The Spooky Isles asked me to do a quick look at 5 places in Portsmouth important to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes.
I was invited by That’s Solent TV to talk about the Portsmouth novel, By Celia’s Arbour that I republished this year. For anyone interested in Portsmouth’s Victorian history, it’s a wonderful insight into a lost world…
Press Release: 6th January 2016
“By Celia’s Arbour”, a classic Victorian novel set in the old walled town of Portsmouth is to be republished in a brand new edition by Portsmouth-based publisher Life Is Amazing.
The story gives an authentic account of the town in the 1840s and 1850s by Sir Walter Besant and James Rice. Besant grew up in Portsmouth in those years. The book has many surprises for the modern reader.
“Most people don’t realise Portsmouth was one of the most heavily fortified towns in Northern Europe,” says publisher Matt Wingett. “The area now called Old Portsmouth was hemmed in on all sides by massive town walls built up into powerful defences since mediaeval times.”
The town was surrounded by a moat, and a Mill Pond on the Northern side separated Portsmouth from the Gunwharf.
In this setting, the story tells of three young people growing up together in the town. Leonard and Laddy are both secretly in love with Celia, and when Leonard leaves Portsmouth to make his fortune, he charges Laddy to look after her. Laddy is tested by his own sense of honour, the evil machinations of a bloodthirsty villain and threats to his own life which stem from his past.
“The thing that jumps out at the reader is the extraordinary detail about the town,” says Matt, “From the elms growing on the town walls, through to the scenes of soldiers marching through the streets and fields surrounding the town, from the bustling life of the High Street though to the eccentric characters living here, the town of Portsmouth comes to authentic life. It gives a window on to a world we would never have guessed existed looking at the streets today.”
“By Celia’s Arbour” is published on 31st January, and will cost £14.99.
Preorders are available on this website.
There was a period a few years ago when I worked as a rare bookdealer. I got all sorts of goosebump-raising works of cultural wondrousness, such as a 15th Century illuminated manuscript, or the 2nd Edition of the King James Bible. What I never could find was Lake Allen’s 1817 work, The History of Portsmouth.
I checked the auction records only to find one had never come up for auction in the last 50 years. No originals were for sale. It took me 10 years to find a proper, pukka first edition.
When I got hold of it, I was pretty impressed by the effort the young Lake Allen had put into the book. He wrote it when he was only 18 years old, living on Portsmouth High Street with his grandfather, Lake Taswell. Taswell was himself something of a local historian, who wrote The Portsmouth Guide, in 1775 and revised it as The New Portsmouth Guide in 1790. The fact is, though, these were pamphlets. Lake Allen’s work was the first comprehensive survey of the town’s history.
Lake was genuinely proud of his association with Portsmouth, and because it’s such a rarity, I decided to make a modern edition with foreword and added footnotes.
The book above is what we’ve produced, with an engraving of the King James Gate that I found in an antiques shop in Portsmouth on the cover.
I hope you like it!
You can order your copy here: Lake Allen – The History of Portsmouth
As part of the celebration of all things macabre and strange, Life is Amazing is teaming up with Will Sutton to celebrate the third year of his Square Tower (or should that be the Scare Tower?) event The Day of the Dead.
At this year’s Day of the Dead III readers will perform their stories that they have submitted to Will Sutton.
At Life Is Amazing, we will also be launching a separate collection of tales macabre, mysterious, dark and deadly. They will be drawn from some of the amazing performers who will appear at this event, and have appeared at previous events.
If you want your story / stories to be considered for The Day of the Dead book – you are invited to submit your story to our editor, Tessa Ditner.
Will Sutton is organising the Day of the Dead event, where pieces performed at the Square Tower will be up to 7 minutes long, that is, 1,000 words.
The book, however, will also contain longer pieces of up to 5,000 words.
If you have a scary story you think should be out there, dust it off and send it to Tessa on the following email address:
Please give the subject line as DAY OF THE DEAD.
We are on a short deadline, with all stories for consideration for the book to come in before 28th July 2015. So send in your story.
How it will work
The book is not primarily a money-making exercise, but one in which authors will have the opportunity to be published in printed format, adding this to their portfolio. Whilst your story or stories won’t make you rich, you will get a cut of the profit from book sales.
You will assign to Life Is Amazing the first world anthology rights. This means that you will retain all other copyright, and that Life Is Amazing will not be able to use your story elsewhere without signing a further agreement. You will also be able to offer your story elsewhere, and include it in other collections, should you so choose.
