Arthur Conan Doyle’s Southsea Stories and Beyond

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog. But it’s time at last to deliver some great news. Over the last few months I’ve been beavering away at a brand new project that I actually started before lockdown, and then mothballed. Somehow it felt right a few months ago to get it back on the go. So, I’m here to announce the Kickstarter campaign for my new book, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Southsea Stories And Beyond, which will be hitting the shelves before Christmas.

What’s It About?

Okay, good question, even though I did ask it myself. So here goes the quick rundown:

Arthur Conan Doyle moved to Southsea, the seaside resort attached to the town of Portsmouth in 1882 at the age of 23, after a stint as a ship’s surgeon and a brief period working with fellow doctor George Budd in Plymouth. He had already started writing, but in Southsea he wrote a lot more. Many of those stories were published anonymously, were forgotten and were never drawn together into anthologies under Doyle’s name in his lifetime.

Reading them afresh, it becomes clear that Southsea was a formative ingredient for development of his writer’s palette. Here he first uses ideas of the lonely house on Dartmoor with a big fierce dog (The Hound of the Baskervilles), of a Cabman involved in criminal acts at night (A Study In Scarlet), of treasure in the outposts of Empire argued over by friends (The Sign of Four) and of dangerous confrontations in the Wild West (The Valley of Fear).

A picture of the Elm Grove, King's Road junction, Southsea, where Conan Doyle lived.
Conan Doyle lived at Number 1 Bush Villas, Southsea, between the hotel on the corner and the church behind it.

Is Southsea Really So Central To His Work?

I think so, yes. There are many, many more influences that surface again in his later work, but also there’s the subject of Southsea itself. In some of his tales Conan Doyle writes about Birchespool, in fact the fictionalised town of Southsea, and so we get a glimpse into what life was like in the town in the 1880s, with its bankers and colonels and debating societies (of which he was a member).

Throughout, Arthur Conan Doyle experiments with genre. Adventure, thriller, horror, romance, comedy and much more all feature in his work. What we see is Conan Doyle inching towards creating Sherlock Holmes.

But that’s not all. Some of the stories in this book were published long after he left Southsea, and what becomes apparent is that the ideas he developed here stayed with him long after the event. Portsmouth pops up from time to time in his later works, names from the town and its environs appear over and over. It’s fascinating to see just what an influence the town had on his work.

What Else Is In The Book?

When I realised this, I asked the wonderful writer Andrew Lycett (author of the definitive biography, Conan Doyle, Teller of Tales) to write the preface, and I added a brief introduction.

Throughout the book, I add short passages to the end of each chapter, describing how the story related to parts of Conan Doyle’s life, and to the life of the town of Southsea.

It’s fun, it’s informative – and I’d love you to come on board and help me out with the Kickstarter campaign!

Here’s hoping I hit the target soon!

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