Author Patrick Kincaid: How the Loch Ness monster and Billy Wilder inspired my debut novel

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This month, Unbound is publishing Patrick Kincaid’s debut novel, The Continuity Girl, a historical romp about a film lecturer who embarks on a Highland adventure inspired by Billy Wilder’s forgotten 1970s Sherlock Holmes movie. Here, Patrick tells me the story behind the novel…

In 2013, while taking a boat tour of Loch Ness on my honeymoon, I met a monster hunter who claimed he had watched Billy Wilder’s model monster sink in the loch in 1969.

The monster was, of course, part of Wilder’s movie The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a movie I’d loved since I was 10. Like most of its fans, I’ve become as obsessed by what’s missing from it – the whole hour that the producers ordered the director to cut – as by what’s in it; a retelling of the Holmes myth that focusses on the bits Watson left out (i.e. the sex, drugs, and emotional damage).

The monster hunter’s story also reminded me of an interview I’d heard a few years earlier with Elaine Schreyek, who was the ‘continuity girl’ (as they were then called) for The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes. Those two things inspired me to write my debut novel, also called The Continuity Girl, in which I imagine the rediscovery in 2014 of an uncut print of Wilder’s Sherlock film. A film studies lecturer, Gemma MacDonald, is given the task of unveiling it to the world, which leads to her meeting April Bloom, my highly fictionalised version of Schreyek. And while April is telling Gemma her version of events, we also hear from a monster hunter who got to know her on the banks of Loch Ness in 1969 – the lovelorn Jim Outhwaite.

Wilder’s visual and narrative style informs The Continuity Girl top to bottom. I’ve resisted calling my book a romantic comedy, not because I don’t like them – the good ones, such as those by Nora Ephron, are very good – but because I was after a different kind of cinematic tone for my story. I wanted to capture the bitter-sweet nature of the comedies Wilder co-wrote with IAL Diamond, and I was thinking particularly of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.

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Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely in The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

On the face of it, Wilder’s Sherlock Holmes ought to have been another of those slew of Victorian romps – Bryan Forbes’ The Wrong Box (1966), Don Sharp’s Rocket To The Moon (1967) – which came and went in the ’60s. But by balancing romance and cynicism, Wilder made something that lingers. It’s said he cast Robert Stephens as the lead because he looked like someone who could be hurt. Sherlock is typically portrayed as an unemotional thinking machine, but here he was a sensitive romantic, falling for a beautiful client (Genevieve Page) with an ulterior motive, while his brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee at his best) pulled the strings from above.

There’s no denying that the film’s romance is enhanced if you know about the difficulties surrounding its production and its box-office failure. It was a labour of love for Wilder, but so much went wrong – Robert Stephens nearly killed himself with an overdose, the model monster sank, and then the producers ordered their cuts. On release, the public didn’t take to it, and critics ignored it. It was only when it was screened on TV in the ’70s that it found an audience. Jonathan Coe has written compellingly about his obsession with the film and its missing segments. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat funnelled their obsession into producing Sherlock for the BBC.

And it is a wonderful film: romantic, funny, achingly sad. The performances are superb, Christopher Challis’s photography is breath-taking, and Miklós Rózsa’s score is one the most beautiful pieces of film music ever composed. I had no idea when I first saw it that a cult had already developed around it. I thought it was mine alone – this film that reimagined a Victorian superhero as a man full of regrets and unachieved personal ambition.

In fact, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes isn’t so different from other Wilder’s films which, on first glance, it doesn’t seem to resemble at all – those strikingly modern social comedies, The Apartment (1960) and The Fortune Cookie (1966).

These films also pitch romantics and cynics together, and to similar effect. In both, there is pathos in watching Jack Lemmon fall for a woman who is deceiving him, but we understand that she is experiencing the pathos too. Shirley MacLaine’s Miss Kubelik and Judi West’s Sandy are neither romantic heroines nor femme fatales. Both are manipulated by a powerful man behind the scenes – Fred MacMurray’s adulterous boss, Walter Matthau’s crooked compensation lawyer – and both eventually break that bond and turn towards the romantic dupe. There are no glib happily-ever-afters, though – Wilder’s best endings are inconclusive.

I attempted to cram as much of this Wilderian tone-shifting as I could into The Continuity Girl. My hero, Jim, has only known rural life in the North of England and the Scottish Highlands, and is as far removed from the permissive society as it is possible to get in 1969. He is continually on the backfoot when the happening Hollywood crew turn up, and with it the continuity girl whom he falls for so heavily. Meanwhile, it turns out that every organisation is subject to power politics – even tiny research groups looking for evidence of a legendary monster.

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Patrick Kincaid at Loch Ness

Additionally, Gemma’s 2014 perspective adds a commentary on the events of 1969. In the lost version of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a prologue involving Dr Watson’s grandson did something similar.

I also tried to write descriptive prose to match Challis’s visuals, and dialogue with the wit of Wilder and Diamond. Tall orders – but I’m grateful for the generosity built into those filmmakers’ legacy. When in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), besotted Joe E. Brown answers Jack Lemmon’s assertion “But I’m a man” with a shrug and the best last line in film history – “Nobody’s perfect” – they gave us all carte blanche to aim high and not worry too much about falling short.

The Continuity Girl is available now from Amazon.

