Tale of John Smith is a clue to Conan Doyle’s early work

EDITORS Rachel Foss and Jon Lellenberg, and inset, the audience at Portsmouth History Centre Central Library.  Pictures: Malcolm Wells (113943-6616 and 6632)

EDITORS Rachel Foss and Jon Lellenberg, and inset, the audience at Portsmouth History Centre Central Library. Pictures: Malcolm Wells (113943-6616 and 6632)

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BOOKWORMS got an insight into the first novel penned by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle last night.

Visitors came to Portsmouth Central Library to find out about Conan Doyle’s The Narrative of John Smith, which was written in 1883 but only published for the first time two months ago.

INTEREST The audience at Portsmouth History Centre Central Library.  Pictures: Malcolm Wells (113943-6616 and 6632)

INTEREST The audience at Portsmouth History Centre Central Library. Pictures: Malcolm Wells (113943-6616 and 6632)

British Library curator Rachel Foss, independent book editor Jon Lellenberg and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle biographer Daniel Stashower published the Victorian novel, which tells of fictional character John Smith being diagnosed with gout, after it was snapped up by The British Library at an auction seven years ago.

Before then it had been in the Conan Doyle family for decades.

Rachel and Jon, who led the evening, explored Conan Doyle’s life in Portsmouth, where he lived for eight years, working as a doctor at a practice in Elm Grove, Southsea.

The pair also told of his time in the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society and his role as goalkeeper for the team which later became Portsmouth Football Club.

Conan Doyle penned the book, which is now on sale, before he conjured up Holmes and his sidekick Doctor Watson.

An audio version of the book, read by actor Robert Lindsay, was played to the book-loving audience.

Arthur’s great nephew Richard Doyle, 46, from Chandler’s Ford, said the evening was a fascinating insight into the history of his ancestor.

He said: ‘It’s been so interesting to find out about Arthur’s early work, which was the basis for his future success.

‘He was a fascinating person.’

Robert Skinner, 47, from Lee-on-the-Solent, said: ‘The evening really brought Conan Doyle to life and made me realise how prolific he was. I found out so much about his life before he created Sherlock Holmes.’

The event was part of Portsmouth Book Fest, which has been led by Portsmouth City Library Service and The Hayling Island Bookshop.

Dom Kippin, literature development officer for Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘There is huge interest in Conan Doyle’s work because of the Sherlock Holmes film and television series.

‘The fact this book has finally been published raises the profile of the city as a place with great writers and literary characters.’

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