Devising a brand – Southsea, Sherlock’s Home / Portsmouth Sherlock’s Home

The creation of the brand on the mugs from Life Is Amazing has been a long time in the process, and it’s fascinating to look back over the series of permutations that artwork and strapline has been through.

I first published the strapline incorporating Sherlock’s Home on facebook on 17th March 2019. On the previous day, my facebook post announced I was going to arrange the 2019 Holmes Fest, with the following artwork:

The exquisite cover to A Study In Scarlet is one that I had reworked from the original artwork taken from the Bodleian Library edition – one of the 11 complete copies that still exist – another one of which Portsmouth City Council owns.

At this stage I was simply making a statement of intention about Holmes Fest 2019, which I posted to my facebook account.

The following day, however, I must have gone back through previous files and found these rather messy images on my system that were created a month before on 9th February 2019 in PSD format…

I was clearly on a creative swing, because it was only two days from this initial sketch to arriving at the following images, which were created on 11th February 2019. The evolution of the imagery was radical:

Here, in contrast to the rather naff-looking Victorian font, I was looking for a kind of smooth, cool look that I could use for Southsea and Portsmouth. At the time, I focused on Southsea – Sherlock’s Home rather than Portsmouth – Sherlock’s Home simply because it is more accurate. Southsea at the time Sherlock was created was not a part of Portsmouth but a separate town, so I instinctively felt that Southsea in the strapline was more accurate.

That winning strapline – Sherlock’s Home – was the perfect pun on Sherlock Holmes in relation to Portsmouth. So, the day after I published my invitation to artists, I published the following permutations on facebook:

Basically, with this, I was doing what I love best, creating and making. I realised that the strapline Sherlock’s Home was a winner, as friends commented to me at the time.

Unfortunately, I was unable to go ahead with Holmes Fest that year, with the sudden and hugely unexpected developments around The Snow Witch – an arts project that absolutely flew. But the idea would not leave me, and this year I finally came back to it.

So, look out for Holmes Fest 2021, and for more merchandise, too! 🙂

Southsea – Sherlock’s Home mugs released by Life Is Amazing

To celebrate the creation of the world famous detective Sherlock Holmes while Arthur Conan Doyle was living in Southsea, Life Is Amazing are pleased to announce the release of this special mug!

The stylish white and blue design is perfect for the dedicated Sherlockian and anyone with a love of Portsmouth and Southsea, too!

The design on the side incorporates Holmes’ trademark accoutrements – his deerstalker hat, pipe and magnifying glass.

It reads: Southsea – Sherlock’s Home in celebration of the character’s “birth” from the brain of writer Arthur Conan Doyle while he lived in Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth.

Order your Southsea Sherlock Holmes mug here!

Your mug will be sent to you direct from Southsea.

In fact, Life Is Amazing is based only a few hundred metres from the site where Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes while he was working as a General Practitioner on Elm Grove, where he lived at Number 1 Bush Villas.

A man who enjoyed working his grey matter over a cup of tea brought to him by Mrs Hudson, Sherlock Holmes would surely approve of the modern sleuth meditating over a hot beverage that lubricates the thought processes!

The price is just £10 including postage in the UK!

Order your mug today!

Kind Words On A Stormy Day

Wow. That was totally unexpected.

Yesterday, I was looking through my tweets when I saw a message from some friends. It really moved me, because I’ve known them a long time and I hated to think things weren’t going so well for them. It was this one:

That feeling was painfully familiar. I worked for seven years as a rare bookdealer. There were times I sat in my office waiting for a sale to come in, not knowing what else to do, feeling lonely as hell – and getting desperate about whether I’d be able to pay the rent and heating. There was something else – sweet nostalgia. Because I’ve bought books at the Petersfield Bookshop since I was a kid.

I remember going in and seeing the (now long-departed) grand patriarch Frank Westwood sitting in state at his desk, surrounded by piles of books like an aged magician with all the tools to hand to cast the spell of words. He seemed terribly fierce when I was a kid, but as I grew older and I got to know him well, I realised what an amazing font of knowledge he was.