All we ask is that the story you submit for the book has not been published elsewhere first.
Each author will receive a share of profits from the Day of the Dead book on a pro-rata basis depending on the length of their story or stories in comparison with the overall length of the book.
The publisher will take a 50% cut of profits in order to cover the costs of design, distribution and marketing.
Each author will receive one free copy of the book, and royalty payments for sales will be made once a year.
Below is the opening chapter of my latest book, Conan Doyle and the Mysterious World of Light.
“How could Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who invented the ultra-rationalist Sherlock Holmes, also believe in séances, mediums – and even fairies?”
That question had for some time been on my mind. Friends I spoke to about it expressed opinions such as “it’s totally schizophrenic” or “he must have lost his marbles when he got older.” With that second statement there often came a supplementary question: “Was he still writing Holmes stories when he believed in this stuff?”
They always looked surprised when I told them he was.
That was the starting point for my journey into the world of Light, a magazine I found in the Arthur Conan Doyle Archives Lancelyn Green Bequest held in Portsmouth Central Library.
Surveying the vast array of Conan Doyle documents they hold there, I wondered how to limit my investigations. Spiritualism is a massive subject, and I don’t pretend to be an expert. I wanted to understand Conan Doyle. I wanted to trace his thinking so that I could track his steps through the Spiritualist world he moved in. Who was he talking with? What was the mood of the time? It was this opportunity the magazine Light provided.
I also decided to read around the subject. As part of my research into the fascinating case of Conan Doyle’s beliefs, I read Daniel Stashower’s detailed Conan Doyle, Teller of Tales and Kevin I Jones’s excellent Conan Doyle And The Spirits. Considering them, I realised they represented the two classes of thinker who stand at either end of the Spiritualist argument: the rationalist and the mystic.
I’d previously read all the Sherlock Holmes stories, a large proportion of his horror tales and historical romances. I was deeply impressed by the sheer energy in Conan Doyle, his wide-ranging imagination and his mastery of language. I got that he had done much psychical research and I understood from Jones and Stashower some of the narrative of his deepening belief in ghosts and spirits.
But something was missing.
I decided to add to my reading by surveying Conan Doyle’s original Spiritualist works on the subject, The New Revelation, The Vital Message and The Case for Spirit Photography, among others.
They are fascinating as works that stand alone, but again they didn’t really answer how Conan Doyle came to be the leading Spiritualist of his age.
So, was Conan Doyle “schizophrenic”, as my friends had put it? I felt it was the wrong question. It revealed little about Conan Doyle and betrayed plenty about the materialist attitudes of my friends.
I wanted to understand the process and logic of Doyle’s beliefs. And I wanted to capture some of the voices of the time and explore the preoccupations of those involved in the vast field of spirit phenomena at the start of the 20th Century. I wanted those voices to speak to me, to tell me with a direct voice how their world and their beliefs had been built. And I wanted to hear from Conan Doyle, from his correspondents and critics directly how he fitted into that world.
As I read the magazine, I realised that is exactly what Light afforded.
I have attempted in this book to be guided by Conan Doyle’s voice and preoccupations as revealed in Light, and use the magazine to introduce me to the spirit of the times. The writings of Conan Doyle published in Light uncover some of the many currents of thinking about Spiritualism during and after The Great War. They trace how Conan Doyle came to be the de facto leader of a world movement into which he threw his extraordinary energies with the ardent fervour of the evangelist.
But Conan Doyle did not exist in isolation. I quote other voices from the world in which he moved. I’ve selected letters and articles in such a way as to paint a picture of the era and its people. The devout and passionate Rev. F. Fielding-Ould; the measured voice of the editor of Light, David Gow; the obdurate and piously narrow-minded voice of Father Bernard Vaughan; the fantastically intolerant Joseph McCabe – all combine to paint a picture of the period.
I am not entirely uncritical. At times, I criticise or analyse Conan Doyle’s thinking and I do comment on it as I try to piece together his thoughts. That said, I am not in any way making a case for or against Spiritualism, but tracing the development of Doyle’s attitudes to show that they made perfect sense to him as a human being at that time, even if there are times when I think he was mistaken.
What I’m saying is I hope I don’t get in the way.
I have learned so much from writing this book, and have come to a much clearer – and I have to say – more sympathetic view of the men and women who drove the massive movement of Spiritualism in the early years of the 20th Century.
I think I’ve done it while being entertaining.
I hope you agree and that you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
Matt Wingett, Southsea, March 2015