Saturday, May 23, 2015
A current offering on ABE is a cache of letters, addressed to E.H. Visiak, for an author’s symposium for John o’London’s Weekly in early 1924. The seller is David J. Holmes Autographs, of Hamilton, New York, and the thirteen letters (7 autograph letters and 6 typed letters) are priced US$1,000. The physical documents don’t interest me, but the contents do, and I recently enlisted the aid of a friend (thanks, John!) and now have a copy of the symposium, “My Best Book: Famous Authors Name Their Favourites for John o’London,” published in the 22 March 1924 issue. E.H. Visiak is nowhere mentioned in the article, but clearly he prepared it for publication. Some twenty-six authors (or their secretaries) are quoted. Here is a selection of the ones that interest me the most, listed alphabetically:
J. D. Beresford
“My favourite is The Hampdenshire Wonder, which has the distinction of having sold fewer copies and of having brought me more friends than any other novel of mine. . . . The book wrote itself. I could not get it down fast enough. And it has always remained to me as the admired work of another person rather than of my own.”
Mr. Algernon Blackwood selects the Centaur, as having expressed most of himself.
Mr. Chesterton’s secretary writes: “In reply to your letter of to-day, Mr. Chesterton asks me to say that he considers all his works deplorable, but the one that has given him most satisfaction to have written is Orthodoxy.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“I think Sir Nigel my best novel, and The White Company second.”
“I should think that on the whole The Hill of Dreams is my most successful experiment in literature . . . [sic]
“Whatever merit the book may have is perhaps due to the fact that it is a reflection of the impressions of my native county, Gwent, or Monmouthshire, which I gathered when I was a boy.
“I am a great believer in the doctrine that a man of letters knows everything vital that he is to know by the time he is 18.
“When I read that Mr. Thingumbob has gone to Penzance or Pernambuco ‘to get local colour for his new novel’ I know that Mr. Thingumbob, is, roughly speaking, a rotter.”
Mr. Barry Pain thinks that his best book is Going Home: “It is,” he says, “in the vein of fantasy and I enjoyed writing it.”
“In my own opinion Scaramouche is the best novel I have written. At least, in Scaramouche I was less conscious than usual when the work was done of a gap between the aim and the achievement.”
Other authors responding include Joseph Conrad (his letter appears in Visiak’s book on Conrad), John Galsworthy, Jerome K. Jerome, John Masefield, George Bernard Shaw, May Sinclair, etc.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Peterley Harvest (Hutchinson, 1960) is a remarkable literary experiment. Its sub-title is ‘The private diary of David Peterley’ and it was presented as a journal edited from the Peterley Papers by Richard Pennington. In fact, it is now understood that there are no such papers and that the book is in effect an autobiographical novel.
A friend of the editor, Dr I A Shapiro, said in 1985 that it “is largely, perhaps wholly, disguised autobiography.” Pennington has placed many elements of his own life in a fictional framework as if they happened to a character similar to himself, but with certain key differences. For example, while he earned a living as a librarian, his character Peterley has private means, and an ancestral hall (albeit in decay) and leads a leisured, if hectic, existence.
As the book opens, ‘Peterley’ is returning to England after some years in Australia, where he had fled to avoid a too-solid fate in a solicitor’s office and an arranged marriage. His father had sent him a letter of advice which concluded succinctly: “fear God, honour the King, and be chivalrous to women”. Peterley, while “greatly impressed” by the style of the letter, “shows no signs of letting its precepts influence his conduct.”
We follow him through a series of amatory, aesthetic and artistic wanderings in London, in the English shires and in Prague, each evoked with candour and a certain louche style, in a chronicle of bohemian life whose narrator has some of the panache of Michael Arlen’s dashing modern cavaliers, and some of the mystery of Machen’s many scholarly adventurers, men-about-town with a mission to explore the curious.
The book includes vignettes of other authors. There is indeed an especially vivid description of a visit to Arthur Machen in his rooms at Lynwood in the High Street of Old Amersham, where he had retired. The two discuss Mithraism, and the persistence of folk memories. After a perceptive pen-picture of the old author and actor, ceremoniously taking round his jar of punch, Peterley notes: “He seemed a literary creation by Machen. The man is the quintessence of his works.”
The hubbub of the annual street fair in the little Buckinghamshire town is fervently evoked in the journal entry for 23 September 1935:
“Amersham was now like an allegory by Bunyan illustrated by Bosch. The faces peering through the smoky air looked less human; the laughter sounded diabolic and the wavering flares turned the street into shaky scenery that might vanish at midnight with the whole phantasmagoria. The engines hissed evilly with steam. The rolls of music were swallowed greedily by the mechanical organ. The wooden caryatides clapped their cymbals and beat their bells. When I reached the little upper room and saw our host pouring his punch, I had the impression of a necromancer who had conjured up the unnatural scene outside; and thought that at any moment he might put down his jug and leaning out of the window utter the cabalistic word at which the noise and the carnival would become moonlight in an empty street.”
