Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the Prolific Writer Online Exhibit Home Bookmarks Résumé Web Projects Photo Album

Introduction | His Life | Fiction | Military | Sport | Spiritualism | True Crime | ACD Quiz

There is no use whatever in trying to write a book unless you know that you must write a book or go mad, perhaps die.

-Robertson Davies

Like all writers, Conan Doyle couldn’t help himself. Writing wasn’t just a profession, it was a spiritual calling. Once the muse took hold of him, he became her vessel for channeling inspired prose. Not only does Conan Doyle have an amazing output more than 25 non-Holmes novels, non-fiction works, and endless editorials to various newspapers, he was fortunate enough to make money doing what he loved. By the 1920s he was the highest paid writer in the world. Most of Conan Doyle’s works appeared in serialised magazine form, and then reappeared later in book form -- therefore he was paid at least twice for his most popular stories.

Hound of the Baskervilles,
First edition (1902)

However, his commercial success in many ways obscured his talent as a writer. Many critics, and ironically long-time fans, have overlooked the traits that made Conan Doyle popular. According to the Contemporary Author’s Database, the four main strengths of his writing are: firstly, it is vigorous, clear and readable; secondly, it is full of concise, sensuous description that genuinely evokes a sense of place; thirdly the characters in the story are memorable with striking personalities; and finally, he is a masterful storyteller. These same critics also overlook the fact that while he was talented and prolific, his financial success was also a matter of luck and timing. Conan Doyle was one of the first writers to begin using a literary agent. Magazine serials were just starting to become popular when he penned Sherlock Holmes. Finally, Conan Doyle was not financially successful as a medical doctor, and having few patients left him with time on his hands to write stories.

Single-handedly, Conan Doyle created two new fiction genres that have been emulated ever since: the detective story, and science fiction/adventure. Before the creation of Sherlock Homes, fictional detectives did not use pure logic and character analysis to solve crimes based on clues scattered about the text. Evidence didn’t help them solve crimes, plot accidents did. After Holmes, every detective in novels from Hercule Poirot to Nancy Drew and even television shows from Detective Inspector William "Jack" Frost to Brother Cadfael use evidence and deduction to get to the bottom of the case. Before Lost World, new discoveries in science were never incorporated as a major storyline. Sure there were imaginary beasts in fairy tales and creation myths, but dinosaurs actually lived and were only separated from our species by 65 million years. Conan Doyle brought together animals that his contemporary scientists had recently discovered and mixed them with human beings. King Kong, Planet of the Apes, and Jurassic Park owe their inspiration to his imagination.

Image based on Doyle's Desk showing
Holmes, Challenger, and Gerard memorabilia.

“I cultivate a simple style and avoid long words as far as possible…”said Arthur Conan Doyle of his writing in a 1923 Collier’s essay, as an explanation of why many readers underrated the amount of research he put into many of his pieces, most notably his historical fiction. Although Conan Doyle began writing in the late Victorian era, his characters and writing style are characteristic of modern prose. You learn about characters not because there are long descriptions about them or their setting, but through their dialogue and interaction with each other and because something interesting is always happening to them. It is a rich experience to immerse yourself in Conan Doyle’s imagination.

-Rose Roberto

To see the complete bibliography of Conan Doyle's Fiction, search the Contemporary Author's Database. Also available is an indepth biocritical essay on all his work under the "Sidelights" section.

Introduction | His Life | Fiction | Military | Sport | Spiritualism | True Crime | ACD Quiz