It was Frank who sold me two beautiful first editions – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – in my early days as a bookdealer, knocking £400 of the price and bringing them down to £1200 to “give me a chance to sell them”. I loved the old boy and would go in and sit and chat with him for hours about books, about the book trade, auctions and much more besides.

Then, after he died, his son John Westwood took over – just as the market in rare books began to change beyond all recognition. I was an entirely online solitary bookdealer, but John had to cope with wages, rates, members of the public, keeping the shop presentable, and much more besides as the retail business and the sale of books metamorphosed. I watched John fight to keep the business going during the credit crunch when no-one had any money. I watched the general public’s habit of getting out to physical shops decline – and I saw everyone in the business at Petersfield Bookshop keep at it, as the shop changed, responded and moved with the times to keep up with the market, all the while creating an environment visitors will love to visit.

There is plenty to love! The shop has a wonderful cosiness to it, and John (who is himself a true eccentric in the nicest possible way) has moulded it to fit his personality. It has unexpected manikins on the walls and ceilings, little figures peering out, and, sitting at its heart, a church organ that doubles as a bookshelf. Perhaps most aptly, considering how much is crammed in this shop, there is even a bookcase shaped like the Tardis. That police call box is filled with crime novels – and the whole shop is stuffed with treasure!

John Westwood’s personal stamp is everywhere!

So, when I saw that tweet, I was pretty sad. It seemed so forlorn. And I knew that to keep the shop going in a rough patch, John had sold his flat and was sleeping on a camp bed above the shop. What to do?

It was then I remembered someone I deeply respect online for his kindness and willingness to help others – and a man whom, I admit, I’ve got a bit of an obsession about because he was born in my home town of Portsmouth (and I am a nut about Portsmouth writers). So, I sent Neil Gaiman this:

A little later I got a message from the boys at the bookshop saying: “We owe you a drink.” I checked in with them to see what was happening, and found this:

Amazing. Of course, they didn’t owe me a drink, but they did owe Neil one, as I pointed out to them. I tweeted this to Neil again – because, hey, why not? And Neil responded kindly to that, too, with encouraging words – just a simple “I’m so glad”. Yet those few words will make an extraordinary difference.

Today, with the weather calmed and a bright sunny day shining down on a very wet and battered Hampshire recovering from a violent storm, I went in to see them. Overnight, they had received 300 messages and enquiries, and made a pile of sales. Even better, BBC Radio 4 news had featured them in a 5 minute interview on World At One, and they appeared in an article in The Guardian. Big, brilliant eccentric John came in, walked over to me, gave me a hug, and said: “Matt, we’re in the middle of a twitterstorm – in a good way!”

That’s me in the middle with The Petersfield Bookshop Crew – John Westwood on the left, and Robert Sansom on the right!

Here’s the thing. The Petersfield Bookshop has been around for over 100 years, and has been in the same family for 60 of them. For me, it’s a home from home. I love that shop. I love the smell of the old books, the sheen of the leather, the engravings and pictures on the wall. It’s precious. I hope, when you go there – you’ll love it just as much as me!

We live in a strange world. It’s the weirdest thing to think that a kind man whom I’ve never met on the other side of the world can make a huge difference to someone who has been down on their luck – just with a simple tweet. Let’s hold on to that thought amidst all the terrible news we keep reading and being told. We’re lucky to have people in the world who recognise that the fame they enjoy also has powerful influence – and with that power comes a responsibility to use it – not only wisely and ethically – but also kindly.

Neil Gaiman’s kind words through the ether on a rain-lashed night are exactly what it means to pay the love forwards. What a great start to 2020! Let’s hope it’s a good one for the guys at The Petersfield Bookshop and for everyone.

And generally, let’s have more kindness in the world. Why not? 🙂


For an update a year on from this lovely event, read From Tumbleweed to Twitter Fairy – The Petersfield Bookshop One Year On.

