Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 22nd 1859. His mother, Mary Josephine Foley, was a descendent of the influential Percy family of Northumberland. They could trace their ancestry back to the Plantagenet line. Mary encouraged her son’s avid reading and also told her children stories of history and adventure.
Doyle’s decision to study medicine came as a surprise to his more artistic family. However, his title of doctor was one of the most important to him throughout the whole of his life. And it was during his medical studies that he met two men, both teachers of his, who would serve as role models for two of his most popular characters.
In Memories and Adventures (1924), Doyle’s autobiography, he wrote about some of the characteristics of Professor Rutherford: “…Assyrian beard, his prodigious voice, his enormous chest…” These are traits he would later give to Professor George Edward Challenger, the main character of his famous science fiction novel The Lost World (1912).
However, Doyle’s most famous character – Sherlock Holmes – would be given the method and ability to deduce details about people and their lives that Doyle witnessed in Dr Joseph Bell. Doyle dedicated the first collection of Holmes stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, to “My Old Teacher, Joseph Bell.”
In 1879, Doyle’s story “The Mystery of Sassassa Valley” was published by Chamber’s Journal. Despite its title, it is more of an adventure than a mystery. This was the first time that Doyle was paid for a story. Following the custom of the time, weekly and monthly journals did not name the writer but left stories anonymous. Although Doyle appreciated the money as it would help him support his mother and siblings, he realised that it would be of more benefit to his (writing) career to be credited as the writer.
As Doyle built up his medical practice, he also became more determined to succeed as an author. He began to consider a detective story in which the detective, possibly named Sherrinford Holmes, solved crimes using the deductive reasoning that he had seen Dr Joseph Bell use with his patients.
In 1887, Beeton’s Christmas Annual published Doyle’s first detective story, A Study in Scarlet. Sherrinford Holmes had become Sherlock Holmes and a legend was born. Quietly. Although the story was enjoyed by readers, it was not a sensation. Doyle was paid £25 for all copyright to the story.