Friday, July 25, 2014

The Pallid Lily Press: A Checklist

The Pallid Lily Press: A Checklist
Mark Valentine

With thanks to the Press' publisher and designer, David Cowperthwaite. All pieces by John Gale unless stated.

Remembrance: A Hunt in Masks. Single sheet, ivory paper, illustration by Wilhelm List (‘Votive Offering’, 1900), signed in jade ink to verso, with separate pale cream card stiffener with Celtic interlacing ornament and imprint label. February 1999. Limited to ten numbered copies.

Lilies of Zircon: The Final Letter from Kuusian to Baiirnah. Booklet, 8pp. Grey parchment paper covers, cream imprint label on back cover, enclosed in a white envelope with cream imprint label. October 1999. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

Two Lord Kandra Parodies by John Gale & Mark Valentine: ‘From Pillow to Post’ by John Gale. ‘Untitled’ by Mark Valentine. Booklet, 8pp. Pale yellow parchment paper covers, cream imprint label on back cover, enclosed in a manilla envelope with cream imprint label. February 2000. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

A Rhapsody for the Goddess of Autumn, For Three Female Voices, With Improvised Music on Cithara, Flute and Two Tabla. Yellow parchment paper cover, with two pages, bound in a gold ribbon, and enclosed in a white envelope with cream paper labels, with an autumn leaf attached to top left corner by gold ribbon. November 2001. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

Phulygia. Single sheet. On recto, cream paper pasted on to black card. Title and signature in gold ink. On verso, limitation and publication details in gold ink. Limited to 10 numbered copies. February 2002.

The Unpassing Sorrow of Lady Winter. Booklet, 12pp. Crimson parchment paper covers with pasted illustrated title plate on front recto, paper snowflake pasted to front verso and back recto, gilt decorated title letter on first page of text, enclosed in a golden envelope with white title label, Beardsley illustration and white snowflake to front. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2004.

Ashghul: A Tale of Lord Kandra. Booklet, 20pp. Cream paper wrappers with gilt and lilac decorated ornament, magenta inner wrappers, enclosed in a royal blue envelope with silver calligraphic titles and imprint. Limited to 10 numbered copies. March 2006.

Fallen are the Domes of Green Amber. With three interior decorations by Margaret Russell. Booklet, 20pp.Transparent paper wrappers, green card boards, bound with light brown ribbon. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2008. [There exists an earlier version, not issued, with a different cover, dated Christmas 2005].

The Votaries of Autumn. Booklet, 12pp. Scarlet paper wrappers bound with bright yellow ribbon, enclosed in a cream envelope with decorative silver and black title plate to front, and cream imprint label on flap. Limited to 10 numbered copies. Samain [ie, November] 2008

The House of Silent Ravens. Booklet, 20pp. White card illustrated covers. Together with The House of Silent Ravens: Discarded Plumage. Booklet, 12pp. The two held together by black ribbon bow with loosely inserted black feather. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2011.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Silver Voices - John Howard

The Swan River Press has announced a new edition of The Silver Voices by Wormwood columnist and essayist John Howard, collecting seven stories set in the Transylvanian town of Steaua de Munte, hill of the stars, a place of several distinctive languages and cultures, and with its own unusual history and legends. As in his stories for Secret Europe, the volume conjures the atmosphere of the interwar era and its legacy with subtle understanding, in writing imbued with an austere clarity.

In an interview with Mat Joiner, John describes how his interest in such borderlands began when young. Picking up a school atlas, he recalls "being plunged into a world of shifting frontiers, with empires rising and falling in tides of different colours washing across the pages as I turned them, which were decades and centuries passing."

Though he often works within the classic tradition of supernatural fiction, he explains that while his stories may not be about conventional ghosts, they do evoke the metaphorical hauntings we all experience - "our obsessions and longings and fascinations and hates and dreads" - and adds, "I doubt we can ever entirely escape our ghosts, desirable as that might be, because that would mean escaping from a part of our very selves. But come to terms with them, yes."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

J Sheridan Le Fanu - 200th Anniversary Tribute

The Swan River Press of Dublin has announced a tribute anthology to mark the 200th anniversary of J Sheridan Le Fanu's birth. Dreams of Shadow and Smoke, edited and introduced by Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers, will be published in August and collects ten new stories of the fantastic and macabre in the tradition of the Irish master. Contributors include Sarah Le Fanu, Peter Bell, Angela Slatter and Derek John: also included is my story "Seaweed Tea".

As I say in the note to my story, "J. Sheridan Le Fanu was the first ghost story writer in English after Poe to take the form seriously. He took it out of the realm of the folk ballad, the comic yarn and the stylised melodrama of the Gothic tale, into a new realm of literary subtlety. He also recognised its potential for exploring visionary experiences." This affectionate and original homage, beautifully designed, aspires to do justice to his stature.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Secondhand Bookshops in Britain

The most useful and comprehensive guide to secondhand bookshops in Britain is The Book Guide, ironically but inevitably an online resource. I consult this whenever I visit a new place or revisit old haunts after an absence, so that I have a good idea of what bookshops might be found there. In the tradition of the enigmatic bookhound Drif, the guide also publishes readers' comments on bookshops, sometimes effusive, but not infrequently quite pungent.

