On Doyle, Holmes and Fairies: Inspiration for A Fey Tale

Today, author Karen J Carlisle is my guest!

I’m Karen J Carlisle, author and Sherlock Holmes fan, which is one reason why you’re reading this. The other is to introduce my latest book, and second book in ‘The Aunt Enid Mysteries’, A Fey Tale.

A Fey Tale is a story based on fact. Well, facts. Well, there are facts on which the story is based. That’s a fact.

Fact 1: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited Adelaide, South Australia in late September 1920, to kick off his lecture tour of Australia and New Zealand. In February 1921, he returned to Adelaide to board the ship, SS Naldera, and return home.

He stayed at the Grand Central Hotel, one of the best hotels in the world at the time, with a dining room that seated 600 people. You could relax with a pot of tea in the Winter Garden Room amid exotic ferns, while a live string orchestra played (which I’ve used for a couple of scenes in A Fey Tale). Famous guests, other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, included the then-Prince of Wales, Dame Nellie Melba, Mark Twain (and, more recently, The Kinks).

He visited local vineyards – Penfolds and Hamilton Ewen – and sampled wine. He described South Australian wines as “purer than the corresponding wines in Europe, especially the champagnes“!

He also visited the Art Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, had lunch with the Governor, and visited the South Australian Museum to view Thomas Bellchambers’ Mallee Fowl Exhibit. Doyle had read about noted conservationist, Mr Bellchambers, in a UK magazine and was determined to meet him. His first introduction to Mr Bellchambers was at the Grand Central Hotel. He visited Humbug Scrub, Bellchambers’ wildlife sanctuary – one of the first wildlife sanctuaries established in Australia – on 29th September.

Fact 2: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a Spiritualist and believed in fairies.

He also attended a small meeting of Spiritualists in the hotel sitting room, was ‘entertained to dinner’ by local Adelaide doctors. (He was himself trained as a doctor in Edinburgh, and worked as a ship’s doctor and an ophthalmologist for some time, before ‘retiring’ to write books.). Interestingly, he noted in his memoirs one ‘elderly Professor’ at the dinner was named Professor Watson!

Most of us know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the creator of the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes. His four lectures in Adelaide Town Hall weren’t related to his books, but spiritualism and Pictures (photography) of Psychic Phenomena. He also wrote many books on spiritualism, and a book, several articles and letters regarding fairies. On the Coming of Fairies discussed the controversial Cottington Fairies photographs, a series taken by two girls (since proven to be a fraud). The article, Fairies Photographed, appeared in The Strand.

He wrote of his visit to Adelaide (and Australia and New Zealand) in his book, The Wanderings of a Spiritualist, first published in London in 1921. Humbug Scrub was described in Chapter three.  He wrote that he asked of Mr Bellchambers: “You are a man living close to nature. Do you ever see any fairies?” Bellchambers replied he hadn’t.

Interestingly, there are local stories about strange lights in the area – you can read about them in ‘The Haunts of Adelaide’, written by Port Adelaide historian Allen Tiller.

Fact 3: Adelaide has mysterious ‘fairy doors’ on the footings of several buildings in the city centre. Well, used to have several of them. There’s only three left (as of writing this article). The rest are gone.

Local lore and rumour suggest the first door may have appeared in the 1880s, but there’s little to no written information on them. More recently, Google Maps have shown one appeared after 2007. Another is of a different style to the others – a simple arched door in plaster, likely contemporary to the building where it’s found, which was rebuilt in 1888.

And Holmes?

As I mentioned, A Fey Tale is book two (and prequel) in ‘The Aunt Enid Mysteries’. In Book One we meet Great Aunt Enid:

Aunt Enid is just your average seventy-something year old. She loves to cook, is a regular at bingo and spends hours in her garden, talking to her army of garden gnomes and fussing over the colour of her hydrangeas…

She’s also a fan of mysteries, her favourite being Sherlock Holmes.

Before I go any further, be warned: This way be spoilers…

When I wrote book one, I knew Aunt Enid had met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in her past; there’s a hint in Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire (p 53), when Enid Turner and Agnes Farrow are talking to their new friend, Alfred:

Alfred: “This is just like an Agatha Christie novel”

Enid: “I prefer Sherlock Holmes, myself.”

Agnes: “Oh, Arthur was such a nice man.”

Alfred: “He would have died before you were born, wouldn’t he?”

Enid (finger to lips): “Agnes means that, having read his books, she feels like she knows him.”

But what does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fairies, and miniature art installations have to do with a mystery set in Adelaide? This is how my thought process worked.

  1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had written about fairies,
  2. He’d asked Thomas Bellchambers if he’d ever seen fairies at Humbug Scrub.
  3. There are stories about strange lights in Humbug Scrub.
  4. There was even an article written in September 1927, linking all three: Humbug Scrub: Sir Conan Doyle’s Fairies.
  5. And there are ‘fairy doors’ hidden throughout Adelaide city centre.

So, Humbug Scrub provided a link between Doyle’s visit in 1920 (time setting for A Fey Tale) and the fairies in the story – perfect for a Fae encounter at a picnic. Add in some ‘fairy door’ portals to Otherworlds, a troll bounty hunter, and a Fae deal…

Obligatory book blurb: Or, how it all comes together.

A deal with fairies… to solve a mystery… and prevent a war.

Enid Turner is invited to a picnic in honour of the creator of the world’s most famous detective, currently on a lecture tour in Adelaide, where they are caught in a web of treachery and betrayal from the Otherworlds.

It’s up to Aunt Enid and the Protectors, with a little help from the self-appointed Fairy Hunter, to solve the mystery, return the kidnapped heir and save the humans from Otherworldly retribution. It’s now a race to save the Earth from becoming a battleground for a magical war.


About Karen J Carlisle

Karen J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition.

She is currently writing the second book in her cosy fantasy mystery series, set in Adelaide. Her short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, ‘Where’s Holmes?’ and ‘Deadsteam’ anthologies.


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