The lethal effect of drinking Machen’s famous punch becomes clear when the narrator wakes up in unexpected company in London the next day, with little idea how he got there. “Machen’s party,” he wrote “seemed a shadowy fantastic rite performed in the light of torches to the clash of cymbals and the shouts of Bacchantes, a long way off in time and space.” Machen’s daughter Janet Pollock, in recommending the book warmly to me, confided that, in this episode at least, Richard Pennington himself was indeed the protagonist and the Peterley passage is pure autobiography.
Peterley Harvest was withdrawn soon after publication in 1960 for reasons which remain obscure. It had been received with bafflement by the critics who did not understand its adventurous form and feared being spoofed. However, word-of-mouth praise for its fine writing and flamboyant scenes and characters ensured that it soon became keenly sought.
A new edition was shepherded into print in 1985 by the biographer Michael Holroyd under an Arts Council reprint programme “designed to rescue maverick work” (as he put it). A press release (illustrated here) stressed the “stream of unanswered questions” about the book, asking: “Are these pages real or imaginary?” It described it as “a love story that develops tragically against the background of Hitler’s rise to power. . .an unusual counterpart to W.H. Auden’s The Orators and George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris.”
In his preface, Holroyd more-or-less gave the game away about the book, while still leaving a certain mystification. Even this led to continued doubt, with at least one reviewer wondering if Pennington himself existed. The biographer Claire Harman later described the book as “a fine illustration of the blurability of the line between fiction and non-fiction” (The Evening Standard, 7 January 2002). The author himself never commented upon the nature of the book.
Richard Pennington was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, on 6 September 1904. He took a BA at the University of Birmingham in 1924. Dr Shapiro later recalled that “while an undergraduate Pennington already displayed a range and variety of interests, including calligraphy, typography and art.” He was in Australia from 1926-30, where he moved among the circles of the continent’s literary luminaries. In particular he befriended the poet Christopher Brennan, then very neglected, and helped to revive interest in him.
On returning to Britain, he trained as a librarian at the University of London, and took up a post in this profession at the National Liberal Club. During the war he returned to Australia and held a post as librarian at the University of Queensland. From 1946, for eighteen years, his career took him to McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Here he is described as “A man of dazzling complexity and great charisma who could be charming or disdainful with equal ease. Highly cultivated and urbane he had definite opinions on people and things which he articulated with irony and a sardonic wit” (“Scholar Librarians: Gould, Lomer and Pennington” by Peter F. McNally, Fontanus, from the collections of McGill University, Vol 1, 1988). While at the university he ran a private press, the Redpath Press, and published opuscules and monographs. These included Biscay Ballads (1958), a book of poems “from the Peterley Papers” which in fact preceded the Peterley “memoirs”.
He retired to Normandy, France where in 1974 he acquired a hand printing press and set up his own imprint, the Presse de l’Abricotier abattu. He and the press later moved to Blanzac, Charente. He also worked on a memoir of Christopher Brennan, published in Australia in 1970, and a monumental iconography of the engravings of Wenceslaus Holler, the Prague-born etcher who lived mostly in Stuart England. This study was issued in 1982. A Penguin paperback of Peterley Harvest in 1987 still did not bring a wide readership, and it may always remain a book for connoisseurs of the rare and recondite in literature.
Richard Pennington died on 1 May 2003 in Montreal. His papers are held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.
Text (c) Mark Valentine 2015
Saturday, May 16, 2015
The Fantastika conference takes place at Lancaster University on 7-8 July 2015. There will be some thirty seven brief papers on a wide range of aspects of the fantastic in literature, film, music, folklore and new media, linked by a common theme of landscape and place.
Amongst the speakers are Audrey Taylor on Pastoral and Fantasy; Tim Jarvis on "Weird Fiction's Representation Praxes"; Stephen Curtis on “Moon Kampf: The Rise of the Lunar Nazi in Speculative Fiction”; Francesca Arnavas on “The Fantastic Worlds of the Alice Books and the Imaginary Mind”; Christina Scholz, on “‘Lost in the Back Yard Again’: Uncertain Landscapes in M. John Harrison".
There will also be Keith Scott on “From R’lyeh to Whitehall: Charles Stross and the Bureaucratic Fantastic”; Douglas Leatherland on “The Nomos of Fantasy: Natural and Artificial Boundaries in Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Le Guin’s Earthsea” and Kaja Franck on “Hunting the Last Werewolf: Ecology, Fantastika, and the Wilderness of the Imagination”. My own paper is on “Supernatural Landscape in British Ambient and Drone Music”.
