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Slow going

Thanks to a number of events, welcome and unwelcome, progress on the new book has been slow. Fortunately this one is currently without a deadline so I am under no pressure.

I've also started throwing a few lines into a novel although I think I will struggle to write two books at once.

BBC Wales

About 50 minutes ago I went on BBC Radio Wales to talk about Sherlock. The most nerve wracking part of it was hoping that I didn't lose phone reception during the broadcast. All in all it went well. Well that's what my wife says. I thought I sounded an idiot.

A.

Swift service

Well I was up at 5.30 this morning and thus ready for my cab to Wood Lane. Arrived with 5 mins to spare and was promptly whisked up to a waiting area near the studio. There I enjoyed a quick coffee while I waited with the Sun's agony aunt who was there for an interview about something far more serious.

I was shown into the studio where I had to become an excellent mime artist. Then at 7.55 I was on. I spoke for no more than two or three minutes and then was whisked out and into another car.


I did the maths and I spent 16 times more time in cars to and from the studio than I did speaking.

Oh well. The general opinion was that I spoke well.

That's showbiz

Well a nice BBC Courier dropped round an advance copy of Sherlock today. I have just watched it in preparation for my five live interview tomorrow.


I have to admit to being impressed. True it's not Victorian (and I would prefer it to be so) but for a modern day version it does keep the core requirements intact and I'm sure will get some people interested in the world of Holmes.

Incidentally five live wanted me to take part in a discussion on TV detectives tonight as well but I can only do so much.

Newsnight

I was approached earlier today about being involved with BBC Newsnight on the subject of Sherlock Holmes. Due to a number of factors (including my busy schedule) I decided to decline.

BBC Radio 5 LIve Breakfast Show

I should be "appearing" on this Sunday's (25th July) edition of the Radio 5 Live Breakfast Show. The aim being to discuss my thoughts on the new BBC "Sherlock" that starts that night and the recent RDJ movie. According to my current information I should be on at about 7.50am.

Early isn't it? I hope you'll all be awake to tune in.

Weird brain

It's weird the way my mind works at times. On the way home from the office yesterday all sorts of potential starts to murder mysteries came to mind. I've made a note of them all and will no doubt develop them at some point.

Why is this weird?

Well, as regular readers will know, I am working on a non-fiction book about ACD covering his life between 1897 and 1907. The last thing I need right now are mysteries for my own detective.

Modern-day Sherlock approaches

This coming Sunday (July 25th) sees the arrival of the Moffat/Gatiss modern-day Sherlock Holmes on BBC1.

Like many fans, I am nervous about this approach. I personally see the Victorian setting as a vital part of the success of the Holmes stories so any version that omits this gives me cause for concern. However I acknowledge the inconsistency that I did (and do) enjoy the Universal Rathbone adventures.

I guess that what I fear the most is that we end up with a version of Waking the Dead that happens to feature characters by the name of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and Lestrade. If we end up with a program that is a run-of-the-mill police drama that only succeeds because it contains Holmes and Watson I shall be disappointed.

Gentlemen I am waiting to be impressed.

Portsmouth ahoy!

Last Wednesday I travelled to Portsmouth for an interview with the manager of the Richard Lancelyn Green collection. For those of you who don't know - RLG was widely viewed as the foremost expert on both Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes and his collection was donated (by the terms of his will) to Portsmouth Library following his death in 2004.e

Michael Gunton heads up the collection and I spent an hour with him and explained what I was trying to achieve. It certainly seems that they have items which will be of interest but I need to put together a proper "wish list" of requirements before I visit again.

Mrs Georgina Doyle

Below is an excerpt from an email I received from Mrs Georgina Doyle regarding my recent book "The Norwood Author":

"...thank you so much for the gift of your book.   I have now read it and think it is excellent - well written and well researched with a good choice of illustrations.   I enjoyed it a lot."

Out of the Shadows

On Friday I spent a wonderful yet rather warm day in the company of Mrs Georgina Doyle. We had an entertaining chat about all manner of people and places and I was then allowed to go leafing through her collection.

I had a look at some of the diaries of Innes Doyle (Sir Arthur's brother) and came away with a whole collection of photos. Many of these will find their way into my current project.

Watch this space.

Buck passing

Yesterday I received a letter which really disappointed me. It was from the department for culture etc on behalf of the Culture Secretary. I had, some time earlier, written to protest about the decision re the development of Undershaw.

I had been led to believe that the Culture Secretary was sympathetic to the cause, being MP for the local area too, but it turns out that he doesn't appear to have the house's fate very high on his list of priorities.

The letter essentially said that it was the council's responsibility (which I knew) and that was that.

I am forced to question the purpose of a Culture Secretary who is unable or unwilling to defend our culture.
My Undershaw book is now just shy of 10,000 words which is not bad for a book that I only really started in mid-May. I have already made some interesting discoveries and have sourced some interesting photographs which will feature in the end product.

Watch this space.

Book Review

The title of this book, Arthur, Louise and the True Hound of the Baskervilles (by Margaret Newman Turner), promises rather a lot and consequently demands a comprehensive critique.



