Arthur Conan Doyle

Born in Edinburgh, on 22 May 1859, Doyle was one of seven children of a civil servant. The family was of Irish Catholic descent. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University, beginning in 1876, and it was during this period that he had his first story published in Chambers' Journal.

He spent seven months at sea on an Arctic whaler, as ship's surgeon (this was before he received his medical degree, but there were many on board with superior skills with the knife). He graduated the following year, in 1881, and celebrated by travelling to Africa as a ship's surgeon, this time on a passenger ship.

In 1882 he returned to Britain and set up a medical practice in Southsea. It was here that he began writing again, in order to supplement his medical income. It was also here that he introduced to an unsuspecting public the classic hero Dr Sherlock Holmes, with his slightly dim - though only by comparison - medical sidekick Dr Watson.

Holmes, apparently, the brilliantly logical detective, with some eccentricities such as opium-smoking and violin-playing, was to be Doyle's best known and best loved characters, though he wrote other works, chiefly historical romances. He is based in part on a Dr Joseph Bell, who was one of Doyle's forensic medicine teachers in Edinburgh. The name Holmes is from a hero of Doyle, the American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The Sherlock Holmes stories really took off with the publication of a series in the Strand Magazine (1891-3). Holmes was 'killed off' by Doyle in 1893, but had to be resurrected by public demand, which he duly was, in 1902, in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Doyle practiced medicine until 1891, though he served as a medical volunteer in the Boer War (1899-1902). He wrote two propagandist works justifying Britain's involvement in this war, and was knighted in 1902 for public services, including his work in a field hospital in South Africa.

Another well-known character invented by Doyle is Professor Challenger, who appears in the adventure novel The Lost World (1912). Doyle was active as a war correspondent during World War I, which must have made the death of his son from wounds in that war all the more tragic. After this event, he went off on a tangent, becoming dedicated to spiritualism. He wrote The History of Spiritualism in 1926, and died on 7 July 1930 at Crowborough, Sussex.