Legacy. Get any writer drunk enough, and she will admit to a fascination with the subject. We revere that of our heroes; we obsess over what our own may be.
Here in Ireland, we honour writers with the sort of passion Mancunians reserve for football players. We name our parks and bridges for them, we erect plaques on their homes, we even have a museum dedicated to them.
Alas, not everywhere are writers treated with such gentle courtesy. Soviet Russia’s idea of kindness was exile rather than execution.
England, though, has always been proud of her literary heroes and heroines. Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, they have their statues and their streets named for them. It was a surprise, then, to learn the degree of… let’s be kind and call it ‘inattention’ paid to the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In Sherlock Holmes, Dr Doyle created not only a fictional icon, revered world-wide, but an entire industry. So I’m sure you’d be as astonished as I was to learn that his beloved home, Undershaw, had been allowed to fall into a dreadful state of disrepair. Priceless stained glass windows were destroyed by vandals, and the author’s carefully-designed structure fell into ruin. I haven’t the heart to elaborate further.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived in Undershaw from 1897 to 1907. This is where he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Here is where he played host to Dracula author Bram Stoker, Holmes illustrator Sydney Paget, the actor William Gillett, and many other luminaries of the age. Despite this, the house was allowed to fall into ruin.
In 2010, plans were afoot to convert the site into a multi-unit apartment building. Pleas from Holmes enthusiasts, literature buffs, and anyone with respect for Doyle’s legacy went unheard. A government report declined to afford the house Grade I listed status, saying Sir Arthur Conan Doyle “does not occupy a significant enough position in the nation’s consciousness”. Labour MP Tessa Jowell argued that Sherlock Holmes creator, “cannot be said to be an author of the standing of… Charles Dickens or Jane Austen.”
I’m all right. Testing my blood pressure pills to the max, but I’ll be fine.
Legacy, my friends. It’s easy to be snooty about legacy when you live in a land where almost every square inch has some sort of significance to somebody.
Fortunately, this tale has a happy ending. The house was bought by the DFN Foundation and work began to convert Undershaw into a school for children with special needs. Restoration and upkeep aren’t cheap, though, and the project needs support. Enter Holmes author David Marcum with a fabulous idea: to create the world’s largest anthology of new Sherlock Holmes stories, with all proceeds going to Undershaw and the school. Playing Robin to David’s Batman (I’m sure they’ll arm wrestle over their relative superhero status), is MX Publishing’s Steve Emecz. The end result is The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories.
The anthology contains stories by sixty of the world’s best Sherlock Holmes writers such as Hugh Ashton, Amy Thomas, Wendy C. Fries, and Tim Symonds. Oh, and me.
The book is being released on October 1st, but you can jump the queue if you contribute to the kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1229605719/the-worlds-largest-new-sherlock-holmes-story-colle
I’d like to think having a story in this record-breaking collection will be part of my legacy. Not just for the sake of the tale, but for the work being done to care for the special needs children and for Dr Doyle’s home. It’s all good.
Not of the standing of Dickens. How rude!