Tag Archives: Arthur Conan Doyle

Reading Manifesto 2013

I had two personal, non-book related resolutions in mind for 2013 but only a few hours into the New Year one of them is already on hold.  The resolution was simply to run more, especially off-road.  However, this goal was scuppered on Boxing Day.  Mr FH, his brother and I challenged ourselves to a woodland 10k run and while trying to keep up with them I fell quite spectacularly leaving me covered in mud and mush with a painful foot and ankle ligament injury and a very sore coccyx! I’m lucky my ankle isn’t fractured, but I can’t run for a while, but oh my, it is painful.  I’m not entirely sure this is what Haruki Murakami was referring to when he said “pain is inevitable” in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  Anyhow.

The other personal resolution is to find a job; a proper one that pays real money and everything…!  This March I will have been a full-time mother for 10 years, it’s about time I got myself back into the real economy somehow, but what to do?  I don’t want a job like I had before with all the corporate nonsense that went with it – so ideas anyone?

When it comes to reading I have a few thoughts about 2013.  I want to stretch myself, but not be completely unrealistic about what I aim to achieve.  Reading, after all, is a pleasurable hobby and not something that has to be endured.  I’m a slow reader compared to other bloggers (I read somewhere the other day about a blogger who read 180 books last year, puts my 45 between Feb and Dec 2012 to shame), but I want to enjoy what I read and I don’t want to feel obliged to read something because it is the current favourite.  At the same time I want to be able to take part in discussions on popular books, so I need to find that perfect balance.   Also, I need to take care not to overspend on books.  So here goes:

Sourcing Books in 2013

Check out the two pictures I’ve added below of a couple of my downstairs bookshelves (ignoring the gnome sat at the top, an addition for my garden once it’s been landscaped and a present from my MIL).


I don’t even “see” the books on these shelves anymore and there are larger shelves upstairs heaving under the weight of unread books.  I had a really good look at the titles recently and found so many great books I didn’t know we owned or had forgotten we had.  I came across 3/4 of David Peace’s Red Riding quartet.  Having mentioned we were missing the 1st one, Mr FH came home with it the next day from the Oxfam shop.  I’ve only ever seen the BBC adaptation, but want to give them a go, despite Mr FH’s warning about how harsh they are.  We’ve got a couple of Jon McGregor books I’ve never looked at. We have almost a full complement of Haruki Murakami and Cormac McCarthy but I’ve barely scratched the surface.  IMG_3684There’s at least three Kate Atkinson books I’ve meant to read for a while, plus one by Louise Welsh.

You get the picture…I want to read stuff I already own.  There will be times when I have to or want to read something I don’t already have so will borrow from the library or buy it second-hand.  I almost always refuse to buy hardback books, they are far too expensive, but there will be times when I have to buy a brand new book, then I will try to use my local book shop.  Or, if I’m really lucky, maybe a couple of small publishing houses might send me the odd book to read!

I am still stubbornly resisting an e-reader.  I think one of those will only make my problem of unread books much worse.  Nothing wrong with the printed version, it’s worked fine for years.


I noticed last year how few books I read by women and challenged myself to read more.  I still only managed to read seven post 1950 titles by women.  This year I want the male/female split to be a bit more even, so I need to make a concerted effort on that front.

At the back-end of 2012 I got a lot of pleasure from reading translated fiction, so I want to try to introduce a few more non-english titles to my bedside table this year and maybe review one a month.


I don’t want to get too hung up on joining loads of shared reading/blogging events, but they are a great way of getting to know other bloggers and reading something different.  I am already committed to “January in Japan” (more on that to come soon), and will take part in German Literature Month again later in the year.  Of course, joining these blogging events will help with introducing more variety into my reading material.

Reading around my area

Last year I started a little series on my blog called “Reading Around my Area“. Primarily, I wanted to look at how authors who lived local to me used the landscape in their work or how it may have influenced them or inspired them.  It became a bit less focused than that.  I only featured one writer last year, Arthur Conan Doyle but I’ve already promised to feature Aldous Huxley next and then I’ll see if I can manage to write about anyone else.  It takes quite a bit of research and reading, but is really rewarding, making me feel a little more knowledgable about my local area.