Mysteries of Portsmouth – true tales of the paranormal and unexplained in Portsmouth

Buy your copy of Mysteries of Portsmouth by Matt Wingett now

UFOs, ghosts, hauntings, sea-serpents, curses, fortune-telling and witchcraft – just some of the strange, bizarre and unexplained phenomena recorded in historical documents and newspaper reports over the centuries. Author Matt Wingett collects these tales and explores whether they are true or Fake News.

Prepare to meet the Pompey man who discovered the site of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the ghost of the beheaded Countess of Salisbury, the mysterious White Rabbit of Portsea, Spring-Heeled Jack, the first officially recognised UFO sightings in the UK and many more tales of the strange and unusual in this highly illustrated book packed with the mysterious, the bizarre and the quite possibly fraudulent! Includes inexplicable ghost stories as well as explanations of other newspaper reports.

A fabulous tour of the strange and bizarre in and around Portsmouth Town!

Buy your copy of Mysteries of Portsmouth, and have it delivered post free in the UK, now.

Portsmouth A Literary and Pictorial Tour – Last Order Dates for Christmas and where to buy it

Buy this book here post free in the UK

Portsmouth A Literary and Pictorial Tour, by Matt Wingett is available from the publisher to order online, post-free, here: https://www.lifeisamazing.co.uk/product/portsmouth-a-literary-and-pictorial-tour-by-matt-wingett

It will also be available from the author here:

Love Southsea Market, Palmerston Road, Southsea on 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd December.

Crafts In The Tower, The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth, on 16th December.

Please place your online orders for guaranteed UK Christmas delivery before 20th December, and overseas by 13th December. 

Portsmouth A Literary and Pictorial Tour Launched on 21st Nov 2018, by Matt Wingett

Matt Wingett talks about the preparations for the launch of Portsmouth, A Literary and Pictorial Tour, and some of the discoveries and surprises he made along the way.

Well, it’s been quite an intense period over the last few months, preparing images, collecting together the writings of numerous authors and then going over my own reminiscences of growing up in and near the old town to get my book out, and the launch will soon be here, at Portsmouth Central Library’s Menuin Room at 3pm on Wednesday 21st November.

John Lynn, High Tide Below The Saluting Battery, Portsmouth Harbour

I’m just preparing the talk right now, and wondering what to cover – whether in my launch talk I should make a mention of some of the extracts I had to leave out for lack of room, or tell some of the extra stories about Pompey places I gleaned while I was putting the book together. And then, there’s the distinct possibility – in fact very firm likelihood – that people will have things to tell me about the hometown. Sharing stories is one of the things I love.

That, really, is one of the reasons I wrote the book. I’ve looked through 50 full length works by 75 different authors to put the book together. The idea was a simple one. I had over the years collected engravings, postcards and drawings of Portsmouth, from the 1700s onwards. And I had read so much about the town by really top-notch and important writers. Wouldn’t it be great – I thought – to find extracts from novelists who mention the town and put them with pictures of the places they’re talking about?

That was the starting point of Portsmouth, A Literary and Pictorial Tour. When I mentioned it to councillor Steve Pitt on facebook and he asked me if I was actually doing a real tour, I thought – Yes, I could do that. Start at the top of Portsdown Hill and work my way around the island.

That’s what I’ve done, with maps at the back to show the locations of each place written about and pictured.

I’ve been really surprised over the years by the quality of writers connected to the town. Of course, there is the big four: Dickens, Conan Doyle, Kipling and Wells, who all had stronger or weaker connections here. But then there are other lesser-known homegrown Nineteenth Century novelists.

George Meredith was born in the High Street and based the opening of his novel about a social climber, Evan Harrington in the town. Walter Besant was born just off St George’s Square, and he went on to found the Society of Authors, wrote around 50 novels, was compared favourably with Dickens in his day and earned a knighthood for his charitable work. His great Portsmouth work is By Celia’s Arbour, which gives extaordinary descriptions of the place as it was in the 1840s before the town walls came down.

