Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Robert J. Harris

Scotland author, Robert J. Harris (born in Dundee, settled in St. Andrews) has been a bartender, a game creator, and an author (among other things). Having co-written novels and short stories with Jane Yolen, including Queen’s Own Fool and the Young Heroes book series, Harris had his first solo novel – Leonardo and the Death Machine – published by Harper Collins in 2005. His latest novel is A Study in Crimson (read its review here), where he reimagines Sherlock Holmes in 1942 London.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into discussing writing, publishing, and everything else with Robert J. Harris.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about yourself.

Robert J. Harris: I am a Scotsman married to a fabulous American lady. We live in St. Andrews, Scotland, where we met as grad students and have three grown-up sons. My wife Debby became a published author while I was creating my very successful board game Talisman. Later, our friend Jane Yolen took me under her wing and made a writer out of me. I enjoy a good cigar, a fine whisky, and listening to the Blues. My sporting activities consist of highly competitive croquet and petanque (French boules).

Rishika S.: What are the genres you love reading and that you enjoy writing?

Robert J. Harris: As a teenager, I read almost nothing but science fiction. As a student, I branched out into classic Russian and American literature. Later still I finally discovered Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and other great writers. Most recently I have been reading classic Scottish authors Scott, Stevenson, Conan  Doyle, and Buchan. Like any civilized person, I enjoy a good mystery and am absorbed in the novels of Fred Vargas and Christopher Fowler.

I consider myself to be a writer of adventure stories for all ages, now mostly for grown-ups. I feel I am following in the tradition of the four Scottish authors mentioned above, to whom I should add Alistair MacLean.

Rishika S.: Is there one (or two) of your books that you absolutely loved writing (or that’s closest to your heart)?

Robert J. Harris: My second novel, ‘Will Shakespeare and the Pirate’s Fire,’ was a real pleasure, as I immersed myself in Shakespeare’s plays while writing it. That was a very enriching experience and I felt inspired all throughout the writing of the novel. Aside from that, my favorite is always the current one, in this case, my second Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The Devil’s Blaze.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite authors, and what have you learned from them that you have tried to imbibe (or successfully imbibed) in your own writing?

Robert J. Harris: My first writing was done in collaboration with my great friend Jane Yolen. From her, amongst other things, I learned the importance of interior landscaping, making the personality and history of the main character part of the texture of the novel. My favorite mystery writer is John Dickson Carr often called the master of the impossible crime. He inspired me to create impossible crimes of my own, such as the activities of an invisible thief in ‘Artie Conan Doyle and the Scarlet Phantom,’ and the two mini locked room mysteries that feature in ‘A Study in Crimson.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite literary characters and who are the ones you most dislike, and why?

Robert J. Harris: The best characters are to be found in Dickens. My favorite is Sam Weller in ‘The Pickwick Papers.’ On the other hand, it is very hard not to dislike intensely Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Rishika S.: What do you like the most and hate the most about the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they were originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Robert J. Harris: I like the fact that there is a spark to their relationship and that Watson is occasionally able to score a point off Holmes by puncturing his vanity. Holmes is sometimes rather mean to Watson, but that too is part of the charm of the stories and there is never any doubt of the affection and respect they feel for each other.

Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about the process of writing.

Robert J. Harris: I love it when I am on a rush of inspiration and the words are flashing through my mind faster than I can type. On the other hand, there is the odd day when I stare at a blank screen and can’t think of what comes next. Best thing then is to go away and do something else for a while.

Rishika S.: You have worked on books individually and also as a co-writer. What is the biggest positive and biggest negative difference between the two?

Robert J. Harris: It’s very stimulating to toss ideas back and forth with another author and to hear them come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of yourself. There’s a lot to be learned that way. Writing by yourself gives you great freedom but doesn’t come with the security of having somebody else to blame.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about what it’s like being married to another author. How do you help each other out and drive each other up the wall (if at all)?

Robert J. Harris: It’s great to have my own personal editor here in the house to give me advice and encouragement. That said, Debby is my most demanding editor, sometimes to the point of actual cruelty.

Rishika S.: Which of your past books would you say is your best work and why?

Robert J. Harris: A number of people have told me that ‘A Study in Crimson’ is the best novel I have written to date. Who am I to argue?

Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on as an author?

Robert J. Harris: I have just completed a second Sherlock Holmes novel (The Devil’s Blaze: Sherlock Holmes 1943). I am currently working on ‘Redfalcon’, the third of my Richard Hannay Returns trilogy which began with ‘The Thirty-One Kings’. For the future, I have in mind a medieval murder mystery and two cinema-related detective novels set in the 1960s.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little bit about the games you’ve created.

Robert J. Harris: Talisman is based on a game I made at high school in which the players are all teachers out to become head of the school. When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at university, I had the idea of changing that game into one where the players are warriors, wizards, etc. seeking to become the ruler of a magical land. I later created another fantasy game Mythgardia which has a long and complex history. I self-published a limited edition of this and am still hoping to find a proper publisher.

Rishika S.: Are you working on any new games?

Robert J. Harris: No, I’m too busy writing novels, and I already have some games to offer around.

