interviews / Q&A's




Today, we’re delighted to welcome writer Patrick Kincaid to The Literary Lounge.  Patrick’s debut book, The Continuity Girl, is published by Unbound. It draws on iconic filmmaker Billy Wilder’s controversial and yet cult movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. We’re particularly excited as we love Sherlock in all his incarnations and yet this film passed us by until recently, all the more surprising as we’re diehard Wilder fans, too.


LS: Patrick, first of all, thank you so very much for joining us and for taking the time to answer some questions. Your book focuses on Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Have you always been a Wilder fan? What distinguishes him as a filmmaker?

PK: I have always loved Billy Wilder movies, from before I realised there were Billy Wilder movies … one of the first I remember watching is Avanti!Some Like It Hot came my way a little later, but I already knew its reputation as a great comedy. I think it’s one of a handful of Wilder films that’s note perfect – you wouldn’t want to change a thing about it. The Apartment is like that, and Sunset Boulevard, and Ace in the Hole. Wilder has a reputation for cynicism … There’s a vein of romance running through his work, too. I would really recommend Fedora, his last but one film, which stands as a companion piece to Sunset Boulevard. They both tread a line between nostalgia for a bygone Hollywood and cynicism about the current state of the industry. And both are about a lot more than that, too.


LS: What was your greatest fear (assuming you had any) about taking on a cultural icon like Billy Wilder?

PK: I knew I had to get it right, not only because I admire his work, but because people I admire admire his work … What I didn’t anticipate was finding myself in correspondence with people who had known him personally. It hadn’t occurred to me to carry the research that far. But I ended up discussing Wilder not with Paul Diamond (also good on IAL Diamond, [Wilder’s co-writer on the movie]) and Rex McGee, who was Wilder’s PA in the 1970s. That did give me a greater sense of responsibility, but they were also informative and encouraging.


LS: You’re a great Sherlock Holmes fan, too. Does Wilder’s version tally with your imagined Holmes?

PK: I think Wilder’s Holmes – Robert Stephens – seems strange at first. It begins with him disavowing Watson’s portrayal of him in the stories (he does that in the stories, too!). He is younger than other Holmes on screen. I grew up watching old Basil Rathbone films, and then Jeremy Brett, who were both in their 50s. Stephens was still in his 30s, wore his hair long, looked like a dandy … There’s something of a lean Oscar Wilde about him. Doyle could give Holmes some zingers – ‘Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same’– but Wilder and his co-writer, IAL Diamond, really up the ante on that. People forget that it’s a very funny film, because it’s also a very sad film. That’s where the romance comes in again: this is the most romantic Sherlock Holmes film. All of that – the relative youth, the humour, the dash of romance – was a palpable influence on Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt when they came to write the BBC’s Sherlock.


LS: Of all Wilder’s films, the Sherlock movie was his least successful commercially, and reportedly the severely edited distributed version broke his heart. People tend to love or hate it. Why do you think it’s achieved cult status?

PK: There’s no doubt that there’s a romance about the circumstances in which the film was made … The search for the missing scenes of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes has been tireless since it began to gain cult status, just a few years after its release. We’re in the frustrating position of having the audio for some scenes and the visuals for others. It’s like a final grim joke. But it’s also true that the film as it stands, with a whole hour cut from it, is a masterpiece, albeit with a mood that not everyone will take to at first. I recently read a review of its 2002 release, written by The Guardian’s Michael Billington, where he rehearsed all the usual gripes about the film: that nobody wants to see Holmes outwitted, that nobody wants to be one step ahead of Holmes … I shared it with Paul Diamond who agreed that Billington – a very fine theatre critic – ‘didn’t get it’.

Kim Newman, who calls Private Life in his Empire review ‘the best Holmes movie ever made’, told me that he wouldn’t like to see the cut scenes reintegrated even if they were discovered … Jonathan Coe would certainly like to see a restored version … Coe’s obsession with the film stems from childhood, when he discovered the novelisation. When he eventually saw the film, he was aware of scenes that were in the novel but not on screen … He also writes brilliantly, in his essay 9th and 13th, about the effect that the music had on him, and I can’t blame him for that. Rózsa’s score is one of the most beautiful and haunting ever composed.


LS: Basil Rathbone will always be my Holmes, although I do like Benedict Cumberbatch and even Jonny Lee Miller. Who’s your screen Holmes?