In the Twentieth Century, Olivia Manning was born in North End and grew up in Portsmouth. She hated the town with a passion, but still wrote three novels while she was here. Nevil Shute, Graham Hurley, P G Wodehouse (to a lesser extent), Pauline Rowson, Lillian Harry and many others have had something to say about it this century.

And right now, there is a whole new crop of writers and poets working away around Portsmouth. Some are already internationally published, others are learning their trades, doing live performances, writing plays. Portsmouth was and is a fascinating place and much really interestiing stuff has been written about it.

And that’s my conundrum for the launch. Not so much what to write about, but what to leave out!

Well, wish me luck. And hopefully, I’ll see you there tomorrow. The Menuhin Room, Portsmouth Central Library, 3pm, Wednesday 21st November!

 

When Arthur Conan Doyle Came To Southsea

With just a few days to go before Holmes Fest 2018 begins on 27th June in Portsmouth, Matt Wingett reveals Arthur Conan Doyle’s early days in Southsea and the struggles he went through.

When Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Southsea in 1882 stepping on to Clarence Pier from a steamer, he had £10 in his pocket, a medical degree and a strong will to make the best of his new life here.

He very much needed the last on the list. His previous attempt at partnership with George Budd in Plymouth had left him determined to go it alone. Budd was unreliable, prone to swings of wild temper and behaved like a melodramatic performer putting on a show for his patients. Doyle considered him deeply unprofessional – and worse – paranoid.

Soon Conan Doyle had set himself up at his surgery on Elm Grove, where his younger brother Innes later joined him to help out. Conan Doyle always had a hands-on positive approach to life, and he later recalled in “Memories and Adventures” applying his can-do attitude to make the best of the bare surgery. With very little money, he used his creativity to improvise, and his cooking arrangements would have given a modern Health and Safety officer a fit. He wrote:

What with cleaning up, answering the bell, doing my modest shopping, which was measured in pennies rather than shillings, and perfecting my simple household arrangements, the time did not hang heavily upon my hands. It is a wonderful thing to have a house of your own for the first time, however humble it may be. I lavished all my care upon the front room to make it possible for patients. The back room was furnished with my trunk and a stool. Inside the trunk was my larder, and the top of it was my dining-room table. There was gas laid on, and I rigged a projection from the wall by which I could sling a pan over the gas jet. In this way I cooked bacon with great ease, and became expert in getting a wonderful lot of slices from a pound. Bread, bacon and tea, with an occasional saveloy—what could man ask for more? It is (or was) perfectly easy to live well upon a shilling a day.

The matter of money remained a tough one for him, and it isn’t true to say that money flooded in. He remembers:

I had obtained a fair consignment of drugs on tick from a wholesale house and these also were ranged round the sides of the back room. From the very beginning a few stray patients of the poorest class, some of them desirous of novelty, some disgruntled with their own doctors, the greater part owing bills and ashamed to face their creditor, came to consult me and consume a bottle of my medicine. I could pay for my food by the drugs I sold. It was as well, for I had no other way of paying for it, and I had sworn not to touch the ten golden pieces which represented my rent. There have been times when I could not buy a postage stamp and my letters have had to wait, but the ten golden coins still remained intact.

Elm Grove, had once had tall, elegant elms growing in the front gardens of some of the villas along its length. You can see a great example of how shops were built on to the old front walls of the houses at Rosie’s Wine Bar, where the steps up to the front door can still be clearly seen, inside, at the back end of the bar. The picture above is from before 1897, and shows part of the elm-lined street as it once was. Below is a more recognisable image of the road, with the elms still visible at the far end, where commerce hadn’t yet reached.

 

 

In Conan Doyle’s day, the nature of the street was thus changing from the country idyll it had been just a few decades before, as Southsea thrust further and further east along the farm fields of the island. Doyle wrote:

It was a busy thoroughfare, with a church on one side of my house and an hotel on the other. The days passed pleasantly enough, for it was a lovely warm autumn, and I sat in the window of my consulting-room screened by the rather dingy curtain which I had put up, and watched the passing crowd or read my book, for I had spent part of my scanty funds on making myself a member of a circulating library. In spite of my sparse food, or more probably on account of it, I was extraordinarily fit and well, so that at night when all hope of patients was gone for that day I would lock up my house and walk many miles to work off my energy.