Rishika S.: Any books that you would recommend emerging writers as a ‘must-read’?

Robert J. Harris: That’s a bit of a tall order. I can recommend a mixed bag of books by authors I am friends with, which are favorite books of mine by favorite people. I know that they have all had their struggles and yet have produced these marvelous stories.

  • The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle (genre-bending detective story)
  • Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thompson (hilarious teen fantasy)
  • Walking Mountain by Joan Lennon (wonderfully imaginative tale)
  • The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill (lunar murder mystery)
  • The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane (a dog and cat detective team investigate brutal murders in Kathattan)

Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it as an author on each topic – the activity of writing and on the publishing industry as a whole?

Robert J. Harris: Don’t be afraid to write badly. Get a flow going so that you write your story through to the end. Then you can go back and polish it. Second, don’t be discouraged by rejection, and don’t get too caught up in the reasons publishers give for rejecting your work. These are sometimes quite random.

Rishika S.: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?

Robert J. Harris: If they go to www.quantumfridge.org.uk they will find a series of comedy podcasts co-written and produced by myself and my friend Alan McFadzean and performed by our marvelous cast The Peak Performance Players. The shows are:

  • Watch the Skies! (eccentric scientists protect the Earth from alien invasion)
  • The Adventures of Saffron Star (space opera with a glamorous heroine)
  • Jack Standish the British Lion (two-fisted spy stories)
  • Backlash (the president of a newly created country comes up with various schemes to finance his miniscule nation)

We hope you enjoyed this insight into Robert J. Harris. To know more about him and his other works, you can check out his website at http://www.harris-authors.com. You can also follow him on Goodreads here. As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this author interview.



Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction

Book Review: A Study in Crimson (By Robert J. Harris)

A big thanks to Robert J. Harris and Pegasus Books for a free copy of A Study in Crimson in exchange for an honest review. I’ve always been a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; I’ve read most of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and short stories, and have watched the Robert Downey Jr. movie adaptation and the Benedict Cumberbatch series. I haven’t, however, seen the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movies (around which this book is primarily based) but those who have say that the tone and vibe of A Study in Crimson perfectly encapsulates their essence.

There a lot of Sherlock Holmes adaptations out there, in books, movies, and television. So does A Study in Crimson stand out as one of the better ones? Read on to know!

Genre: 

Mystery, Crime

Length: 

256 pages

Blurb:

It’s 1942 and the streets of London are blacked out every night in an effort to avoid devastating bombings. But in the dark, a new danger arises. A man calling himself Crimson Jack is murdering women on the same dates as Jack the Ripper, and Scotland Yard turns to Sherlock Holmes to solve the case. But the killings have a ripple effect and people high up in power have their own reasons for wanting the case solved, and fast. Can Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve this mystery before more women die? Or will the killer disappear into oblivion, never identified, as his predecessor did?

Overall Rating:

9 out of 10

Plot:

9 out of 10

Characterization:

9 out of 10

Primary Element:

9 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

9 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

No. But it is based around the films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I felt like there were references to some of those films and characters specific to them (not having seen any of them, I can’t say for sure), but you don’t feel lost at anytime and it doesn’t take anything away from the story.

Highlighted Takeaway:

With all the expected quirkiness of the main characters and the charm of the original author, Robert J. Harris’ A Study in Crimson will be an easy and enjoyable read for fans of Holmes and Watson.

What I Liked:

The story moves steadily and has no lulls, leaving you quite engrossed. The writing style is very reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work; adjusted for the change in period, but not having lost any of its charm. It’s also wonderfully descriptive, allowing you to really imagine what the city and settings look like. I also found that the (possible) references to the related movies were done perfectly so that someone who hasn’t seen them can still enjoy A Study in Crimson, with the right amount of depth to all the additional characters and enough detail to not leave you confused in the least. And if these weren’t references, they still came across as well-detailed, with all characters contributing immensely to the story.

What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing to really dislike in Harris’ book – it moves along well and is a really good adaptation of some of the most popular characters in literature.

Who Should Read It:

Robert J. Harris’ A Study in Crimson can be enjoyed by readers who like:

  • whodunits
  • classic mysteries
  • anything Sherlock Holmes-related
  • stories based during World War II

Who Should Avoid:

If you prefer your mysteries to be based in modern times, full of forensic evidence, and bad-a** cops or detectives, A Study in Crimson might not be the perfect fit for you. (That is not to say that Sherlock Holmes isn’t bad-a** but that that this book might not be the best fit if you’re looking for more violent or action-filled cop/detective mysteries.)

Read It For:

The classic Sherlock Holmes de-mystifying you would expect (and love)!

I really enjoyed Robert J. Harris’ A Study in Crimson, and I would definitely read more of his work. Share your thoughts on Harris and his books (or any other Sherlock Holmes’ adaptations) in the comments below. And as always, thanks for stopping by and reading my review!

Before you go, I’ve got some news! The Book Review Station is undergoing a bit of a revamp and rebrand. A new look, a new name, and all new categories of content! This move is still in its nascent stage and I will post regular updates as we go on. You will still be able to find all of the old posts on the new platform. Until then, the reading and reviewing will continue right here 🙂

– Rishika