That’s it then, nothing earth-shattering or mind-blowing and of course most of it is subject to me fulfilling my personal resolution of finding a job, because once/if that happens I suspect reading won’t suffer but blogging might.  I’ll have to wait and see what this year brings.

Thanks to everyone who regularly visits and continues to read my drivel and sometimes even comment on it.  I look forward to bumping into you again on these pages and hearing your thoughts on books and reading.  Happy 2013!

Arthur Conan Doyle: 3 Novellas

I’ve neglected my little feature called Reading Around My Area.  So I thought I should put this first outing to bed and think about who to write about next.  Realistically I probably won’t get around to writing the next installment until next year – which gives me the Autumn to do the research.

To round off the first author featured in Reading Around My Area, Arthur Conan-Doyle, I thought I’d write a little summary of the other 3 Sherlock Holmes novellas to go with The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I would love to write about the short stories, but there are 56 of them so you have to content yourselves with the following!

If you are new to Sherlock Holmes and you want to start at the beginning, then A Study in Scarlet is the one.  I read this a long time before my most recent fascination with the super sleuth and was engrossed.  The book is in two parts.  In the first part we learn how Holmes and Watson first meet and come to share the flat at 221B Baker street.  Watson tags along as Holmes attends the murder scene of a body found at an empty house.  Holmes unravels the mystery with his signature ease.  In part 2 we learn the back story of the murderer and victims.  The story flashes back to the USA and focuses on a Mormon community in Salt Lake City.  The whole thing is completely fascinating and an amazing feat in storytelling.  As this is the first Holmes story we also meet well-known characters such as Mrs Hudson, Lestrade and the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Sign of (the) Four is the second of the novellas.  It has a complex plot, with lots of characters and twists and turns.  Miss Morstan goes to Holmes for help with an unusual case relating to the disappearance of her father 6 years previously.  The story involves stolen treasure, and man with a wooden leg, exotic locations and people.  Like in A Study in Scarlet the back story is told in flashback and anecdote by the characters involved, some of it taking place in India and the Andaman Islands.  The other notable point in this story is Dr Watson’s romance with Miss Morstan, who eventually becomes his wife.  We also witness Holmes taking cocaine at the beginning of this book, which apparently stimulates and clarifies his mind.

After The Sign of Four came The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Conan-Doyle concentrated on other things for some years and then came The Valley of Fear.  Similar to A Study in Scarlet this is a book in two parts with the mystery in part 1 and the back story in part 2.  In part 1, Holmes has to decipher a coded message leading him to a country house and a dead body.  The dead man has a brand on his arm.  But is the man who everyone thinks he is? In part 2 the story shifts to the USA and a coal/iron ore mining region.  There we learn of a secret order bringing fear to the community.  The story is complex again and makes you wonder at Conan Doyle’s ability to create intricate tales.

There you go then; short summaries to whet your appetite for Sherlock Holmes and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this feature.  But now to my next author.  Who should I choose next?  I look forward to hearing your preferences.  The options are:

  • Aldous Huxley
  • HG Wells
  • Jane Austen
  • Flora Thompson
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • Lewis Carroll
  • Edward Thomas

PS Don’t you love the covers on these Penguin Pocket Classics?  So kitsch and dramatic, but very effective.

Undershaw Saved!


As a real testament to people power, I just heard the Royal Courts of Justice have handed down their judgement in the judicial review against my local Borough Council’s planning decision regarding Arthur Conan Doyle’s home in Hindhead.  The planning decision to carve up the house has been OVERTURNED due to “legal flaws” identified during the process.

If local people passionate about the preservation of significant buildings had not given their time, sweat and tears to this project, a lovely example of Edwardian architecture of local, literary importance would be town houses and flats by now.

This is by no means the end, as it is possible the owners may submit new plans, but at the moment, we should delight in victory and pat those at the Undershaw Preservation Trust and their supporters firmly on the back!