The Guide has just announced a melancholy figure. The news item in the Shops section tells us: “I’ve just closed my 500th secondhand bookshop” – meaning, of course, that the guide has just reached that figure in its continuing record of closures and (less often) openings, since it began in 2001. Allowing for some that came and went unrecorded, this suggests about 40 secondhand bookshops are closing each year.

However, we’re more cheerfully reminded that the Guide still lists 1,176 secondhand bookshops. It adds that 225 of those are run by charities. It also tends to interpret “bookshop” broadly, so the figure includes some premises only open by appointment, and some general antique centres that sell secondhand books – in my experience, these can sometimes have quite small stock.

Even so, this works out as about one secondhand bookshop every 80 square miles. In practice, of course, the spread is uneven. The Guide’s handy format of listings by regions, then counties, shows how desolate some parts are – or appear to be, unless they have secret bookshops in obscure quarters as yet undiscovered. Even some large cities don’t have a single secondhand bookshop anywhere near the centre, except charity bookshops.

But there are still quite a few parts of the country where the enthusiastic reader or collector could easily spend a week visiting secondhand bookshops within a reasonable radius – using, say, York, Norwich, Edinburgh or Hay-on-Wye as a base, for example. And there are even more where a quite crowded weekend would be needed to visit them all. I know, because I’ve sometimes done it. Further, the Guide, though a splendid source, is not of course infallible - it's always worth asking around.

It's also worth adding that even bookshops, interpreted generously, are only one part of the secondhand book scene in Britain. The Book Guide also lists book fairs and auctions, and as well as the established ones here it’s not uncommon to find locally organised fairs.

Some churches also now have secondhand books for sale – perhaps only a few boxes, in the porch or under the tower or next to the postcards and parish newsletters and the faded black-and-white guide written by a former parson forty years or so ago. I’ve often been delighted, in some quiet village with no shop or inn or other facility, to find the church has unexpectedly interesting reading matter with a faint odour redolent of pew-polish or beeswax candle still lingering about it.

If fetes, jumble sales, public library sales (alas) and bric-a-brac shops and sundry other places are added, it's still possible to find secondhand books passing from hand to hand in all sorts of odd, out of the way and unexpected corners of these isles.

(Image of City Books, Rochester, one of the locations for the film The Last Bookshop).

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Ghost Story Awards

Announcing new annual awards devoted to the classic ghost story tradition…

Three stalwarts of the classic ghost story have combined to launch new awards for the best ghost story and the best ghost story collection each year. The journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales and the literary society A Ghostly Company will jointly sponsor the awards. The winners will be chosen by votes of their readers and members.

The term ‘ghost story’ is intended to be understood broadly, to mean any supernatural motif. The classic exponents of the field did not always write about ghosts, but also about a wide range of other uncanny entities, and sometimes left room for doubt too. The awards will cover new stories in a similar range. The awards are for short stories and short story collections or anthologies.

The first awards will be made in 2015 for stories and books first published in English in print and paper form in 2014. Voters will be able to name up to three choices for each award. Readers and members are asked to think about who they would like to vote for throughout the year. The book award may be for either a single-author collection or a multiple-author anthology. Votes will be requested early in 2015.

The awards will be made to the story and book receiving the most votes. As a safeguard, Award Administrators will exceptionally be able to disqualify any win resulting from unfair practice. They will also have the casting vote in the event of a tie.

The award winners will each receive a specially commissioned statuette and a year’s free membership or subscription to A Ghostly Company, Supernatural Tales and The Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter.

Enquiries to the Awards Secretary – Mark Valentine, markl[dot]valentine[at]btinternet[dot]com. Rules available on request.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Memoriam: Bill Holloway (1950-2014), director of A Voyage to Arcturus (1971)

Bill Holloway passed away in April at the age of 63, and I’d like to pay honor to his memory here.  A fuller obituary appears here.

I first came into contact with Bill in the mid-1990s, having tracked him down through the Antioch College alumni office, who passed on to me his address in Massachusetts. I was interested in learning more details about the college project he’d done in 1970-71, a film version of David Lindsay’s 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus.  We first chatted about this over the telephone on 2 April 1996, and got in touch again in 2003 as Bill made a transfer of the film to VHS, and subsequently re-edited the film for a DVD release. 

