Conversations With Spirits

By E O Higgins

The story of a dissipated genius in a borrowed hat and coat

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Voices of the Dead

Last week, I went on a thoroughly British holiday. Basically, in the pursuit of some ‘fresh air’, I spent a week in provincial England standing on a hillside being rained on. 

Despite this, I somehow managed to get sunburnt. (That’s Irish skin for you – I’ve been known to get sunstroke under a 100 watt bulb.) 

Anyway, whilst away (this is why there have been no updates to my Unbound shed for over a week – I’m getting my excuses in early), I was contacted by a film producer who was very kind about the sample chapter of Conversations with Spirits on Unbound. 

He also informed me that the American film-studio DreamWorks have recently bought a script that is quite similar in plot to my book. 

The DreamWorks script - I was told - is about Arthur Conan Doyle and a famous sceptic teaming up to investigate a psychic. (Admittedly, that does sound familiar...) 

The title is fairly uncanny also. Instead of Conversations with Spirits, it’s called Voices of the Dead

Naturally, this news came as quite a blow. And no one needs a blow when they’re on a damp hillside… 

However, having now returned to real life, and having had a chance to look into this more thoroughly, I think it's fair to say, the similarities are fairly superficial. 

The script of Voices of the Dead – penned by American screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski – involves Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini charged with solving a murder in New York City, with the aid of a psychic.   

This might seem far-fetched (and, perhaps, it is) but there is at least some basis in reality. 

Conan Doyle and Houdini did meet a few times during the early 1920s and, for a brief period, had a somewhat strained friendship. 

Conan Doyle (as anyone who’s read Julian Barnes’ excellent Arthur and George will know) did actually ‘investigate’ real-life crimes – and, on two occasions, successfully got convictions overturned. 

The two men also had a shared interest in Spiritualism - albeit with wildly different views on the subject. 

As a professional conjurer, Houdini spent a good deal of time in his later years debunking Spiritualism, pointing out that the demonstrations of ‘psychic phenomena’ that took place around the tables of mediums were little more than badly-performed conjuring tricks. 

Whereas, Conan Doyle, had, by this stage, publicly declared that he had ‘gone over to the anti-materialists’ - and was desperate to find some clinching proof of the supernatural. 

In the end, it was Conan Doyle’s inability to see any validity to Houdini’s non-supernatural explanations - even for his own tricks - that ultimately ended their friendship. 

I hope that Voices of the Dead focuses on the true relationship between Conan Doyle and Houdini. It would be all too easy for a Hollywood studio, on the back of Guy Richie’s recent Sherlock Holmes franchise, to paint it as some sort of clumsy ‘real-life Holmes and Watson’ dynamic - which it certainly wasn't.

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