PK: After Robert Stephens, you have someone like Jeremy Brett – who, incidentally, was Stephens’s best friend. Brett is my Holmes. I was 13 when his series began to air, and I was hooked from the start. He played the eccentric you find in the books, but he also played up a subtext that insisted on his vulnerability. They transposed the drug-taking scene from The Sign of Four into that first episode (A Scandal in Bohemia) which emphasised his dependence on Watson. As Brett’s health began to fail, later in the run, this choice helped to keep him credible in the role. At the risk of upsetting other fans, I’d say that the performance doesn’t always work. None of the two-hour episodes are really successful, and the last series – he missed one episode of it, and Charles Gray had to step in as Mycroft – is often painful to watch.

We know that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is written with Stephens’s Holmes at the back of the writer’s minds. Paul Diamond tells me that he met a writer on Elementary who said he’d never seen The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. But these things are in the air now – whether they know it or not, Johnny Lee Miller’s Holmes is in the Wilder tradition.

There was [also] a BBC production of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 2002, which Holmes was played by Richard Roxburgh, an Australian actor who for some reason I can’t fathom was flavour of the month. Meanwhile, Stapleton was played by Richard E. Grant. Crazy! Grant would have made a brilliant Holmes, and he was the right age just then …


LS: Apart from Doyle, did anyone else influence you when you were writing the book?

PK: Most obviously, it was Billy Wilder, particularly the run of films he co-scripted with Diamond in the 60s and 70s. They are films where the word is king. Sometimes that’s used as a criticism, the implication being that film is a visual medium and Wilder wasn’t interested enough in visuals. But I think that’s to miss how Wilder directed actors. They’re almost dancers in his hands, the word matched by nuances in their movements. I think I can see an interest in movement in my novel. Maybe …

… There’s [also] a swathe of novels I enjoy – by Jonathan Coe, and David Nicholls, and Caitlin Moran – that have nothing in common except that they might be called ‘social comedies’. I’m calling The Continuity Girl a romantic comedy, and it is; but I think it’s also a social comedy.


LS: Had the idea for the book been mulling around for a while?

PK: It seemed like I got the idea for the novel is a lightbulb moment. My wife and I were on honeymoon near Loch Ness and decided to go on a boat tour. Whilst on the loch, the guide began telling us about the monster, and it turned out he was an investigator of long standing. I knew little about the monster then … At the end, he asked for questions, and the only thing I could think to ask about was The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Turned out he had been there at the time, and had seen Wilder’s model monster, which sank in the loch on its first outing. Well, I think I knew I was going to write the novel there and then.


LS: Do you believe in Nessie? … It had to be asked!

PK: Well, that depends on what we decide Nessie is. I don’t think there’s a plesiosaur swimming about in those very cold waters, but people are absolutely convinced that they’ve seen something there. A couple of weeks ago, I talked to a bookseller in Inverness whose uncle had seen something. Much of what those Nessie investigators are focussed on – and this is true of Adrian Shine, who I interviewed, and who runs the Loch Ness and Morar Project – is finding an answer to why people see monsters in the loch.


LS: Why a continuity girl?

PK:  Actually, when I had that lightbulb moment in the boat, I had already been thinking of writing something centred on a ‘continuity girl’ (script editor nowadays) for a while. I had heard Elaine Schreyek talking about her career on the radio, mainly because she had worked with Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe on The Prince and the Showgirl, and had seen the potential for a story there. A film set was largely a male domain throughout the 20th century, and I was intrigued by this vital role that was always filled by a woman, and therefore had this tension about it. Could it be that important if it was fulfilled by a ‘girl’? I think this is something that often happens with writers: you get one good idea and have to wait for another to come along which makes it possible. I knew I didn’t want to focus on historical names, so I didn’t want the clash to be between Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond and the real Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. Partly, perhaps, I was saving myself some research; but mostly, I am just interested in the stories happening off the side of where the famous people are at. Andrew Miller’s Pure is a novel set just before the French revolution, but none of his characters are aware of what’s happening. I love that.


LS: How long did it take you to write the book? Did it go through several drafts?

PK: The Continuity Girl was a quick one for me. I began it in the summer of 2015 and finished the first draft the following March. That was mostly writing for half an hour every morning before I went to work, though I managed more than that at the weekends and during school holidays. There’s an idea among writers that you’re either a ‘punster’ (you write by the seat of your pants) or a ‘plotter’ (you plan everything carefully first). Up till now, I was always the first, but I plotted The Continuity Girl more carefully (though not all at the beginning) which helped me finish it more quickly.


LS: Do you have a preferred genre of writing?

PK: Gosh, that is a question I’ve been asking myself. I’ve four or five ideas for the next thing after the next thing, and none of them belong to the same genre. I used to think I was going to be a historical novelist, but that seems less clear now. I would like to move around a bit … Funnily enough, I’ve got a period mystery that’s just about ready to go. That I can handle: researching how things were, rather than how they are, is easier because the past is containable. Or at least, you can draw your own boundaries.


