INTERVIEW: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse on their novel ‘Mycroft Holmes’

2015-01-12 09.32.31Following my recent review of the novel ‘Mycroft Holmes’ which you can read here, we were keen to find out more about the minds that created such a complex novel. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse were generous enough to offer their time to answer a few questions about their inspirations, the book and what they have learned from their recent collaboration.

GS: Given your passion for Sherlock Holmes, why has it taken so long to get around to this book?


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (KAJ): Life gets in the way. Because this was originally my passion, and not Anna’s, it was up to me to make room for it. I first discovered the canon as a rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks. I was just starting my professional life as a basketball player. That doesn’t leave much room for other work, especially fiction. And especially fiction that requires a huge amount of research. Which is why the books I authored in my playing days were autobiographies…a subject I am intimately familiar with.

GS: What is it about Mycroft that led you to make him the main protagonist?


KAJ: Curiosity. Who was this guy? He was mentioned so little in the canons; there’s so little information about him; why mention him at all? Yet, what was there was intriguing: he was not only in the British government, Sherlock tells us, but sometimes is the British government. He’s obese. He has a very straightforward routine. He co-founded The Diogenes Club, a place where speaking is prohibited. Also, Sherlock has been explored and re-explored. Nothing wrong with that: I really like some of the newest versions of Sherlock. But I wanted to leave that to others.

GS: What was it about your connection with each other that made the writing partnership a success?


Anna Waterhouse (AW): We’re both introverts and perfectionists, which we found out when I was hired to fix a rough cut of Kareem’s documentary, “On the Shoulders of Giants.” Neither of us wastes much time with small talk. We’re both very much about the work. We just wouldn’t let go until we were satisfied that it was the best it could be. Thankfully, it won some awards, so we realized that our particular combination works! Beyond that, we both love history. We both enjoy research. For Mycroft, we divided (and hopefully conquered). Kareem is quite familiar with the Victorian era: he’s fascinated by Britain at a time when it was the most powerful country in the world, not to mention its long reach to other countries in its sphere of influence, from Africa to India to the Caribbean. So he’s brimming with ideas and political/social connections. Because of my background in film, I try to paint a picture, to make the characters as real as I can possibly make them. We both made sure that all the research was in service to the characters and not simply there as window dressing. Finally, we batted the chapters back and forth and wouldn’t let go or move on until we were satisfied.

GS: What has been your greatest area of creative evolution/ improvement as a direct result of working with each other?


KAJ: I’m learning more about how to “set the stage” so that characters aren’t just “acting in a vacuum.” See? I even know the lingo!

AW: This is my first fiction book, my first novel. So I would venture to say that the entire thing has been creative evolution and improvement. I’ve also really fallen in love with this kind of storytelling.

GS: Are there plans for a follow up, will this become a series?


KAJ: If it’s well received, then yes, there’s a good chance that Mycroft Holmes and Cyrus Douglas will be back for another round or two.

AW: That was always our intent: to start Mycroft’s life at a point that is far enough from the “overweight recluse” he becomes, yet lays the foundation for that.

GS: Is it a difficult transition to write a novel rather than a script or screenplay? How does having experience in these areas help or hinder you?


AW: As I said above, it’s been a joy. I won’t lie and say there weren’t times when I thought, “Wait a minute….a rather long script is 120 pages, and an average novel is 350….what was I thinking??” But for the most part, I could use many elements of screenwriting (from beginning a scene as late as you can and leaving as early as you can, to making sure the visuals were effective) to enhance the novel. Other parts of screenwriting, such as realistic dialogue (dialogue that’s based in real emotions and circumstances) are common to novel writing as well. But when people say they can almost smell the waterfront in Port of Spain, Trinidad….I think that’s a compliment!

GS: Can you describe the moment when you knew you were being acknowledged as a writer and that being an athlete was no longer having an impact on your success or notoriety in this area?


KAJ: I’ve been writing a long time. Some people have acknowledged my writing from the very first book. Some still won’t acknowledge it, even after nearly a dozen books and weekly op ed pieces for Time (and now The Washington Post). I don’t mind if people say, “What? Kareem’s written a BOOK?” As long as they check it out, that’s just fine with me.

GS: If you had one question that you could ask Sherlock or Mycroft what would it be?


KAJ: My question is for Mycroft. I’d ask, “What really happened to you, man?” What happened to turn you into that? I’m hoping that, as we write his story, that will slowly become clear…first to us, then to the readers.

GS: Who do you consider to be your greatest literary or creative influences?


KAJ: Besides Arthur Conan Doyle, I like Walter Mosely, Raymond Chandelier, James Clavell, Martin Cruz Smith, Robert Louis Stevenson,  Alexandre Dumas and Mark Twain.

AW: My MFA was in Creative Writing, so I’m a huge fan of literary fiction, from Jane Austen to Denis Johnson. At the moment I’m reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, as well as some nonfiction for other work I’m doing.


mycroft holmes

Mycroft Holmes is available now from Titan Books.

Interviewer: The Aviator

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