Vasudev Murthy lives in Bangalore, India and writes on music, humor, management and crime. He has been published by Poisoned Pen Press, Bloomsbury, HarperCollins and Sage. His work has been translated into Portuguese, Korean, Japanese and Kannada. He is otherwise a Management Consultant and violinist with a passion for animal welfare.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Sherlock Holmes, the Missing Years: Timbuktu. When did you start writing and what got you into crime fiction?
Thank you. I’ve been writing for many years. However, my first book – on classical music – was published in 2004. This book is my sixth. The Sherlock Holmes series that I have embarked upon initially started as an exercise to write like someone else (Arthur Conan Doyle in this case). The experiment was successful and Sherlock Holmes in Japan was published by Harper Collins. Then came Timbuktu.
You must answer this question: What is your book about?
The book is about where Sherlock Holmes was during the period between 1891 and 1894, famously referred to as the ‘Missing Years. The central theory in this book is that he was in Timbuktu, which is about as remote and exotic as you might imagine. I trace the journeys of two famous travels, Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta and link them to a half-manuscript buried in the sands of a mosque in Timbuktu. The manuscript contains a secret that everyone is prepared to die for. I write about the Tuaregs, the Sahara, Morocco, Timbuktu, the Niger, Chad, Sudan and the lower Nile.
What was your inspiration for it?
I was fascinated by African cultures and particularly that of the Tuaregs, the people of the Sahara desert. Why did Sherlock Holmes have to be in Europe or Japan (my earlier book) or the United Kingdom? Why not Timbuktu? As I read more, I realized I was sitting on a gold mine of amazing information that begged for a story.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Positive challenges – I had to learn the Tifinagh script and the Meroitic script and immersing myself in the continent and its complexities. I did get the help of two experts on the Lower Nile and that helped. But otherwise it was just me, plodding through huge amounts of information and wondering what to include and how. I also had to read up quite a bit on Ibn Batuta and Marco Polo.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
This is a complex book and I’m hoping readers will be patient and enjoy the cultural tapestry that I’ve tried to create. They will learn that Timbuktu isn’t imaginary at all. It’s a real place with a great history and was a center for Islamic scholarship. And the Sahara desert has given rise to astonishing cultures – their music, their scripts, their social complexities.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes, very much. It wasn’t simply a flight of imagination. I had to research time periods, languages, music, cultures. It was a thrilling experience. I had to learn about a dead language, Meroitic and create a chant. I accidentally learnt something incredible about French history too.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Thoughts?
George Orwell is entitled to his opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this book because it was so complex and interesting. If someone embarks on something which is painful, he should abort the process immediately. Life is too short to be doing something which brings out negative feelings.
What has writing taught you?
To be humble and to be always in awe of everything that life has to offer. There is so much material to learn about – can I write well enough to share my happiness and joy about it with others? On a different note, I have learned not to be overly fond of one’s own writing. It is best to surrender to a good editor and let them make your writing shine. Further, stamina and grit are necessary to be a writer. After all, ideas are free and plentiful. Writing is a solitary task that needs concentration.
Cover art and author photo published with permission from the author’s publicist.