Who can a rabbit rely on to solve the mystery of her missing necklace? Sherlock Ferret, of course. Or so Leticia Rabbit thinks when she visits the ferret detective and his friend and colleague, Watson Mouse M.D. Thus begins the story of Sherlock Ferret And The Missing Necklace, a book written by Hugh Ashton and illustrated by Andy Boerger. The adventure moves forward quickly as Sherlock Ferret and Watson set about investigating the case, which takes them from the last known whereabouts of the necklace to as far afield as an island in the middle of a lake. They meet several other characters, some nefarious, as they work to solve the mystery.
Writer Hugh Ashton’s style captures the reader from the first page, as his Watson tells about who they are, their home beneath a baker’s shop and how they help people. Geared toward children, the 45-page book is a fast read that holds even an adult’s attention with its dry humor. Ashton knows the world of Sherlock Holmes. His website lists numerous Sherlockian tales for adults that have been published since 2012, with permission from the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. to use the characters.
Artist Andy Boerger provided more than just the illustrations for Sherlock Ferret And The Missing Necklace, as he has owned two ferrets and his penchant for drawing ferrets was key to the creation of the story. His website features a page of ferrets.
Both Ashton and Boerger graciously agreed to be interviewed about their work on Sherlock Ferret. Read on to discover the inspiration behind characters, running “jokes,” more difficult characters to draw and much more.
How long have you been a writer?
HA: I’ve written things and told stories since I was about 7 or 8, I suppose, and I’ve made my living by writing for the past 30 years or so, but that was mainly technical writing, copywriting, reports and the like. My first fiction was published about 4 to 5 years ago.
How long have you been an illustrator?
AB: For about 25 years, mostly in Tokyo with brief stints in San Francisco and New York City. The pen and ink style is somewhat of a return to an earlier style, having worked a lot with pastels and acrylics in the past.
How did you decide which scenes to illustrate in Sherlock Ferret?
AB: Hugh and I had a really close way of working together. It wasn’t a situation where he sent me a finished manuscript. In fact, one of the images was completed even before there was an idea for a book. Hugh had simply suggested that as he likes my animal works he would like to see what a Sherlock Ferret would look like. After having decided that the character required a book to go with it, we discussed each illustration and where it would appear.
You make some wonderful choices of species for all the characters, Hugh. Can you share any of your thought process on the selection of a ferret, a mouse, a rhinoceros, a magpie, a moorhen, rabbits, frogs and caterpillars?
HA: The ferret was inspired by Andy’s love of ferrets. We were chatting on Facebook and I said “How about a ferret as Sherlock Holmes?” So he drew the picture of Sherlock playing the violin. And it all went on from there.
Mouse: I wanted something small and rather appealing for Watson. Maybe I had C.S.Lewis’ Reepicheep at the back of my mind, thinking about it. Watson is very brave and fiercely loyal, even if he is only a mouse.
Lestrade as a rhino? Andy draws lovely rhinos, but of course, we had problems of scale. So Lestrade had to be a rhino (but not a very big one).
Moriarty as a magpie: what else could he be?
Colonel Sebastian Moorhen is inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Colonel Sebastian Moran in The Empty House, of course.
Rabbits are fairly silly animals: Jo at Inknbeans suggested Leticia as her name. I wanted to call her Irene, after Irene Adler (A Scandal in Bohemia) but we decided against that.
I think a frog is a suitable animal to be a boatman: if we weren’t careful, we would end up as Wind in the Willows with too many water mammals, and we didn’t want that. I asked Andy if a frog worked for him, and he said that he likes frogs, so there we were.
And caterpillars (or “cappertillers” as Watson calls them)? Sherlock’s interested in butterflies, so I think this would be natural. And they can go anywhere, of course, without being noticed. I had thought of woodlice (Wiggins the Woodlouse), but Andy and I decided they would not appeal to as many people.
Was any animal in the book more challenging to draw than others?
AB: The birds were more of a challenge, as I tend not to draw birds as much as the other animals in the book. In contrast, the addition of a rhinoceros was Hugh’s idea, as he had liked some drawings of them he had seen on my Facebook page.
Do you have a favorite illustration in the book?
AB: I suppose that if I have to choose, it would be the illustration of Lestrade, Sherlock and Watson standing together. A nice grouping!
What is the age range for readers of the book?
HA: We think readers aged between 7 and 10 will enjoy reading it for themselves, though younger children will probably enjoy having it read to them and being shown the pictures.
