Autodidact: self-taught


An Interview with E.O. Higgins

by V. L. Craven
Author E.O. Higgins (image from

Author E.O. Higgins (image from

Last week I reviewed the enormously entertaining Conversations with Spirits wherein Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hires a not-very-personable, but highly intelligent logician to help him prove an up-and-coming medium is the real deal.

This week the author, E.O. Higgins, has agreed to answer some questions about Conan Doyle, spirits and his protagonist.

You’re clearly very well versed in the world of Sherlock Holmes–how many times have you read the stories and novels?

Oh, I don’t know – lots.

I’ve always been weirdly obsessed with the Victorian period – and when I was about seven this developed into a fascination with Jack the Ripper. This isn’t making me sound good, I know…

One Friday night, I stayed up late to watch the film A Study in Terror – in which John Neville’s Sherlock is pitted against the serial killer. From that point in, I guess I must have switched sides. (Which is for the best, when you think about it.)

I still dip into the books from time to time. Last weekend, for example, I was staying at a hotel on the Kent coast – and naturally it rained constantly – so I decided the best thing to do was to draw a chair to fireside in the hotel bar and read a few Holmes adventures.

I’m also blessed with an awful memory – so no matter how many times I read them, I can never remember the endings.

There is nothing wrong with a healthy interest in serial killers. Plenty of perfectly decent, mostly well-adjusted people are interested in Jack the Ripper. :ahem:

Anyway, do you have a favourite Holmes story?

I’m very keen on ‘The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.’

It’s spookier than the other Sherlock Holmes stories – containing, as it does, burnt human remains and nefarious late-night goings-on in a crypt…

Always my idea of a good time out, yes.

What sort of research did you do in order to write about Conan Doyle’s personality?

I read Conan Doyle’s novels and autobiographies. I also pored over his collected letters – which were extremely helpful in getting a better idea of where his mind was on certain topics – spiritualism and the ‘Cottingley fairies’ being the obvious examples.

Also, a few film and audio interviews with Conan Doyle survive – and these were really useful in getting to understand his general demeanour and in recreating the rhythm of his conversation.

When it comes to adaptations of his work do you have a favourite or are you a purist and stick to the written versions?

I’m really not a purist.

I love the Basil Rathbone version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I grew up watching – and loving – the Jeremy Brett Granada series. The new BBC series is obviously excellent too.

I recently caught an episode of the (not brilliant) American series Elementary – and was a bit confused by the addition of a glamorous female Watson. I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with the format this prompted this change – but, in fairness, she was still less annoying than Nigel Bruce.

Conversations with Spirits

Where do you stand on the ghoulies and ghosties and three-leggedy beasties front? Yay or nay?

Well, I haven’t seen any yet – and I’ve been looking.

I recently did a talk in front of members of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre – a spiritualist organisation based in Edinburgh – and spoke, in rather blunt terms, about the ‘psychics’ I had encountered whilst researching the novel, which provoked some fairly angry responses from the crowd.

So I have now learnt to temper my remarks about such things – and never refer to mediums as ‘shysters’ again.

Is Conversations with Spirits the beginning of a series?

It wasn’t supposed to be.

When I finished writing it, I started writing something entirely different – just because I felt I needed the change.

However, speaking to my editor at Unbound last year, she made it clear that they would be keen on another book with the same characters.

So, yes, it seems Trelawney will return.

Which, considering his physical condition in the first one, is a bit of a miracle really…

Perhaps Trelawney has a guardian angel. (Kidding.)

Conversations with Spirits was nominated for The Guardian/Edinburgh Book Festival ‘First Book Award’. That’s a pretty big deal. How did you receive that news and what was that like?

In around June last year, my publishers told me that I had been asked to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival to do a talk with Canadian author Steven Galloway on the theme of ‘fiction that blurs reality with illusion’.

About a month before this, I was called up by a journalist for an interview and, as a kind of casual aside at the end of the call, she added: “Oh. I see you’re a contender for the Edinburgh First Book Award this year. How do you feel about that?”

Having heard nothing of this, I cleverly covered by hyperventilating down the phone.

It’s a great honour to be nominated for anything, really – and when you’ve endured decades of misery – and penury – trying desperately to ‘learn your craft’ (sorry) and get people to read your work, it’s actually quite a relief to know that you’re not completely terrible.

What’s next for you–are you working on anything right now?

I got married at the end of last year and my wife is expecting our first child in June, so besides buying baby things and being regularly crippled by panic, I am slowly piecing together the next Trelawney Hart book.

Since the protagonist doesn’t readily lend himself to taking on ‘cases’* it’s involved a bit of thinking about. Oh, and in the next novel the focus has shifted away from spiritualism and onto black magic.

*Unless I set him up as the world’s first ‘consulting arsehole’?

I’d love to see those business cards. And black magic is always a welcome topic around these parts.

I look forward to reading the next book. And congratulations on the impending bundle of human!

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