I would ordinarily shy away from any author's "first"manuscript (including my own). However, when a luminary of Stephen Fry's magnitude vouches for the worth of the piece, my look is not quite as askance. However, it does put me in mind of the cartoon I once saw (I think in Playboy). A writer/professor was instructing a class in the wonders of creative writing. He stood at the front of the class holding a piece of paper. The caption was: "I'll now share a poem I wrote when I was seven."
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Lost Conan Doyle novel to be published
The Narrative of John Smith, Sherlock Holmes author's previously unpublished debut novel, due out this autumn
by Alison Flood
A clue to Sherlock Holmes ... Arthur Conan Doyle in 1922. Photograph: AP
After languishing unpublished for almost 130 years, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first novel is set to be released for the first time this autumn.
The Narrative of John Smith was written when Conan Doyle was 23, and just a few years before the author published his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. It tells the story of a 50-year-old "opinionated Everyman" confined to his room by gout, laying out his thoughts and views on subjects from religion to war and literature through the conversations he has with his visitors, from a retired army major to a curate.
"As you might expect with the creator of Sherlock Holmes, there's a bit of a mystery around the manuscript," said Rachel Foss, lead curator of modern literary manuscripts at the British Library, which is publishing the 150-page book in November.
"He wrote it in 1883 and 1884, when he was starting to try to establish himself in the medical profession and as a writer. He sent it to a publisher, but it got lost in the post, so he decided to try and redo it from memory. The manuscript we have is the novel as reconstructed from memory, and it stops around chapter six."
The book, said Foss, is "fairly loose in terms of plot and character", but it does provide "some hints towards the Sherlock Holmes stories to come". John Smith's housekeeper, Mrs Rundle, for example, "can be seen as a prototype for the garrulous Mrs Hudson, Sherlock Holmes's landlady"