Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle is best known today for creating the great English detective, Sherlock Holmes. However, he wrote many books besides mysteries, including historical and science fiction novels. He also wrote plays, romances, poetry, and non-fiction.
Doyle was born in 1859 to an Irish Catholic family in Edinburgh, Scotland. Though the family led a prosperous lifestyle, there wasn't much money and his father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was a chronic alcoholic. His behavior once led to a temporary separation from his wife, and young Arthur went to stay with sisters of John Hill Burton, historiographer-royal for Scotland. This influenced Doyle's later development into historian and bibliophile. Doyle's mother, Mary Foley Doyle, was a captivating storyteller. Doyle later described her influence on his life: "In my early childhood, as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life."
With relatives helping to pay for his education, Doyle attended a Jesuit boarding school, where he grew to hate the boarding school culture and its corporal punishment. But while there he himself became a great storyteller, fascinating students with stories he made up to tell them. He loved the stories of Sir Walter Scott, Edgar Alan Poe, and Bret Harte, who strongly influenced Doyle's work.
Doyle went on to study medicine at Edinburgh University, where he also added his middle name "Conan" to his surname. While at university, Conan Doyle became acquainted with James M. Barrie (future creator of Peter Pan) and Robert Louis Stevenson. His mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell, demonstrated great skill of observation and objective deduction from the tiniest of details, while another lecturer, Sir Patrick Watson, was unrivalled in his surgery skills and warm humanity. They became Conan Doyle's inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
Conan Doyle served as a doctor aboard a whaling ship and a steamer, giving him a view of fascinating parts of the world before he returned home to settle into medical practice. In 1885 he married Louisa Hawkins, the sister of one of his patients. Doyle had published his first story, called "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley," in 1879; in 1887 he published his first mystery involving Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, which immediately gained popularity. After several sequels, Doyle began to fear that he would be known only as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, so he wrote a story in which both Holmes and the evil Professor Moriarty die in the end. Fans rebelled; Doyle gave in, describing Holmes' disappearance in terms of recovering from a brush with death, and wrote more stories about the detective.
Conan Doyle volunteered as a doctor in the South African Boer War. His writings about the war earned him an English knighthood in 1902. In 1906 his wife died and in 1907 Conan Doyle married Jean Leckie, a relationship that enveloped him and made him so happy that his writing output slowed. After the "death/hiatus" of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle turned most of his writing focus to historical fiction and other interests, which toward the end of his life included a fascination with spiritualism. Conan Doyle died in 1930 in Sussex, England.