So it was, that of an evening in Southsea in 1882, you might have met a tall, strong Scot, standing 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 14 stone of lean meat, walking the streets and getting to know his surroundings – as the adventure of his life was about to begin, and the adventures of his most famous hero, Sherlock Holmes, were to be begin here, too!

The opening night of Holmes Fest – Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle – will be at The Square Tower in Old Portsmouth, on 27th June. Doors open at 7pm, tickets £10.

For the full Holmes Fest programme, go to: http://bit.ly/holmesfest2018

Sue Harper – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

Sue Harper will be performing her story at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello Sue, tell us about your sketch at Holmes Fest 2018?.

Sue: My story is about the love between Holmes and Irene Adler. When it ends disastrously, she resolves to lead a life of crime and realises that there is a particular problem with becoming a criminal mastermind – her sex. Thus she works out a particularly fiendish way to spread havoc. And all ll is revealed at the Reichenbach Falls .

— Ohh! Have I given too much away?  :).


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

Sue: I like Holmes because he combines instinct and intellect, and has more than a dash of Asperger’s. I am also fascinated by him because of the scale of his repression. He thinks he works by logic: but in fact his best conclusions come from gut instinct

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

Sue: I would investigate the cause of broken hearts, and their rate of recovery.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

Sue: Holmes would go shopping for a corset. Moriarty would shop for opium


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


 

Why I love surprising people when I tell them about Conan Doyle in Southsea

People sometimes sound surprised when I tell them I want to celebrate Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes in Southsea with Holmes Fest. They simply don’t believe that Holmes could have anything to do with our little town – and that’s why I’m so positive about it – to show them that actually Portsmouth and Southsea have a lot to offer those with the right attitude.

The Southsea in the 1880s in which Arthur Conan Doyle lived was a very familiar yet very different place from the one we know now. When he stepped off the steam packet from Plymouth in late June 1882, the Clarence Pier he landed on was a very different building from the one that was wrecked during the war. Here’s an image of it:

Of course, at Number 1 Bush Villas, Elm Grove, Conan Doyle famously set up his surgery. But I’ve often wondered what that meant for him when he stepped out on to the street. Sitting in his surgery waiting for patients, he would have been disturbed not by passing cars, though the clip of horses’ hooves on the cobbled road would have penetrated his consulting room.

The place where he lived, in that grey-fronted Victorian villa was lively. To the north of him lay the artisan quarters, where dockyard workers, builders and craftsmen crowded in the St Paul’s Road and Green Road areas. When he stood at his front door looking out, he would have seen a row of shops and houses along which only ten years before the forlorn and stressed Rudyard Kipling had made his way from Lorne Lodge on Campbell Road to the school at Green Road. On his right hand side there stood a Baptist Church, and beyond that, a livery stables where the gentlemen of the area kept their horses.

 

On his left stood The Bush Hotel, and a little further, on the other side of the road, was Hide’s Drapery Emporium, where science fiction writer H G Wells worked sullenly as a teenager in Doyle’s early years in Southsea. I like to imagine that maybe, one day in 1882 or 1883, the pair met across the counter, while the young doctor twirled his moustache and considered which fabric would make a decent pair of trousers both durable and presentable enough to wear in the surgery as he saw patients.

The fact is, Doyle loved Southsea, writing in his autobiography Memories and Adventures:

With its imperial associations it is a glorious place and even now if I had to live in a town outside London it is surely to Southsea, the residential quarter of Portsmouth, that I would turn. The history of the past carries on into the history of to-day, the new torpedo-boat flies past the old Victory with the same white ensign flying from each, and the old Elizabethan culverins and sakers can still be seen in the same walk which brings you to the huge artillery of the forts. There is a great glamour there to any one with the historic sense—a sense which I drank in with my mother’s milk.

