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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > March 2018 > The style & technique of ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

The style & technique of ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Tony Rossiter shows how he created the world’s most famous detective

Sherlock Holmes caught the public’s imagination in A Study in Scarlet, a short novel published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1887. He went on to appear in three more (shortish) novels and over fifty short stories, and Arthur Conan Doyle became (along with HG Wells) the most celebrated popular writer of his age – on both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks to countless film and television adaptations, Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street is still the world’s most famous fictional detective.


Born in Edinburgh of parents of Irish Catholic descent, his full name was Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle; his surname was simply Doyle, but the grander Conan Doyle stuck. Educated at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, he then studied medicine from 1876 to 1881 at the University of Edinburgh Medical School where, as a student, he wrote his first short story. In 1880 he spent a few months as doctor on a Greenland whaler and after graduation the following year he served as ship’s surgeon during a voyage to the West coast of Africa. In 1882 he set up a medical practice in Southsea, but this was not very successful. With few patients to attend, he began his serious career as a writer with short stories published in magazines.

A Study in Scarlet was written in only six weeks. Following its success and that of his second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four (1890), Doyle was taken on by literary agent AP Watt, who submitted two Sherlock Holmes short stories to the newly established Strand Magazine. These were accepted, and Doyle received £200 in return for six stories. The first two published were A Scandal in Bohemia and The Red-Headed League; these were so popular that the magazine offered him £300 for a further six – and this persuaded him to give up medicine and become a full-time writer.

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About Writing Magazine

Bumper issue! Your guide to 2018's writing events and festivals Inside the new issue, discover what you can learn about writing by studying Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle, and get up to speed on what's happening in the grip lit genre. Learn how to conquer rejection and move your writing on, and see how our star interviewee, Katherine Arden, took inspiration from folklore and history for her magic realist historical fantasies. • Keep up to date with the latest writing competitions and opportunities in Writers' News.