The full press release by the legal team representing UPT is here http://bit.ly/LGZKzj

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the most well-known of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, certainly it is the most adapted for film or TV.  When it was written in 1901, Arthur Conan Doyle had not written a Sherlock Holmes story for 8 years.  To all intents and purposes, Holmes was lying dead at the bottom of the falls as described in The Final Problem.  Conan Doyle worked around this issue by introducing the reader to a new mystery which took place before Holmes’ death.  The Hound of the Baskervilles is a tale well-known to most of us.  Dr Mortimer asks Holmes to look into the inexplicable and sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville of Baskerville Hall in Dartmoor.  Sir Charles made Dr Mortimer aware of a family legend of the curse of the Baskervilles involving a large and bloodthirsty hound supposed to roam the moor.  Mortimer saw the paw prints of a “gigantic hound” at the place where Sir Charles died and is concerned for Sir Charles’ heir, a young Canadian, Sir Henry Baskerville.   Holmes sends Watson to Dartmoor to act as bodyguard to Sir Henry, investigate and report back on a daily basis by telegram.  Watson does a good job of describing the various residents of the moor and the goings-on in this eerie landscape. The story includes an escaped convict from a local prison, assumed identities, cruelty, family intrigue, ambition and the use of the landscape as a means to torment and frighten.  It is an atmospheric story, full of suggestion and strange noises breeding anxiety in the reader.  Conan-Doyle makes great use of the landscape and weather conditions to create a feeling of terror.  Needless to say in the end, Holmes steals Watson’s thunder and solves the case with seeming ease.

I don’t know whether Arthur Conan Doyle felt inspiration from the landscape around his home, but according to WR Trotter in “The Hilltop Writers”, he was joined in Hindhead/Haslemere by several other literary heavyweights around the turn of the century.  There was a 10 year period when writers such as Grant Allen, George Bernard Shaw, George Elliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Margaret Oliphant and Christina Rossetti and others moved here permanently or stayed for extended periods.  With the industrial revolution came not only the railway, but also advances in printing and communications which allowed these writers to live in such wild country while remaining within easy reach of the capital city.  Whenever there is a congregation of talent they invariably feed off each other and for a while Hindhead and Haslemere became a hub of intellectual activity that included artists and scientists as well as writers.  The solitude of the hills, heaths and common land will have offered a welcome interruption to writing; a landscape to inspire.

The National Trust bought the Hindhead Commons and the Devil’s Punch Bowl soon after its inception at the instigation of Sir Robert Hunter, one of its founders.  Hunter lived in Hindhead and was often found walking on the common.  Arthur Conan Doyle was a member of the first Hindhead Commons Committee and often walked out with Hunter (according to The National Trust).  Conan Doyle was an incredibly active man and known as an able sportsman, so I can imagine he took solace in the exercise the landscape afforded.

I have walked there in all weathers and although on a beautiful day the views from the hills are amazing and far-reaching, there is still something mysterious in this beauty.  A week ago as I dropped one of the younger Fictionhabits at cricket practise, the low-lying cloud was clinging to the surrounding hillside, obliterating the summits, bringing a claustrophobic and eerie atmosphere to the village green.   Historically, the Punchbowl was regarded with fear and superstition as a dark malevolent province of
smugglers and deadly spirits and few people dared set foot there. I think it is a combination of this history and the legends of devils and feuding gods together with the barren, sandy landscape as well as the acoustics within the Devil’s Punch Bowl itself that evokes some of its mystery.  When you are at the bottom of the Devil’s Punch Bowl it is very quiet, which can seem quite weird.  In bad weather, it is desolate, but there is something quite lovely about trekking the hillsides in the rain and admiring the hollow from above.

Did Arthur Conan Doyle take inspiration from his surrounds when writing The Hound of the Baskervilles?  I don’t have any definite evidence that he did.  I know he visited Dartmoor as part of his research and walked the moors for a couple of weeks taking in the atmosphere.  He wrote the book itself, however, at Hindhead and there are some similarities between descriptions of Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles and the countryside around Undershaw.

Take, for example, the view Watson and Henry Baskerville first encounter when approaching the station and compare it to an engraving of a sketch by JM Turner from 1811 called Hindhead Hill.

