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Friday, September 30, 2005

The Case Of The Missing Inspiration

It was early one autumn in the 21st century that my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes’ powers were at their lowest ebb. His failure in the case of the Vanished Weapons of Mass Destruction had rankled, and robbed his great mind of their usual penetrative powers. The papers relating to this case are stowed safely in my safe deposit box at the largest private banking concern in the City, and will be revealed to the world at an appropriate time. On that bleak evening, however, I beheld the once-great detective sprawled on his ottoman beside the fire, staring despondently at a vial in his hand, and I feared that he would once again fall prey to the accursed white powder that he claimed brought to his senses the stimulation he so desperately needed.

My ruminations were interrupted by a series of loud, hurried knocks. I sprang up to open the door, and came face to face with a most miserable creature indeed. Lanky, with unkempt hair, furrowed brow and grimy fingers, he clutched my arm and gasped, “Is that Mr Holmes? I need help – now. Please.”

Holmes sat upright, crossing his legs. “Do sit down,” he said, indicating the armchair and studying this miserable specimen with a keen gaze. “Thank you, Mr Holmes,” said our strange visitor. “I –”

Holmes held up his hand. “You are an author who has just had a meeting with your literary agent,” he said. “You have to deliver a manuscript, but don’t know how to meet the deadline. Despite your best efforts, inspiration fails. Now tell me, my dear sir: how can I be of help?”

The writer fell back on the chair with a gasp. “My dear Holmes, how -” I asked, smiling into my moustache.

“Simplicity itself,” said Holmes, laying down the vial and picking up his pipe. “His fingers have paper cuts on them; moreover, they are ink-stained. Observe his brow, Watson: wrinkles arise there because of the effort of composition. And on his cuffs, little scribbles relating to royalties and deadlines. What could be easier to deduce?”

“Holmes,” said our visitor. “You’re right. Absolutely right. My name is Barnes. Julian Barnes. And my new book…” He buried his face in his hands.

“Come, come,” said my friend. “Mr Barnes, I ask again: how can I help?”

“Inspiration, Mr Holmes,” said the other. “Inspiration. It's been with me for years. Even followed me to France and back, on occasion. But one morning last month, it mysteriously disappeared. Not a trace of it have I found since. Now Pat says I have to deliver a new manuscript soon, and….and….” His voice trailed away.

Holmes steepled his fingers and settled back. I could sense the cogs and gears in his brain beginning to mesh again. “What do you make of it, Watson?” he asked.

“As you know, Holmes, I have some small success in writing myself,” I replied modestly. “My chronicles of our exploits have won a wide audience. And I can safely say that Mr Barnes here needs a lot more discipline, dedication and diligence: the three Ds that any aspiring – ”

“Pooh, Watson,” said Holmes dismissively. “Your chronicles, as you call them, suffer from too much melodrama. Besides, Barnes here is bedeviled by the fact of having to make up things for a living – unlike you, who witnesses at first hand the things you write about.”

I stepped back, hurt. What would Holmes know about the joys and sorrows of composition? I shot a sympathetic glance at Barnes, who looked to be in a worse state than before. His complexion was even paler, and I wondered whether this was the countenance he would show to the world on his book jacket.

“Holmes,” I said, “the creator of a work is –”

Holmes interrupted me again. “The Creator, Watson!” he said, eyes shining. “By Jove, I believe you’ve got it! Once again, my dear fellow, you come to my aid, however unwittingly.”

Barnes and I exchanged glances. I must confess that I was at a loss to comprehend the leap that Holmes' deductive faculty had made. “Barnes,” announced Holmes. “For inspiration, you could do no better than look to our Creator.”

The writer raised his eyes heavenward, as my jaw dropped. Could this really be my logical, rational friend speaking? "You know my methods, Watson," said Holmes. "Apply them!"

I fell on my knees and joined my palms in prayer. "Hear this author's plea, O Lord," I began, when I heard Holmes' derisive snort. “Our Creator, Watson!" he barked. "Our Creator and his efforts to assist that half-Parsi lawyer.”

Barnes sprang up, twitching his fingers excitedly. “Why yes,” he exclaimed. “Doyle and Edalji….Arthur and George….of course! It’s perfect!”

Holmes settled back, a satisfied smile playing upon his lips. “Brilliant, Holmes!” I said, rising to my feet. “A mere trifle, Watson,” replied the detective. We noticed that Barnes was lost to the world; he was walking about as in a trance, scribbling on a notepad that he had pulled out of his jacket. “Take that, Martin. Top this, Salman. Too bad, Kazuo,” we heard him mutter to himself. Holmes grinned. “Authors and their peccadilloes, Watson,” he said to me. “Let us leave the poor fellow to his Muse and go forth to violin-land, where all is sweetness and harmony, and there are no desperate scribblers to vex us with their conundrums."

Upon which Holmes and I walked out at dusk through the lamplit London fog while in our rooms in Baker Street, Julian Barnes communed with his inspiration at long last.


  • This is ultra cool. I'm sure Sir Doyle'll be flatered.

    By Anonymous Karthik, at 4:45 PM  

  • Not sure about flatered, but I think he would be flattered.

    By Anonymous Karthik, at 10:02 PM  

  • Outlook magazine’s Bibliofile column describes Arthur & George as “a historical about Sherlock Holmes”. Just thought I’d mention it.

    By Blogger Jabberwock, at 11:05 PM  

  • wow.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:07 AM  

  • parfait.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:10 AM  

  • why can't you leave dead creators alone ? go, find your inspiration..and don't speak in tongues, unless you wish to say nothing.

    By Blogger kuffir, at 3:11 AM  

  • Karthik and the Anons: Thank you.

    Jabberwock: That's so sad...even those responsible for a column on books and writing don't seem to read.

    Kuffir: I'm trying, I'm trying!

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 8:24 AM  

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