Turner appears to have two principal aims. The first is to tell us about a legend which she believes to be the basis of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The second is to raise the profile of Conan Doyle's first wife Louise and show her in a more positive light than has been customary in the past - an aim I totally support.

We shall now turn our attention to the first of these aims. The legend in question, which is referred to as "The Hound of the Vaughans", does share many similarities to the legend mentioned in The Hound of the Baskervilles and Turner gives us its details and background very well. As a history lesson it is undeniably good. Turner also points out that it is a legend that has its roots in the area that Louise's family originated from. The problem is that she uses this to assert that Louise must have mentioned this legend to Conan Doyle at some point and it therefore must be from this that Conan Doyle got the idea for his most famous story.

Although her assertion is perfectly possible it is very unstable ground upon which to build what is, at the end of the day, no more than a theory. There are numerous legends of spectral hounds in Britain and they all share some common ground. This suggests that they may have sprung from the same source but not that said source was "The Hound of the Vaughans". The established record (and Conan Doyle himself) makes it clear that the basic idea for the Baskerville story came from the legends told to Conan Doyle by the journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson and that these legends were East Anglian and Devon legends. No mention is made of the Vaughans or their hound. It is true that Conan Doyle's editor Herbert Greenhough Smith believed The Hound of the Baskervilles to have been based on a Welsh legend (which would boost the Louise link) but that was just his belief and there is nothing from Conan Doyle, that we know of, to give that belief any weight.

Bertram Fletcher Robinson is rather ill-used by Turner. She presents him as opportunistic and as forming a friendship with Conan Doyle more or less solely to benefit from the association. This is demonstrably false as Robinson clearly gained little if any benefit and Conan Doyle had known the family from before their first meeting.

She then suggests that Conan Doyle and Robinson slowly fell out over the famous story and that this was demonstrated by how Conan Doyle downgraded Robinson's contribution to the story with each published edition. In fact Robinson was always conscious of what he personally saw as his limited contribution (he often referred to himself as the 'assistant plot producer') and it clearly didn't concern him as he and Conan Doyle remained good friends until he (Robinson) died.

After telling us her theory, Turner then undermines it by reproducing a letter from Conan Doyle in which he states that the entire idea for the story came from Robinson. In the face of this evidence she resorts to suggesting that Conan Doyle was being misleading (intentionally or otherwise). This comes across as a King Canute-style attempt to deny the tide of known facts and make the events fit her theory.

Thus the first aim of her book has to be marked down as a failure. The theory, although interesting, currently lacks any substantial evidence to back it up.

Now we turn to the second and nobler aim. Louise Conan Doyle has been ill-used in most biographical works concerning Conan Doyle. This was because of the influence of the children of his second wife Jean. Mrs Georgina Doyle has already fought Louise's corner in the excellent book Out of the Shadows. Turner would have done well to have read Mrs Doyle's book (and others) thoroughly before commencing her own as it would have saved her from a list of mistakes and factual errors.

Firstly she makes the mistake of relying too much on The Stark Munro Letters as a source of autobiographical fact. The Stark Munro Letters is a book that certainly mirrors Conan Doyle's early life as a doctor in Portsmouth but it is only a semi-autobiographical work and cannot be taken as true from end-to-end. Turner unfortunately adopts this position and makes assertions that simply have nothing apart from the book to support them.

She repeatedly refers to the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society as the Portsmouth Library and Scientific Society and then goes on to get much of Conan Doyle's life in the wrong order. It is fact that Conan Doyle left Portsmouth to learn about eye medicine in Europe. When he returned to England he secured lodgings at Montague Place (near the British Museum) and opened an eye practice at 2 Upper Wimpole Street. It was at the latter location that the early Holmes short stories were written and when he abandoned medicine he left both these properties to live in South Norwood.

Turner asserts that Conan Doyle moved to South Norwood almost immediately upon his return from Europe and opened his eye practice at Montague Place. A simple review of current books such as A Study in Southsea or Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (which the author claims to have consulted) would have demonstrated that this was not the case. There are other inaccuracies (and theories presented as more or less fact) but we don't need to explore them all.

The bottom line is that the research into the legend of the "Hound of the Vaughans" is clearly well done but its relevance to the creation of The Hound of the Baskervilles is not demonstrated convincingly. The sections on Conan Doyle's life, his marriage to Louise, his life in Portsmouth and, later, Norwood demonstrate a clear lack of research. I cannot but feel that the author's noble desire to present Louise in a (deservedly) positive light has led to her (consciously or otherwise) bending the known facts to suit theories - a position that Sherlock Holmes would never have endorsed.

Man of Letters

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to both the Haslemere Herald and Surrey Advertiser to lay out my objections to the proposal to "re-develop" Conan Doyle's former home 'Undershaw' in Hindhead.

Much to my surprise it made it into both papers and was the lead letter in one case. With my permision it was also forwarded to The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph  and I have today been told that it has been printed in the former.

Regrettably, for whatever reason, they have chosen to cut it down quite severely. Presumably this was for reasons of space but if you can lay your hands on the Surrey papers they have the letter in full.