Conan Doyle's manuscripts reveal a meticulous chronicler

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The Independent Culture

Recently acquired papers and manuscripts belonging to Sherlock Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, reveal him to be a meticulous chronicler of the minutiae of his life.

Recently acquired papers and manuscripts belonging to Sherlock Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, reveal him to be a meticulous chronicler of the minutiae of his life.

He detailed seances he attended, the books he read, the cricket matches he played in (including bowling out W G Grace), the number of words he wrote and what he was paid in a series of notebooks which are part of a treasure trove of more than 2,000 documents obtained by the British Library this year.

Yet it was by no means clear from his juvenilia that he had the talent to become a successful author. The evidence of his first, unpublished, story, The Narrative of John Smith, was "50/50", according to Christopher Wright, the library's head of manuscripts, yesterday.

Dr Christopher Wright, head of manuscripts, and Michelle Paull, head of modern literary manuscripts, have been combing through their haul in preparation for an exhibition of some of the highlights, which opens today. And they believe that the glimpse of the details of Sir Arthur's life will present a better portrait of the man known principally for the series of Sherlock Holmes detective stories.

He died in 1930 at the age of 71 having become rich and famous. In one month alone in 1891, he earned more than £2,000 thanks in part to the serialisation of The Hound of the Baskervilles .

Ms Paull said: "I don't think interest in Conan Doyle will ever wane, but I hope this archive will reveal new sides that we're not familiar with."

Conan Doyle's close relationship with his mother was of note, Ms Paull said. "She often helped him edit his work and there is a lot of critical interest in that editorial relationship. She told him never to send out a line until he was entirely satisfied with it."

The papers suggested that he could be meticulous in crafting his work. Notes for an autobiographical story, published as The Stark Munro Letters , but apparently originally called The Threshold , spelt out a list of things to be included in the story line.

Ms Paull said: "He is a popular writer but the craft involved in popularity is underestimated. It's rather difficult to write popular fiction. And he was tremendously hard-working, if you look at the list of the number of words he produced. It's a pretty formidable output."

The Conan Doyle collection at the library is probably the largest in the world. It comprises 900 documents received under a bequest from Dame Jean Conan Doyle, the author's daughter, and a further 1,200 bought at auction in May from the estate of Anna Conan Doyle, his daughter-in-law.

The unpublished first story, though untitled when written, is one of the highlights even though Conan Doyle himself became acutely embarrassed by it. Believing it lost in the post, he said: "I must in all honesty confess that my shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again - in print."

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