My guest today is a fascinating teller of tales, with real life stories from all round the world, plus a gripping fictionalised account of a real life mystery. I feel as though I should be sitting round a camp fire with Tim Symonds, drinking whiskey and listening to him talk. Instead, we’ve got tea and fruit loaf in the back garden – almost as good :) Welcome, Tim!
Where do you live, Tim? After living in some of the world’s most dynamic cities – London, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Paris, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, Mexico City – I’ve spent the last ten years living in a converted oast-house in a hidden valley below the tiny English medieval village of Burwash. Down the farm-track stands the 17th Century Ironmaster’s house ‘Bateman’s’ owned for the last thirty years of his life by Rudyard Kipling and his American wife Carrie.
What a lovely place to live
Where is your favourite place in the world? It isn’t in the world we humans have constructed! It’s in the forest surrounding the peak of Mt. Kenya – a forest where I spent 18 months as a Tracker Team leader on military service. Off the glacier of the second highest mountain in all Africa come icy rivulets which grow into great rivers flowing into the Indian Ocean. In the mantle above you, Colobus monkeys throw sticks down on you and chatter angrily. And once in a while a herd of elephants pushes past on their way to favourite stomping grounds.
How beautifully described. Sounds wonderful – and a long way from Sussex!
Being a writer is a great job. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? I can’t think of a ‘worst’ but I can definitely think of the most boring – which must be the same thing. At the age of 15 I left the small island of my upbringing, Guernsey, just off the coast of France, and became an Assistant Manager on a sheep farm in the Kenya Highlands. Believe me, I can find something of interest about most living creatures, such as the fact birds have regional accents, but sheep! I managed to stick it out for a year and set off for adventure.
I live near the Yorkshire moors, and feel honour bound to defend sheep :)
What book do you wish you’d written? Curiously, not a fiction but a quite recent book called ‘The Natural Navigator’ by the finely-named Tristan Gooley. When I’m writing my Sherlocks (three so far, fourth just starting) I take my laptop, a flask of coffee and a folding canvas chair and navigate my way through the woods and fields of East Sussex (to me, England’s most beautiful county) and I have had my senses widened by reading Gooley’s book. Given the chance I think I’d like to have been an Elizabethan explorer, like Francis Drake.
Intriguing choice. I’ll have to look for Gooley’s book!
What’s your favourite song? This is a tough one, not because of the number of songs in the world but because I am not in any way musical. Certainly I can’t sing, following a long family tradition – my mother and her mother couldn’t hold a tune either. When I was at a prep school in Guernsey, at Elizabeth College, we were obliged to sing in the choir and I recall being the only boy asked to sing silently, like a wartime submarine with the destroyers overhead. Luckily, after one term I was allowed to swap choir duty for the school sea-scouts and take part in sailing whalers to other Channel Islands such as Sark and Herm.
We won’t ask you to sing, then!
If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you say to them? Let me answer with a prologue: although most Sherlock Holmes novels offer only small parts to female characters (though my latest, ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter’ differs greatly) I believe we shall only create a world of peace and decency and intelligence when women have absolute equality and a total right to happy, varied, and successful lives. Therefore the historical person I would want to meet would be female. From where I live the graveyard of a tiny church in Brightling is hardly a three-mile walk (uphill). There lie the remains of Barbara Bodichon, the least remembered but to my mind the greatest of the great Victorian women’s rights campaigners. I’d like to tell her she is not forgotten and that she rests in the pantheon of the very greats.
That’s an interesting choice. Barbara Bodichon would be amazed to see how things have changed.
What’s your happiest childhood memory? My mother became a single parent when I was about three years of age, and from that time on, money was simply absent – we just didn’t have any. The compensation was wonderful – long, happy walks with my mother in the English and Guernsey countryside, along steep cliffs overlooking tiny bays, and sitting with a picnic among the wild Spring flowers, with the sound of bees hard at work.
That sounds absolutely idyllic.
If you had to marry a fictional character, from film, television, or books, who would it be? Humph. How about someone who did live but has been the subject of films and books and television series – Anne Boleyn before Henry the Eighth shows up?
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you? I’m still learning and I still find coming up with new ideas one of life’s pleasures. I think if I had to do it over again I’d be a lot less scornful of others (a result of the competitive nature of my English boarding-school no doubt), I would take life less seriously and realise sooner that it’s just a long cross-country run, with steep slopes, hidden valleys, hot days and cold days, good times and not-so-good, with people you admire and love by your side for what are really fleeting moments. And I would next time try harder to commence my life as a novelist in my early twenties – in St Peter Port when I grew up was an uncle of mine, Elleston Trevor, and by the time he was thirty-five or so he had some best-sellers under his belt, and an income sufficient to live in some of the world’s most exotic places. He ended up in New Mexico where the movie of his novel ‘Flight of the Phoenix’ was shot.
My latest novel (my third) is titled ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter’ published a few weeks ago by MX Publishing, the world’s largest publisher of Sherlock Holmes novels. It is based on a true story, a mystery that has never been solved – what happened to Einstein’s infant daughter known as Lieserl? Aged around 21 months, in 1903 in Serbia, she disappears for ever. Holmes exclaims, ‘the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, friends, family and relatives by marriage, to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is – why?’
As the American scientist Frederic Golden put it in Time Magazine, ‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’.
I am now starting on my fourth. It’s 1906. The great Sword of Osman in the Topkapi Palace has been stolen and replaced by a fake. What does this mean? Is a coup against the Sultan on the cards? If so, what are the implications for the British Empire?
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Thanks so much for coming, Tim. What a fascinating collection of stories you have to tell! And I think your idea for the Sherlock novel is brilliant. I hadn’t heard of this tragic mystery surrounding Einstein. I can’t wait to find out how your fictional Sherlock solves it!
Thanks for coming all the way to Yorkshire. Have a good trip home to Sussex!
If you have any questions or comments for Tim, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!