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The Only One in the World: Jack Fennell Interview

Author Interviews – The Only One in the World Jack Fennell The Only One in the World: A Sherlock Holmes Anthology

Jack Fennell writer The Only One in the World

For The Only One in the World, Jack Fennell brings us "The Path of Truth." Below Jack shared the joys of writing a Sherlockian tale set in his native Ireland, and what he loved the most about it.

What is the most unexpected tidbit you learned while writing your story?

The most unexpected tidbit I learned while writing "The Path of Truth" was that the number of shipwrecks off the Irish coast actually declined over the course of the 19th century. As was the case with every other industry at the time, the vast majority of shipping businesses came to be headquartered in London, because that's where the money was – and the fewer ships you have in a particular stretch of sea, the fewer wrecks you get.

One idea I had for the story, before I had a handle on the mystery to be solved, was for the villain to be an Irish bottomry agent (basically, a loan-shark who would give you money to fix a broken-down ship), protecting his investment in a rapidly-shrinking market.

What was your favourite thing about writing for The Only One in the World?

I'm a sucker for alternate histories and for new takes on classic literary characters, so I leaped at the chance to do both!

Jack's story:
an editor's eye view from Narrelle M Harris

My favourite thing about writing for The Only One in the World was putting together a puzzle with a complex solution and esoteric clues. My version of Holmes is weird, and I wanted to underline that weirdness by having him untangle a mystery that would be almost impossible to solve in a practical 19th-century context, but would still have a straightforward underpinning once all the facts were laid out.

This was also my way of gently poking fun at Holmes' often-satirised ability to deduce incredible things from innocuous clues.

What is quintessentially Irish about your Holmes and/or Watson?

The western islands of Ireland have always been hugely important to Irish culture. Because they were isolated Gaeltachts [primarily Irish-speaking regions], they were idealised by different groups.

W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and other Literary Revival figures made regular trips to the Aran Islands to record folklore (as did the state Folklore Commission decades later), and the Blasket Islands – now uninhabited – are particularly remembered for the autobiographies of Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, which became fixtures on secondary school and university curricula.

Since the islands have long been positioned as repositories of a long-lost 'authentic' Irishness, I thought it would be interesting to plonk a version of Sherlock Holmes down into that milieu, with all the disadvantages and frustration that would entail. Tarlach Ua Thuama (Anglicised as 'Turlough Humes') is 'quintessentially Irish' though, in that he observes far more about others than he's inclined to reveal about himself.

More about Jack:

In addition to his story in The Only One in the World, Jack is the author of two book-length studies of Irish genre fiction – Irish Science Fiction (2014) and Rough Beasts (2019) – and the editor of two short story collections, A Brilliant Void (2018) and It Rose Up (2020); he was also a contributing translator to The Short Fiction of Flann O'Brien (2013). His own fiction has appeared in the collections Hell's Empire (2019) and Chronos (2018), as well as Silver Apples Magazine. Jack Fennell is a writer, editor and researcher based in Limerick, Ireland and teaches at the University of Limerick.

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