Katya de Becerra's story for The Only One in the World takes place in Russia. We asked Katya to tell us the best part about writing "Solace Spring" for our Sherlock Holmes anthology.
What is the most unexpected tidbit you learned while researching your story?
That would be the gender aspect of Russia’s private investigative field. Growing up, I had very little knowledge about the specifics of Russia’s law enforcement, let alone about private detectives. But while researching my Holmes and Watson story, I’ve made this incredible (to me, at least!) discovery that private investigation has always existed in Russia, but because of inflexible legislation, this work mostly occurred in the shadows.
Importantly, in the late 1980s and 90s, many women entered the field. They’ve dreamed of working in criminal justice but often were turned away from the official structures due to sexism and patriarchy, hence ending up in private practice. I’ve read a particularly fascinating article about one or Russia’s most successful private detectives today: she gained popularity (and many clients) by advertising via social media, but now had to wear disguise whenever she was out in public because so many people knew what she looked like!
What was your favourite thing about writing a story for The Only One in the World?
The story’s meta-format! I’m a big fan of books written fully or partially in ‘found documents’ (my debut, What the Woods Keep, uses this technique as well), and I wanted to experiment with this format for a short story.
The specifics of my story’s structure took shape as I wrote and revised, but at the core of it all, I knew that I wanted to view my Sherlock’s first case through a particular lens, writing about it from the future and reconstructing the story through notes and interviews.
What is quintessentially Russian about your Holmes or Watson?
Influenced by my own upbringing, my Holmes and Watson story is set in the 1990s, the period of great change in Russia.
Like me, my Sherlock is from a provincial town (by the way, ‘small’ in Russia = population of one million, but I digress); and just like I was at the time, my Sherlock is enrolled in a university programme in a field that’s fairly new to the country. In the case of my main character, she’s studying criminal psychology, but for me it was social anthropology, a discipline that didn’t officially come to Russia until the late 1990s. But unlike my characters, I’ve never studied in Moscow nor have I inherited a derelict apartment near the Patriarch’s Ponds from a ‘royal in disguise’ relative who was left behind during the 1917 revolution (though my family has an equally peculiar mythology).
However, being the big fan of Mikhail Bulgakov that I am, I just had to start my story in Moscow, in the same area where the Master and Margarita novel begins; but instead of being approached by the devil, the girls in my story get involved in a controversial filming endeavour as extras. Why does my story centre around a film? My very first initiation into the Sherlock Holmes lore was through film: there’s a widely popular Russian series about Holmes and Watson, and my memories of watching those as a kid are precious, so it wasn’t a long stretch for me to use a film production as a setting for murder.
More about Katya:
Katya de Becerra is the author of What the Woods Keep and Oasis. She was born in Russia, studied in California and now lives in Melbourne. After earning a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Melbourne, she has been working as a social scientist and higher education lecturer. She’s also a co-founder and co-host of #SpecLitChat and a writing mentor with the 1st5pages Workshop. Visit Katya at https://katyadebecerra.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @KatyaDeBecerra. She occasionally blogs at http://katyabecerra.blogspot.com.