Arthur Conan Doyle’s Unpublished Novel

I was fortunate enough to attend a talk held at my local library (Portsmouth Central) regarding the newly published “The Narrative of John Smith”; Arthur Conan Doyle’s first novel which was initially lost in transit to his publisher and never made it to print.

The talk was part of the Portsmouth BookFest that is currently taking place. But why here? “John Smith” was the first novel that Doyle attempted when he moved to this town and so there are distinct ties between the novel and Southsea (as well as the man himself). We are lucky enough to have a massive collection of ACD paraphernalia which belonged to Richard Lancelyn Green and was bequeathed to our Council upon his death. A small selection of these articles were laid out to look at last night and it really is a remarkable collection to behold; personal photographs of Doyle’s, letters to his friends and family, stamps, TV and movie memorablilia and plenty more.

The two people that led the talk were two of the editors of this new release; Rachel Foss (of the British Library) and Jon Lellenberg (author of “A Life in Letters”, which I have just purchased!). They spoke of Doyle’s time in this town and his devotion to it during his 8 years here, which was truly a pleasure to hear. He really was a part of the community and even years after he had left for London, he still looked back on Portsmouth and Southsea with fondness.

They also discussed the publication of this book and how it came about, considering it was never regarded by Doyle to be worthy of print once he had broken into the literary business. But I believe, as was discussed, that it is fascinating to see peoples origins and how they have developed as a writer; themes they stick with, character traits they apply to someone else or scenarios they develop.

I have myself a copy waiting patiently to be read and I am greatly looking forward to it. I am glad that we are being given the opportunity to indulge in this all these years later and especially that it was introduced to us in Portsmouth in such a way. It was also a pleasure to see a few of Doyle’s descendants in attendance (although I didn’t approach them, I feel it must be weird for strangers to talk to you because of a relative neither of you really knew personally!).

And, as a side note, I learnt something about ACD that makes me admire him even more and hate him just a little bit. When looking at his original manuscripts (we’re talking first drafts here), very little differs between that and the finished product, especially where the Holmes stories are concerned. Considering the multiple threads that are woven into those short stories and the character development, it’s truly remarkable that he could just knock them out without his complete attention even being focused on them some of the time! Remarkable and infuriating, haha.

I really enjoyed myself anyway and loved hearing about one of my favourite authors and my home town, it was a pleasure and my thanks to those involved if you happen to stumble across this.

Picture: Malcolm Wells (113943-6616 and 6632)

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