Tim Collins: The Lure of Mystery, Puns and Puzzles

Tim Collins is the author of more than 30 books including Cosmic Colin, the Wimpy Vampire series and the Dorkius Maximus series. They have been translated into over 30 languages. He lives near Oxford. Buster Books will publish Sherlock Bones and the Case of the Crown Jewels on February 7, 2023. Shelf Awareness spoke with Collins about using classic mysteries--and puzzles--to draw kids into reading.

Are you a big Sherlock Holmes fan?

Yes, I love the Holmes canon and many of the books that have been inspired by it. I used to walk home down Baker Street every day, and pass 221B. The relationship between Holmes and Watson is one you can write to endlessly, even if you make them a dog and a cat.

What did the process for writing this book look like? Did you read any Holmes stories for inspiration before you began?

As with all detective fiction, you start with a solution and work out how to seed the mystery in the minds of readers. I wanted to pitch the book at the right level for the age group and, weirdly, many young readers guessed who did it before many adults!

I didn't re-read any specific Conan Doyle adventures before writing the book, though I found myself throwing in references to stories such as "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Later in the series, there are references to the works of other crime writers, such as Agatha Christie and Ethel Lina White.

Where did you get the idea for including puzzles, mazes and other interactive challenges in this book?

The book was originally going to be a branching story in the tradition of Choose Your Own Adventure. But as Buster Books have a lot of experience with puzzle books, we decided to integrate puzzles into the story instead. At one point, we even thought of doing a branching story and puzzles at the same time, but that would have been a bit much.

How did you work with illustrator John Bigwood? Did you provide detailed notes or more general ones about the kind of puzzles you wanted?

I provided a brief description of each puzzle, and the editor, Frances [Evans], found examples of similar ones so John could see the sort of thing we were after.

The dog and cat puns are hilarious. Can you give readers an idea of how you come up with them?

I try not to come up with too many puns, because they're not great for foreign editions of the book. It's much easier to pun in English than many other languages, so you don't want to give translators too many headaches. But sometimes you just can't stop yourself. There's no way I could resist changing "Baker Street" to "Barker Street," for example.

What do you enjoy most about writing for this age group?

Books can be magical objects for this age group. They can feel a real sense of achievement when they've finished a novel on their own, especially one like this, where the puzzle-solving makes them feel part of the adventure. Many children like to collect a series and place the books in order on their shelves--a habit that never leaves some of us. 

As an author, you're trying to draw children into reading for pleasure which can have a hugely positive impact on their lives. 

What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

I hope the puzzle format will appeal to children who want to read but are put off by big chunks of unbroken text. And that they'll have fun trying to crack the case. Someone got in touch and said their daughter was jotting down clues in her notebook as she read it, which is excellent sleuthing!

I also hope that those who enjoy the series will one day seek out the work of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Is there anything else you'd like people to know about Sherlock Bones and Dr. Catson?

Those who are familiar with the original stories will not be surprised to discover that Bones has an arch-nemesis. He's called Moriratty, and he will cause plenty of trouble as the series goes on. --Lynn Becker

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