Source: Wikipedia

“Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a grey, melancholy hill, with a grey jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream.”

Other descriptions in the book could also quite easily be Hindhead Common or the Devil’s Punchbowl.  The following are a few examples all taken from Watson’s first descriptions of the moor.

“Bronzing bracken and mottled bramble gleamed in the light of the sinking sun” “Both road and stream wound up through a valley dense with scrub oak ad fir”  “A steep curve of heath-clad land, an outlying spur of the moor lay in front of us”

Later in the story, while chasing a man during the night, Holmes and Watson “run through the gloom, blundering against boulders, forcing our way through gorse bushes” Gorse, bracken and heather are found in abundance on Hindhead Common.

This year, from 11th May – 25th September the British Library is running an exhibition called Writing Britain which aims to examine how the landscapes of Britain permeate great literary works.  As far as I am aware, Arthur Conan Doyle does not feature, so I can only wonder at how the landscape close to my own home and only a stone’s throw from his, may have inspired his most celebrated piece of writing.

By the way…the judicial review of Waverley Borough Council’s planning decision regarding Undershaw took place at the High Court on Wednesday 23rd.  No decision was made on the day, the judge will publish his findings by the end of July.  I will keep you posted.

Reading Around my Area – Arthur Conan Doyle, Hindhead and Undershaw

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle was an in-comer to the Surrey Hills when he moved into his home, Undershaw, in Hindhead in 1897.  He came here for a very specific reason.  His wife, Louisa, suffered from tuberculosis and the family spent many months abroad seeking the right climate to keep her well.  Another consumptive and Canadian author Grant Allen told Conan-Doyle there was no need for his nomadic life style.  The climate around Hindhead and its height were perfect for keeping the symptoms at bay.  Conan-Doyle rushed to Hindhead, found Allen to be right and promptly bought a plot of land.

Having sketched some plans of his own, he handed his designs to his architect friend Joseph Henry Ball to complete the draft and supervise the construction.  The family moved into the house in 1897.  The house is built in Edwin Lutyen’s classic Surrey vernacular style, with red brick, soaring roof and tall chimneys.  It was modern beyond compare and included one of the first domestic electricity generators on site.  It is nestled below the intersection of the road leading from Haslemere and the old London to Portsmouth road.  This position is sheltered from behind by a small copse and its south-facing aspect overlooks the valley below with far reaching views towards the Downs.  Conan-Doyle specified large windows at the front of the house to let in maximum light and commissioned a stain-glass window with his family’s coat of arms.  This is what it looked like shortly after the family moved in.  Conan-Doyle’s children are shown in the picture.

Source: Undershaw Preservation Trust

I have known of Undershaw’s existence since soon after I moved to the area, but never visited it, as its location was at a busy intersection that never saw me visit as a pedestrian.  However, last year the A3 Hindhead tunnel was opened, diverting traffic away from this notorious bottleneck.

In the days of the stagecoach, the road from London to Portsmouth was a busy one, and the section through the Surrey hills as it skirted around the Devils Punch Bowl was a lonely and bleak one, an ideal hunting ground for highway men.  In those days the road was slightly higher on the hillside than today.  There is a grisly murder case linked to these parts which is commemorated with the Sailor’s stone at the side of the road and at Gibbet Hill (where the murderers were hanged) overlooking the Punch Bowl.   By the time the railway came to the Surrey hills, the road was much quieter.

Source: Frith & Co

This is what the road would have looked like when Conan-Doye and his family moved to Undershaw.

Source: Frith & Co.

The position of the sailor’s stone would have provided the perfect vista of the natural cleft in the countryside.

It is more wooded now, but still quite a barren and eerie spot.

It was while living at Undershaw that Conan-Doyle wrote some of his most important work.  It was here he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, and where he resurrected Sherlock Holmes after his faked tumble into the Riechenbach Falls.  Undershaw was his home for 10 years until Louisa died and he remarried.

Over the Easter weekend I finally went to find Undershaw and take a look at it for myself.  I knew there have been issues with the house, that it has fallen into a sad state of repair.  Here are the pictures I took.

The arch on the main road welcoming guests to the hotel.  The main drive to the house is further along on the right.


