you are holding a beloved concept and taking a few steps away from him (Holmes and Conan Doyle in this case). Portia is a woman, she is 19 years old and she is a Canadian. She inherits the Baker Street offices under very mysterious circumstances and decides to solve that mystery first—how did she come to own the most famous detective offices in the world?
Portia alternates between finding comfort in being compared to the former residents of Baker Street and being annoyed by the comparison at all. She is not Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson, but she owes much of her life to them. I think it is this push and pull that can create the strongest pastiche. That respect for ‘where you come from’ while pushing the boundaries beyond your origins. Maybe that’s why these books have settled so comfortably onto the YA bookshelf – because that is one of the central themes of being a young adult. Respect vs. individuality. Maturity vs. finding your way.
In that way, Portia is more than a Holmes pastiche—she is my homage to ALL my favourite detectives, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Hercule Poirot, Cherry Ames, Armand Gamache and of course, the Batman (no, seriously, go pick up a graphic novel, people). In my Portia Adams Adventures, I hope that the spark that was ignited in my school auditorium, way back when, has found its warm hearth. Long may it burn.
Angela Misri is a Toronto author who writes detective fiction inspired by her birth country, Great Britain. The first book in her YA detective series is called “Jewel of the Thames” and follows her detective Portia Adams through her first three cases as she immigrates from 1930s Toronto to the bustling streets of London. The second book in the series is due out in March 2015 and is called “Thrice Burned.” Misri has spent most of her career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation making radio ‘extra-terrestrial’ through digital strategy, podcasts and websites.