LK: Unbound seems a truly democratic way of publishing as it’s essentially publishing by vote (in terms of crowdfunding). What led you to publish with them?

PK: With other projects I’d always gone the traditional route. I wasn’t quite up to JK Rowling numbers in terms of rejections, and actually I did get one bite that I decided for various reasons not to land. I heard of Unbound a while ago but wasn’t sure at first that I had the social media reach to make it work for me. But I began The Continuity Girl with Unbound in mind, and through all the way along about how I might sell the novel to the public. In that way, it also delivered a good schooling in how to be your own promoter.


LS: In your ‘field of dreams’ film adaptation, who would direct and who would star? And who, in your opinion, would make a good Wilder?

PK: I haven’t thought about this at all. Haven’t lain awake at night, piecing it all together. Honest … To direct, I’d choose Mackenzie Crook. I love the way he handled Detectorists on BBC4. I love the comic sensibility of that show, but I think he also has a sense of environment that would give reflect the way Jim sees the Scottish Highlands.

… Jim and April are only in their mid-20s in 1969 … Perhaps Jim and April would prove break-out roles! But the 2014 versions? Peter Davison is approaching the right age for Jim. You don’t see him so often, but he is such a good comic actor, and peerless when it comes to playing the everyman. And it would have to be a Hollywood icon in her 60s for April … Michelle Pfeiffer? James Purefoy played Billy Wilder recently on TV (Urban Myths). I like it when actors become associated with playing a real person across projects (like Robert Hardy playing Churchill). Purefoy is a good actor – that would work.


LS: And if The Continuity Girl had a soundtrack, what would be the main title track? The Wilder film has that gorgeous Miklós Rózsa score, of course.

PK: That is such a beautiful score …! A friend who read the novel recognised Fairport Convention’s ‘A Sailor’s Life’ from the description alone. A few songs are alluded to in that way, and I think they would have to be on a soundtrack. That means you would have to shell out for ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ by The Beatles, ‘Dizzy’ by Tommie Roe, ‘Space Oddity’ by Bowie, ‘Girl from the North Country’ by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash (a bit of a cheat, since it was released later in the year), ‘In the Ghetto’ by Elvis … But I’d love to have Rózsa’s ‘Ilse’ theme from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, too.


LS: All great choices.

And finally, Patrick, what’s next on the horizon?

PK: The period mystery I mentioned earlier. There’s a touch of Doyle in there too, and perhaps some John Buchan. Maybe some Raymond Chandler, too… If people like it, I’d be happy to write more the same set of characters I’ve created for it. Also, I’ve had an idea for something related to The Continuity Girl – not a sequel as such, but existing in the same world. I was inspired on the banks of Loch Ness again, though this mission will take me a long, long way from Scotland if I choose to accept it.


Well, Patrick, thank you so much. It has been an absolute pleasure. And we loved the book.


The Continuity Girl | Patrick Kincaid | Unbound | August 2018 | paperback | £8.99


See review: ‘A walk on the Wilder side, Patrick Kincaid’s The Continuity Girl

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And just because it is beautiful … Rózsa’s music for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.


Acknowledgements: This Q&A is published as part of The Continuity Girl virtual book tour, along with a review of the book. Many thanks to Patrick Kinkaid for sparing us the time and to Anne Cater for organising the tour. All thoughts and opinions are our own. Image: ‘Dores Beach’ © Patrick Kinkaid 2018.


Selected The Literary Lounge Q&As/interviews: ‘David Stuart Davies: The Literary Lounge Q&A’; ‘Meet Gina Kirkham: The Literary Lounge Q&A‘; ‘Gunnar Staalesen: The Literary Lounge Q&A’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist‘; ‘Meet Mary Jo Putney: The Literary Lounge Q&A‘; John Fairfax: The Literary Lounge Q&A’; ‘Ian Ridley: The Literary Shed Q&A’.

See also:The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes – a Billy Wilder classic?’;’Bellevue Square, Doppelganger-tastique‘; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets‘;‘Chris Whitaker’s mad, mad world – Tall Oaks’; ‘A tale of Jews and shoes in modern China, Spencer Wise’s debut novel‘; ‘Everyone needs a Mavis … or a Gina Kirkham’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir’; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper – indie publisher Orenda does it again‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; ‘Mallory an old-style hero – It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell’; ‘Nora Roberts’ Come Sundown – a tale of strong women’.

Film: Night Mail (1936), changing the face of British film; A Colour Box by Len Lye (1935); Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956). Hitchcock (2012); The Splendour of George Stevens’ Giant (1956).


This review is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.