Ever since American author Brittany Cavallaro was little, she has been a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Once, when her grandfather gave her younger brother a book of his stories, she stole it for herself.
Not quite sure if Sherlock would approve of that! Regardless, the great detective would probably be pleased that his stories left such an impact on her: so much so that while doing her graduate coursework, Cavallaro decided her love for Sherlock was something she wanted to explore in her writing.
And not just academic writing, mind you. In creative writing as well. And the result of this is the young adult title A Study Of Charlotte (2016), Cavallaro’s debut novel, whose main characters are ... nope, not Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. Instead, it stars their teenage descendants, Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, who live in contemporary times.
“We Sherlockians play something we call the Great Game, where Holmes and Watson were real, Watson wrote the stories, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was Watson’s literary agent. When I started writing A Study In Charlotte, I thought it would be so much fun to write something set in that universe, to imagine what that might look like in the modern day, on the off chance that Holmes in fact had a child!” Cavallaro, 31, says in an e-mail interview.
Born in Illinois, Cavallaro is a poet and author with a BA in literature from Middlebury College and an MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An avid reader and writer since her youth, the author spent her 20s teaching literature, creative writing, and composition to undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin. She is now a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and is the author of the poetry collection Girl-King (2011).
Cavallaro now lives in the Bay Area of California with her husband, a very noisy cat, and a collection of deerstalker hats.
“The fun thing about writing about Sherlock Holmes is that it becomes really easy for people to pick out presents for you in the future. I had my own small Sherlockiana collection before I began writing the Charlotte Holmes novels, but since then, family and friends and readers have given me a lot of wonderful additions to that collection. Deerstalker caps are one of them!” the author says.
The first book introduces us to Jamie Watson, who obtains a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut in the United States. There, he discovers that he will be schoolmates with Charlotte, Holmes’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited her ancestor’s genius and volatile personality.
At first, the two seem cut out to be rivals; however, they end up being drawn together by a series of murders in the school, all seemingly inspired by the famous Sherlock Holmes. It soon becomes clear that someone is framing them – but who? And why? Jamie and Charlotte are soon wrapped up in a bizarre mystery, with the events of the novel even bringing in Charlotte’s enigmatic brother, Milo (guess which classic Sherlock character he is based on!).
One of the challenges of writing a story like this, Cavallaro says, was making sure it was faithful to the spirit of the original Sherlock stories while being sufficiently different from it to keep things interesting.
“I knew that gender-bending my Holmes would make her different, and in fact, some of the challenge there was in keeping some of Sherlock’s less appealing qualities that were more difficult to see play out in a teenage girl’s actions.
“As for Watson, I thought quite a bit about what an intelligent, athletic Dr Watson would have been like as a teenager – and then I gave him a temper, because the voice of the character demanded it,” Cavallaro says.
The first thing that most readers would assume upon hearing about a story featuring Holmes’s great-great-great-granddaughter and Watson’s great-great-great-grandson is that the two will fall in love. While this definitely comes into play, the events of the novel and the two character’s very different personalities cause the relationship between them to be quite complicated.
“I wasn’t quite sure where Jamie and Charlotte were going to end up in relation to each other when I began writing.
“We’re used to a fairly easy, conflict-free relationship between Holmes and Watson in Doyle’s stories, and I think a lot of the modern adaptations have re-imagined that,” the author says.
“I think a younger Holmes and Watson, especially, would have a relationship that would be more intense than their adult iterations. That comes with a fair amount of conflict and high temper and bad decisions.”
Cavallaro’s first novel was followed by a sequel, The Last Of August, earlier this year. The story introduces us to Charlotte’s beloved uncle Leander, who is investigating a German art forgery ring; when he mysteriously disappears from the family estate in Sussex, Britain, Charlotte vows to find him.
Charlotte and Jamie are soon on the case, and in the course of their investigations, make a trip to Berlin; there, they have to meet August Moriarty (that name should sound a few warning bells for Sherlock fans) whose family has been ripping off famous paintings for years. Jamie and Charlotte soon discover, however, that there is more to this case than just a disappearance – and what they learn could change their lives forever.
Who would play her characters in a movie adaptation of her series? And who’d direct?
“I’d leave it to my best friend to direct – he’s the Emmy-nominated filmmaker and actor Kit Williamson, who is my real-life boy best friend from boarding school, and the director of the book trailers for the series. I also wrote Milo’s character for him, physically. I think he’d do a wonderful job,” Cavallaro says.
(Watch the book trailer at tinyurl.com/youtube-sherlock. Caution: strong language.)
“When I was writing the series, I imagined a young Eva Green for Charlotte, Alden Ehrenreich for Jamie, and a Princess Bride-era Cary Elwes for August, though all those actors are too old now for those parts!”
Cavallaro’s trilogy will end with The Case For Jamie, due next year. The story, she says, will take place in Sherringford and New York, and involve “blackmail, disappearances, spying, and our characters maybe making some better decisions than they have in the past,” she says.
While the story of Jamie and Charlotte is supposed to end there, Cavallaro says, “I’d love to someday return to Holmes and Watson – it’d be so much fun to continue writing mysteries for them to solve!”
But the author has other projects to pursue first.
“I have two projects in the works, a contemporary novel co-written with a friend, and a new series that’s a little bit fantasy, a little bit alternate American history.”