The conference is free: simply email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Congratulations to Xavier Legrad-Ferronnière and everyone else editing and writing for Le Visage Vert, which has just published its milestone twenty-fifth issue. Highlights include Michel Meurger continuing his historical exploration of werewolves; Norbert Gaulard introducing two fantastic tales by Antonio de Hoyos y Vinent (1885-1940), who is described as a sort of Iberian alter ego to Jean Lorrain. There follows a translation into French of Jessie Douglas Kerruish's "The Swaying Vision" (1915), and a previously unpublished text "La Porte" by the Belgian writer Guy Vaes (1927-2012), with a study of Vaes by Danny De Laet. Finally there are a couple of medieval legends written and illustrated by Albert Robidas (1848-1926). Subscribers receive a set of four cards (printed on each side) showing illustrations by for advertisements for a collection of stories by Antonio de Hoyos v Vinent.
Another recent publication by the folks at Le Visage Vert is a chapbook L'Animal Blanc (The White Animal) by Georg von der Gabalentz (1868-1940), translated from the German by Élisabeth Willenz, with illustrations by Stepan Ueding. "Das weisse Tier" is from Gabelentz's first collection of stories, published in 1904.
Ordering details can be found here (scroll down).
Saturday, May 9, 2015
A lot of good supernatural fiction can come out in a year, and one idea from a supporter of the Ghost Story Awards was that a quarterly update would be helpful, as a source of reference. Here is the first quarterly listing of books and journals which may contain ghost stories (broadly interpreted) published for the first time this year in English and in paper and ink.
This is simply an aide-memoire for readers voting in The Ghost Story Awards, to help remind them of eligible books and journals published during the year. But it's important to stress that a book or story does not have to be on this list to be eligible for votes. Readers may vote for who they want, within the rules.
And this is not a list of recommendations or nominations. I have seen some of these books, but far from all, and I am not endorsing them or vouching for them either as ghost stories, or as good ghost stories, though I am sure many will be.
The aide-memoire lists books and journals actually published (not simply announced or due) in the period shown. It is sure to be incomplete and suggestions are welcome. But remember that novels, electronic-only publications and reprints are not eligible, and that the award is for ghost stories specifically, not the more general fantasy, horror or macabre fields.
Give Me These Moments Back by Mike Chinn
Leinster Gardens by Jan Edwards
Dead Water by David A. Sutton
The Werewolf of Lisbon II by Chico Kidd
The Yellow Wood by Melanie Tem
Suffer the Children by Dominic Selwood
The Voivod by Dominic Selwood
The Usher by D.P. Watt
Sensorama edited by Allen Ashley
A Ghostly Company
The Silent Companion 10 edited by Antonio Monteiro
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
A Confederacy of Horrors by James Robert Smith
A Different City by Tanith Lee
The New Yorker
“A Death” by Stephen King
That Is Not Dead edited by Darrel Schweitzer
Friends of the Dead by James Doig
Leytonstone by Stephen Volk
Orpheus on the Underground by Rhys Hughes
Black Static 45
These Last Embers by Simon Stranzas
The Walter de la Mare Society Magazine
“The Idealists” by Walter de la Mare
Text and image (c) Mark Valentine 2015
Sunday, May 3, 2015
**UPDATE 5/4: I'm pleased to note that the blog has been completely removed from Goodreads. I leave this entry up as a warning to others.**
Yes, Mark Valentine and I were very distressed today to learn that Goodreads has usurped this blog and posted it at their own site, renaming it "Mark Valentine's Blog" even though this blog is multi-authored. Neither Mark nor I gave any such permission for this action, nor did we know it had happened until today.
In my view, this moves Goodreads (owned by Amazon.com) into the top of the Corporate Scum Pile. We have sent requests for it to be completely removed, but this is something we should never have had to do, if the corporate raiders would leave other people's stuff alone.
See it for yourself. Here is the URL for the stolen blog:
***Update. Thanks to Ryan (see comments), this now appears in snippet form, but it's still misnamed as Mark's blog when it isn't.***
I hope this link goes dead soon. Real soon. And any inclination I might ever have had to join Goodreads is now gone.
The sad thing, too, is that both Mark and I now feel less inclined to post anything other than snippets of news here. All thanks to the unconscionable theft by Goodreads.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Wormwood 24 is now available for order. We're pleased to present the following:
Jason Wilcox explores the strange identities and psychological unease in Robert Aickman's 'The Trains'.
Adam Daly studies the powerful work of Wolfgang Borchert, a writer in the ruins of post-war Germany.
Emily Foster considers questions of memory and identity in the forgotten work of Richard Marsh.
Colin Insole evokes the potent allure of Jacques Yonnet's Paris Noir.
James Machin proposes John Buchan's supernatural fiction should be better appreciated, and looks especially at his novel of Greek paganism, The Dancing Floor.
Mike Barrett discusses the Jamesian ghost stories of Andrew Caldecott.
Henry Wessells sees a foresight of tragedy in Max Beerbohm's Oxford novel Zuleika Dobson.
Reggie Oliver, Doug Anderson and John Howard provide their regular columns reviewing old and new books.