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Charlotte Baker: The Curious Methods of Conan Doyle

When I am asked what my system of work is I have to ask myself what form of work is referred to. I have wandered into many fields. There are few in which I have no nibbled.”

- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in How I Write My Books, The Strand Magazine, 1924.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was the author of four novels and over fifty stories involving lead characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Holmes is arguably the world’s most known detective and Conan Doyle’s work is the foundation of crime fiction. Perhaps, what is less famous are his works in fantasy, science-fiction, non-fiction, and historical genres.

What is interesting about Holmes as a character is that his deducing skills are often played out for the reader to view throughout the novel, rather than left until the end for all the piece of the puzzle to suddenly reign into focus. These skills emerge through forensic based approaches, a scientific mindset that was reflective of Conan Doyle’s profession as a doctor. This included fingerprint evidence, handwriting and typewritten analysis, footprint, and cipher cracking.

“From the time that I no longer had to write for sustenance I have never considered money in my work. When the work is done the money is very welcome, and it is the author who should have it. But I have never accepted a contract because it was well paid, and indeed I have very seldom accepted a contract at all, preferring to wait until I had some idea which stimulated me, and not letting my agent or editor know until I was well advanced with the work. I am sure that this is the best and also the happiest procedure for an author.”

While the above evidences his sentiments with regards to writing and finances, Conan Doyle did reprise Sherlock ten years after he killed the character off–for both financial gain and also fan demand. The statement and his behaviour may seem in opposition, but it actually provides useful lessons on a writers’ mentality and practicality. Of course, it is important to write what we love and to maintain that happiness within the story’s journey; from the planning phase to publication. Equally, being an author is a career that is often idealised. There is a necessity to the author’s work, that Conan Doyle’s revival of Sherlock demonstrated, in that you must listen to your readers. Be aware of the trends and what the industry is wanting. This is a vital lesson to learn in this current climate in order to succeed!

This is the third post in a series on crime writing by Charlotte Baker. Read the first and second posts here.


Charlotte Baker is the author of the Valor Diamond series. Book One: The Rhyme of Retribution Killer is available in paperback and as an ebook. Book Two: Let the Dust Fall is available for preorder.

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