Spread the Rumer! How to support Vicious Rumer

3D-Rumer NO BGYour support for Vicious Rumer, which is OUT NOW!, has been truly overwhelming. Between your pre-orders, shares, reviews and lovely words, my shrivelled little heart has been warmed and renewed over the past few months.

A lot of you are asking just HOW you can help to keep spreading the Rumer, so here’s a handy post to give you an idea of what you can do…

If you do even one of these things, from the bottom of my chest cavity, THANK YOU!

Write a review!

The number one thing you can do to help spread the Rumer is leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. That instantly pushes the book up those sites’ mysterious algorithms, thereby letting even more readers know about it.

Don’t worry, a review can be as short or long as you like (sometimes the one-line reviews are the best!), and it doesn’t have to be a work of critical genius. If you fancy leaving a review, here are the links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vicious-Rumer-Haunted-Hunted-Cursed-ebook/dp/B07CGVDQVW

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39291901-vicious-rumer

Thank you!


Share these!

If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or even THE MOON, why not spread the Rumer by dropping one of these lovely quotes on your page?


Use hashtags!

Firstly, if you Tweet or Instagram about Vicious Rumer, THANK YOU. You’re amazing and I owe you a shiny bauble (or at least a social media follow) in return.

If you ARE sharing stuff about the book, please consider hashtagging that mofo to the heavens.

The biggies: #ViciousRumer #RumerHasIt

Others you can try: #YAlit #booknerd #amreading #bookworm #bibliophile #bookstack

And be sure to @JoshWinning so I can retweet you.


 Get arty!

The fantastic artist Eli Allison created this really rather brilliant (and only a little bit disturbing) graphic novel-style panel based on the first few chapters of Vicious Rumer. If you like it, show people! And if you’re an artist, why not do a little doodling yourself and chuck the results at me on Twitter! For now, though, really do go check out Eli’s site. She’s phenomenal.

Vicious Rumer(Click for hi-res)


Email your buddies!

Yes, some people still use email to catch up and stuff. So if you enjoyed Vicious Rumer and you’ve been meaning to email Cousin Gerald in Austin, Texas but you keep putting it off because, y’know, Cousin Gerald can be a bit weird, HERE’S AN EXCUSE TO DO SO! (I mean, I’m sure Cousin Gerald is great, but seriously, what is with that goatee?)

Tell Cousin Gerald this: Vicious Rumer is a YA thriller with witchy elements. It’s a bit Jessica Jones, a bit Lisbeth Salander, and follows a badass teenage girl who’s thrown into a world of gangsters and the occult. HE’D BE MAD TO MISS IT.

And share this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vicious-Rumer-Haunted-Hunted-Cursed-ebook/dp/B07CGVDQVW/


Retweet these!

Lots of lovely magazines/readers/authors have tweeted about Vicious Rumer (some of them even when it was going by the name Killing Rumer), so pay them back by giving them some support (and a follow!) and retweeting these.

If you tweet, be sure to @JoshWinning and use the hashtags #ViciousRumer and #RumerHasIt so I can find you!


Share banners!

Want more banners?! Well, if you insist… My good friend and amazing designer Louise Brock created this awesome postcards featuring one of Rumer’s more choice lines of dialogue. Do you love it as much as I do? Feel free to share far and wide!

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Help get my new book Killing Rumer published with Unbound!

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For the past few years I’ve been beavering away at a secret book project – and today I’m dragging it kicking and screaming out of the closet!

Killing Rumer is a quirky thriller about a teenage girl tipped into a world of gangsters and the occult. It’s dark, weird and (hopefully) funny. It’s about belonging and friendship and loneliness. It mixes The Craft with The Maltese Falcon, Jessica Jones and Final Destination. (See. Weird.)

So here’s the thing. Today, we’ve launched the Killing Rumer campaign over at Unbound. If you’re not familiar with Unbound, here’s the deal: it’s a UK publisher in which authors help to raise the funds to publish their book. We spearhead a campaign and ask fellow readers, friends, family and coven members to help get the book published by pre-ordering a copy – and perhaps signing up for some of the awesome bonuses that go with helping an author fulfil their dream.

I’ll be honest, I have no fingernails left and I’m comfort eating chocolate until I’m sick but that’s OK because WE’RE LIVE. This is not a drill! Klaxon and loud fireworks ahoy!

But yes, I need your help. Want to support Killing Rumer and bold new fiction? Here’s what you can do:

  1. Share this link: http://unbound.com/books/killing-rumer
  2. Post this logo (and a link to Unbound) on Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest: https://www.dropbox.com/s/dkoo0uxa3fldugq/Logo.gif?dl=0
  3. Email/text friends who love reading, kick-ass heroines, twisty mysteries and even twistier narratives.
  4. Pre-order! If Killing Rumer sounds like your sort of book, you’ll be helping to get it published by pre-ordering your very own copy. There are loads of cool bonuses, including naming a character, having your own name appear in the book (as a thank you) and you can even choose to let me loose on your manuscript. Be afraid.
  5. Write about Rumer! If you have a blog, please feel free to post about the Killing Rumer campaign. I’m happy to answer Q&As and write for you, just get in touch via https://joshuawinning.com/contact/

So that’s it. We’re off. Rumer’s ready to take her first steps into the world. Here’s hoping she makes it to the finishing line. My fingernails really can’t take any more.

Pre-order your copy of Killing Rumer here!