You have a couple of running jokes in the book that really add to its charm, for example the small rhinoceros and the word nefarious. What was the inspiration for these?
HA: I think it’s probably Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, where there are certain set phrases which come again and again like parts of a magic spell or chant. I wanted this sort of singsong repetition in places, so that children hearing the story could join in with parts, even when hearing it for the first time. I did it with Moriarty’s reported conversation with Leticia. I wanted a hypnotic, rhythmic, poetic effect.
And both Andy and I love the word “nefarious.” We’re going to copyright, trademark, register it, etc., so no one else can use it without our permission. Is that nefarious or what?
How did you like writing for children versus adults? What did you adjust?
HA: My Sherlock Holmes books use a very wide and complex vocabulary and sentence structure which wouldn’t work for children. And of course, my characters are very different. Watson Mouse is not the same narrator as John H. Watson MD (though I can think myself into the part and write Watson Mouse from the inside). Sherlock Ferret has some resemblance to Sherlock Holmes, but only some. But the plot is a complex enough plot to be interesting, I believe, and it has real authentic Sherlockian twists to it. I’m not trying to write down to children, and that’s appreciated, it seems. I call it a “detective story for children” rather than “a children’s book.” I think there’s a subtle difference.
Do you have a favorite scene in the book? Were any difficult to write?
HA: No problems writing, I write very fluently and easily and the action and plot unfolded in my mind as I was writing. I enjoy the final scene with the carrot salad (it’s very Sherlockian indeed!), and also the standoff with Sebastian Moorhen. I also enjoyed creating a rather camp Moriarty.
How long did it take to write the book?
HA: A few weeks. I write fast. Very few revisions from the first draft.
How long did it take to do all the illustrations? Did all make it into the book?
AB: Each illustration only takes a very short amount of time to do. But whenever anyone asks me how long it takes to do an illustration, I am reminded of the reply that Matisse once gave, that it took him 40 years to do a painting (he was 40 at the time). I won’t give my age away, but that’s how long it took me to do the illustrations. For this book, all illustrations that were created made it onto the page.
Was your ferret Vinnie your model for Sherlock Ferret?
AB: Yes, very much so. It was Hugh who suggested I create a Sherlock Ferret character, having become enamored of my numerous depictions of Vinnie that I post on Facebook and my blog.
Vinnie’s interview at the InknBeans website makes her seem like a thoughtful ferret with strong opinions. Is she your first ferret? How do you like ferrets as pets (or team leaders as Vinnie would say)?
AB: Vinnie is Team Leader #2. The first ferret I owned was my dear friend Rosie, who passed away in January, 2013. She spent seven and a half years giving me joy. Ferrets make great animal friends (opting not to use the word “pet” in deference to Vinnie).
What do you want readers to get from the story?
HA: Enjoyment above all else. If they learn anything else from the story, it’s a by-product. I write to entertain, not to educate directly. But coming from a family of preachers and teachers, I suppose it’s unavoidable that some educational value will creep in there. Watson and Sherlock are basically very decent creatures and can serve as role models. And of course, there are new words to learn.
If you had to sum up the book in three words or less, what would they be?
HA: World’s Cutest Detective
The book thanks Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. for granting permission to use the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for Sherlock Holmes. Is this a rare thing?
HA: For children’s books, yes, it probably is rare. Inknbeans Press and I have been licensed to write Sherlock Holmes books for over a year now, as are the producers of the Robert Downey Jr. movies, the BBC Sherlock series, and the Elementary series, but we are possibly unique in our licensing of Sherlock as a ferret!
Will there be more Sherlock Ferret adventures, or any other ferret-related projects?
HA: Oh yes. Sherlock Ferret and the Multiplying Masterpieces is on the way. Featuring artists such as Vincent van Goat, Barbara Hippoworth and Pablo Pigasso. Moriarty comes back and sings another of his little songs. Andy has other ferrety things coming out as well!
What other ferret-related projects do you have in the works, Andy?
AB: I hope everyone will have a look at my new book, I Like You More Each Day. This book features a little girl, Meg, as the main character, but nearly equal space is devoted to her ferret friend, who is not named. Lots and lots of ferret drawings!
I also have another book project, still in the development stage, called Nosy Rosie, which can be viewed on my website in its rough form. It tells the true story of the day that Rosie the ferret ran away, and the almost miraculous way she got back home.
The book Sherlock Ferret And The Missing Necklace measures approximately 7.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches tall and includes more than 30 pen-and-ink illustrations. It is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Inknbeans Direct and fine booksellers everywhere.