His book also gives a wonderful insight into life in the doctor’s surgery in those early years. Doyle also quotes a letter “written in straggling schoolboy script by my little brother to his mother at home which may throw an independent light upon those curious days.” August 16, 1882, it says:

The patients are crowding in. We have made three bob this week. We have vaxenated a baby and got hold of a man with consumption, and to-day a gipsy’s cart came up to the door selling baskets and chairs so we determined not to let the man ring as long as he liked. After he had rang two or three times Arthur yelled out at the pitch of his voice, Go a way but the man rang again so I went down to the door and pulled open the letter box and cried out go a way. The man began to swear at me and say that he wanted to see Arthur. All this time Arthur thought that the door was open and was yelling Shut that door. Then I came upstairs and told Arthur what the man had said so Arthur went down and opened the door and we found out that the gipsy’s child had measles…After all we got sixpence out of them and that is all ways something.

Doyle adds: “I remember the incident well, and certainly my sudden change of tone from the indignant householder, who is worried by a tramp, to my best bedside manner in the hopes of a fee, must have been very amusing. My recollection is, however, that it was the Gipsy who got sixpence out of us.”

The early years of his move to Southsea were tough. Doyle recalls “picking up a patient here and a patient there until the nucleus of a little practice had been formed.”

Doyle also learned to network: “I mixed with people so far as I could, for I learned that a brass plate alone will never attract, and people must see the human being who lies in wait behind it. Some of my tradespeople gave me their custom in return for mine, and mine was so small that I was likely to have the best of the bargain. There was a grocer who developed epileptic fits, which meant butter and tea to us. Poor fellow, he could never have realized the mixed feelings with which I received the news of a fresh outbreak.”

The characters in Portsmouth he also writes of with brilliance, as of the “very tall, horse-faced old lady with an extraordinary dignity of bearing,” of whom he recalls:

She would sit framed in the window of her little house, like the picture of a grande dame of the old régime. But every now and again she went on a wild burst, in the course of which she would skim plates out of the window at the passers-by. I was the only one who had influence over her at such times, for she was a haughty, autocratic old person. Once she showed an inclination to skim a plate at me also, but I quelled her by assuming a gloomy dignity as portentous as her own. She had some art treasures which she heaped upon me when she was what we will politely call “ill,” but claimed back again the moment she was well. Once when she had been particularly troublesome I retained a fine lava jug, in spite of her protests, and I have got it yet.

It was in this life that Conan Doyle decided that he had best supplement his income through writing. It is the fame he gained from his work that makes the celebration of his life such fun. And that’s why I love it when people are so surprised to hear that this town was where it all began.

Holmes Fest begins on Wednesday 27th June with “Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle” at the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth.

For more information about all the events, go to: http://bit.ly/holmesfest2018

William Sutton – my story for Holmes Fest 2018 opening night

William Sutton  will be performing his story at Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle on 27th June at The Square Tower.

Life Is Amazing: Hello William, tell us about your story.

William: My story is a Victorian detective story starring one of Sherlock Holmes’s contemporaries – Campbell Lawless, and is called Lawless and the Whisky Smugglers.

With whisky taxation high, the Scottish highlands are criss-crossed with smuggling routes. Lawless is sent to clamp down on the Sacred Band of Swollen Bladders. Seeking help from his godfather, Freemason John Macadam, and librarian Miss Villiers, he receives help from the Duke of Stirling, minister for taxation. In a showdown by Loch Katrine, he finds his helper has other allegiances.


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.


Life Is Amazing: Why do you love Sherlock Holmes?

William: Because he’s named after two cricketers, and Conan Doyle himself was a stalwart performer for The Authors CC XI

Life Is Amazing: What would you investigate if you could investigate anything at all?

William: Erotobibliomania. Or Victorian tunnels.

Life Is Amazing: If Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went shopping, what one item would each buy, and why?

William: Sherlock: rosin, for his violin strings…
…Moriarty: flowers, for his mum; because even super-villains have mums!


Get Your Tickets for Holmes Fest 2018’s Three Cheers For Arthur Conan Doyle here.