The side of the house as you come down the drive.  This will have been where carriages/cars will have been parked and stored



The front of the house looking at it from the sweeping front lawn.




The right-hand side of the front of the house.




The view of the garden from the house.  My photo doesn’t do it justice.  Of course it is dreadfully overgrown, but there is no denying that when well maintained the views towards the South Downs must be incredibly inspiring.

Conan-Doyle had intended handing the house down to his son, Kingsley, but unfortunately he died just before the end of the first world war.  Finally, in 1935 Conan-Doyle sold the house and it was turned into a small hotel which operated until 2004, when it was sold to a property developer.  The developer has not maintained the house and it is now at the mercy of the elements.  In 2010 my local borough council, Waverley, granted planning permission to turn Undershaw into a series of terraced houses.  After appeals and protests the plans are on hold pending a judicial review due to take place later this month on 23rd May.  I have no personal ideas of what should happen to the house in the long-term, there are plenty of Sherlock fans with vocal opinions on what should happen to the place.  But it is a sad state of affairs that the home of one of our most celebrated authors should either be allowed to become a wreck or be turned into soul-less dwellings, stripping out all of its heritage.

There is a fabulous group of local Conan-Doyle fans who have formed The Undershaw Preservation Trust working towards preserving and protecting Undershaw as a single dwelling.  They have lots of famous and hopefully influential followers and supporters, plus lots more information about Undershaw and its history.

In order to write this and my future posts about Arthur Conan-Doyle, Undershaw and Hindhead I have to acknowledge and give thanks to various sources.  I have added links so you can carry out your own further reading:

I have added a map of the immediate area below:

My next post in this feature will be about The Hound of the Baskervilles

Reading around my area

I am very lucky to live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty called the Surrey Hills.  I am an in-comer to this area, but having now lived here for several years I definitely feel like this is home.  Despite its reputation as serious commuter-belt-land, Surrey is one of the most wooded counties in Britain.  Lodged between the North and South Downs those of us who live in this part of Surrey are fortunate enough to enjoy the woodland, ancient heathland and commons that haven’t changed in generations.

I absolutely adore these outdoor areas and appreciate the efforts and commitment of organisations such as The National Trust, Natural England and The Surrey Hills Board to maintain and keep them open to people like me.

I recently read a quote by a writer who said “place has such a huge influence on writers” and it got me thinking.  Places like the Surrey Hills are inspiring to artists in all forms of media.  Maybe not as much as the Yorkshire Moors and Dales, the Lake District or the Cornish coast, but still beautiful enough to get some creative juices flowing.

As part of my blog I’ve decided to start a little feature looking at writers who were or are from here, lived here at some point or set their works of fiction nearby.  By here I mean within half an hour of where I live, which takes in most of the Surrey Hills and a bit of the South Downs (the UK’s newest national park).

Having done some research I have put together a list of writers born or who lived in this area.  It’s a short list at the moment and only includes one living writer but is quite interesting and varied.  Here is a flavour:

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle built a home in Hindhead where he lived for 10 years.
  • Aldous Huxley was born and partly educated in Godalming.   His ashes are interred in the village of Compton nearby.
  • HG Wells spent much of his childhood in Midhurst
  • Jane Austen lived in Chawton near Alton
  • Louis de Bernières grew up in the village of Hambledon
  • Flora Thompson lived and worked as a Post Mistress in a village near to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s house
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson had a home on Blackdown Hill near Haslemere where he lived during his years as Poet Laureate
  • Lewis Carroll owned a house in Guildford for over 30 years
  • Edward Thomas lived in Steep before the First World War
Tonight I am hoping to attend an event at my local library as part of World Book Night showcasing local authors, so I may meet some writers living and working in the area today. 

I might not post about everyone on the list but my idea is to write a piece about the writer and over the following weeks review a couple of their works and discover how their surroundings have influenced their writing, if at all.

I’m going to start with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and hope to write an initial post about him and his famous home, Undershaw sometime later this week.

I’ve added a map so you can see the places I will be talking about and follow my little journey!

Watch this space!

(pics my own)