Conversations with Spirits is one of those cracking reads that leave you sitting up into the small hours promising yourself ‘one more chapter then sleep’. On finishing it, you will want to buy copies for all your good friends, so that you can have long, spoiler-filled discussions of its merits. For they are many.
Trelawney Hart is a former child prodigy who spends his days trying to pickle his brain in cherry brandy in order to remove all traces of his lost wife. He seems an unlikely person for the creator of Sherlock Holmes to engage to investigate a spiritualist demonstration on the sands of Broadstairs in Kent, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle does just that. The wrecked condition of Hart’s body makes it touch and go as to whether he will witness the denouement of his own story, as the reader is left to wonder if he will uncover some of what is going on before he coughs up a lung. Or two.
The tale is set in 1917, but the War hovers around like a London fog, influencing the characters in Conversations with Spirits without directly touching them. It is true that the massive loss of life did encourage a belief in spiritualists among the bereaved, as well as many ‘backroom shysters’ determined to prey on them for profit. And Trelawney is also haunted, the presence of his wife never far away:
It is far more painful to awake from a beautiful slumber and – in that brief period when the continuity of life is still lost to you – to reach across the bed for a hand that is not there.
So, have the years of drinking sufficiently dulled one of England’s most famous intellects to the point of being unable to unravel the facts? Will he be forced to admit that there are things in the world that logic alone can’t explain? Rest assured that even if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is picking up the (considerable) tab for the adventures, Trelawney won’t be able to resist little digs at his benefactor. The Hound of the Baskervilles one is priceless.
Published by Unbound, which allows readers to pledge to support the work of writers whose ideas resonate with them, the one question on every reviewer’s mind seems to be ‘WHEN DO WE GET TO READ THE SEQUEL?’ And, should Trelawney end his days face down in a pint of brandy – as seems somewhat possible – there are at least two ‘supporting’ characters who deserve spin-off tales of their own: there is surely more going on with den mother Sibella and reluctant sidekick Billy Crouse than has been revealed thus far.
ten minutes hate was lucky enough to be able to ask this and a few other impertinent questions to Mr E O Higgins himself.
10mh: Conversations with Spirits is so amazingly good (thank you!) that you must be living the dream of fat advances, literary acclaim and a five star, jet set lifestyle. Was publishing everything you thought it would be?
Well, I don’t live in a massive gold house just yet, sadly – but being involved with Unbound has been lovely. They’re all very funny and charming and encouraging, which is nice.
And the moment I saw my book in Waterstones for the first time is something I will never forget…
10mh: Trelawney Hart is quite a character. Is it difficult to switch off his distinctive voice when your writing is done for the day and do you have a good cherry brandy supplier?
Trelawney is a bit of an arsehole, really – so I try not to get too lost in the part. I also don’t have the servants to put up with my rudeness (see previous answer), so that’s something I need to work on.
I had actually never tasted cherry brandy (Trelawney’s tipple of choice) before my book launch – but now I have, I won’t be imbibing again any time soon. It’s filthy stuff.
10mh: Was it fun taking a bit of a pop at Arthur Conan Doyle or has there been any retribution from Sherlock Holmes fans?
Yes, I get occasional angry reviews because of this.
I am actually a very big Conan Doyle fan myself, so I like to think it’s more of a good-natured ribbing, really.
I recently did a talk at the Edinburgh Literary Festival and the crowd there were surprisingly hostile to both myself and Steven Galloway, the writer I was sharing the platform with.
It turned out to be filled with members of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Society – a spiritualist organisation.
I had earlier referred to the mediums I had met – whilst researching my book – as ‘shysters’. So, it was quite a tough crowd.
10mh: Word reaches us that your research into spiritualism now extends to hosting séances. What would Trelawney say?
He would be appalled, naturally; if he wasn’t too pissed to care.
I don’t ‘do’ séances though – I did a single séance for Unbound, to help publicise the book.
Derek Acorah’s job’s safe – turns out, lying to the bereaved isn’t really my thing.
10mh: And what’s next, for creator and protagonist?
My wife is expecting our first child in a month, so I mainly foresee an instance of extreme panic, following by a period of changing nappies and missing sleep…
But the follow-up to Conversations with Spirits is (slowly) coming together. The plot has moved away from spiritualism and onto black magic, so I expect I’ll be upsetting devil worshippers soon enough.
Congratulations! Excellent and very welcome news.
If you haven’t already, search out a copy of Conversations with Spirits. And you can follow E O Higgins on Twitter for updates on when and where the follow-up will appear.