Psychologist unveils his working-class Sherlock
“1895: London Society takes its problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood.” That’s the intriguing concept of the debut novel Arrowood, written by Anglia Ruskin University academic Dr Mick Finlay and published by HarperCollins/HQ this Thursday (23 March).
Mick, a Reader in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge, has drawn on his years of experience to help shape his lead character William Arrowood, a “self-taught psychologist, occasional drunkard and private investigator”.
But he confesses that nothing had prepared him for production company Cave Bear, a division of Tiger Aspect, recently buying the rights to produce a TV series based on his crime thriller, with Kathy Burke signed on as executive producer. In fact, he admits to still being “a little stunned” by the news.
Arrowood is a contemporary of the great Sherlock Holmes, but covers the areas of London that Sherlock, or even Watson, would rarely visit; namely the densely-populated working-class streets south of the river. Mick, a social psychologist who specialises in learning disabilities, verbal and non-verbal communication and intergroup conflict, explained: “I had the idea for writing Arrowood when I was rereading Sherlock Holmes several years ago.
“I love Conan Doyle’s stories, but I wondered which other private detectives would be working in London at the time, and whether they would resent Holmes’s genius and fame. Very quickly I had the idea for a character, William Arrowood, only just surviving on the low fees he charged working the poorer parts of London.
“He’s a man with a huge heart and a concern for the injustices of Victorian society. And if he was to resent the success of Sherlock Holmes, he had to have a different approach to solving crime. So, while Holmes focuses on physical clues and logic, Arrowood is obsessed with people, with their emotions, their motives, their inconsistencies.”
Before entering the academic world, Mick ran a market stall on Portobello Road in London, and has worked as a tent-hand in a travelling circus, a butcher’s boy, a hotel porter, and in various jobs in the NHS and social services. In between his lecturing work at Anglia Ruskin, Mick’s currently busy writing a sequel and admits that he’s been delving into books on Victorian history, as well as psychology, to ensure the novels are as accurate as possible.
He said: “Arrowood’s fascination with the mind comes from my own work teaching and doing research in psychology departments over the last 20 years. Arrowood reads books dealing with emotion and the mind that were around in 1895, and tries to apply their insights to his cases – people like William James, Charles Darwin, Gustav LeBon and William Carpenter.
“In writing Arrowood, I’ve also read a lot about Victorian London and was fascinated to find how much they shared similar social and political concerns to those that worry us today.”
Mick is thrilled that Cave Bear – the production company behind Bad Education (BBC3), Together (BBC3) and Psychobitches (Sky Arts) – will be bringing his characters and plots to the screen, and is particularly excited that Cannes Best Actress winner Kathy Burke will be an executive producer on the series.
“I went to meet the TV company in London with my agent and was struck almost dumb to find Kathy Burke sitting on the sofa in the meeting room having read my book,” explained Mick. “Hearing someone you’ve never met tell you how much they enjoyed your story and characters feels amazing, and it makes all the years of becoming a writer worth it.
“Kathy’s a Londoner, just like Arrowood, and she picked out all the elements that were most important to me in the book. I’m sure all writers would tell you this is absolutely the best thing that can happen. I left the meeting stunned. Even now, a couple of months later, I’m still a little stunned.”
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