Bill Holloway and his camera
A Voyage to Arcturus was an independent study film project, and was filmed over three weeks during the summer of 1970, using local students and amateur actors.  It was made with a very small budget, using out of date black-and-white film stock.  Rod Serling saw a rough cut (without sound) on a visit to the college as an Antioch alumnus, and he assisted in getting an N.E.A. grant for money to finish making the film. For a few years around 1972-73 it received some distribution in the U.S. through the MacMillan Audio Brandon Catalog, but I doubt it played at very many venues.  The only contemporary review of it that I have seen dates from 1973, after a showing at a meeting of the Denver Science Fiction Association on July 21st.  The short review, by Phil Rose, reads in part:

Directing A Voyage to Arcturus
My general reaction is that a person would probably not enjoy it (or understand it at all) without having first read the book.  The special effects are minimal, many important scenes are omitted, and the ending of the film in no way does justice to the powerful climax of the book.  Still, for such an ambitious project there are many good scenes.  I found the portrayal of Krag particularly good, and that of Maskull not so good.  I would recommend, for group showings, that someone who has read the book give a brief outline of the story of Lindsay’s ideas before the viewing.

This isn’t an unfair critique, and Bill didn’t disagree with it. After all, the film was begun when he was nineteen, and shot with virtually no money, using students and amateurs. Bill felt the project was his education in film-making, and he thought the camera-work and composition was good, and that some of the footage had a really nice look.When he re-edited the film for the DVD release, he reworked the ending, even getting the original Nightspore (Tom Hastings) to do a new voice-over. 

Bill was a kind and interesting man, and he will be missed by everyone who knew him. The DVD of A Voyage to Arcturus is still available here, or you can see the seventy minute film on YouTube here, along with a short nine minute interview with Bill here (the same interview is on the DVD). 

The cover to the DVD

Who Wrote the R.R. Ryan Novels?

Someone recently asked me to draw together the various Wormwoodiana posts on Rex Ryan to explain why I believe he wrote the R.R. Ryan novels.  This struck as a useful thing to do, especially now now that Ramble House continues to issue the books as though they were written by Rex Ryan's daughter, Denice Bradley-Ryan.

When I first became interested in the identity of R.R. Ryan I thought like most people that the name was probably a pseudonym.  Nevertheless I went through the motions of looking through the birth/marriage/death indices for Great Britain looking for a Ryan whose first name started with “R.”  I checked the indices from 1940 – the year the last book was published – into the 1950s.  There were several candidates, including a few servicemen who died during the war (eg a few Richard Ryans, Robert Ryans etc), which would explain why no R.R. Ryan novels were published after 1940.   One of the possible candidates was a Rex Ryan, who had died at Hove in 1950.

When Random House finally allowed access to the R.R. Ryan file, the address on the contracts led me to the same Rex Ryan who had died in 1950.  All of the books are contracted to R.R. Ryan of 16 Granville Road, Hove, Sussex, except No Escape, Ryan’s last novel, which is addressed to 80B Lansdowne Place, Hove, Sussex.  Electoral rolls and phone directories show that Rex Ryan and his wife, Anne, had moved from 16 Granville Road to 80B Landsowne Place in 1939.  Rex Ryan’s death certificate revealed that he was a “retired theatrical manager and author”:


So, the primary documents point to Rex Ryan as the author of the books.  "R.R. Ryan" is not a pseudonym at all - seven of the Herbert Jenkins books were written under his own name (the exceptions being three books written under the name Cameron Carr, and one under the name John Galton).  Why the two pseudonyms?  R.R. Ryan was a prolific author – eleven novels were published in just five years – and the publisher may have felt it prudent to break up the torrent of R.R. Ryan titles so as not to flood the market.

There are two types of evidence used to establish an author’s identity – external documentary evidence and internal textual evidence.  “Internal,” as Altick and Fenstermaker observe in The Art of Literary Research, “is the more slippery.”  My view is that the documentary evidence is enough to prove Rex Ryan’s authorship.  Nevertheless, a powerful case can also be made for Rex Ryan on internal evidence. 

The biographical information that has emerged about Rex Ryan has been compelling in the context of the R.R. Ryan novels and shows the development of the writer – from an unusual and eccentric childhood in a large house replete with homemade theatre, a “Bluebeard’s Chamber,” and hidden rooms, plus the ignominy of his father going to prison; to his professional work in the theatre as actor, manager, playwright and novelist; and his unusual domestic life, constant travelling with his repertory companies, untimely pregnancies with children placed in foster homes.  The evidence shows that in the 1910s and early 1920s he wrote plays, many in collaboration with his partner, Annie Howard, and from the mid-1920s he wrote novels for the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Co.

Let’s have a look at some of the characteristics of the R.R. Ryan novels.

The theatre - even before I was aware of the existence of Rex Ryan it was clear that the author of the novels had a background in the theatre.  The protagonist in Devil’s Shelter is a London theatre actress.  The villain in The Right to Kill is a budding actor.  Cameron Carr’s A New face at the Door is set in a boarding-house (which Rex Ryan was familiar with) and the characters are members of a repertory company in a provincial theatre. The use of stage expressions and words are also suggestive.  In Echo of a Curse for example: ‘His head was bare, revealing a tough looking thatch, which was almost too course for human hair and resembled nothing so much as what is known in theatrical circles as a scratch wig.’  Similarly, slang such as “soger” for soldier, and expressions such as “we’re in, Meredith”, which derives from a music hall sketch called “The Bailiff”, first produced in 1907, indicate familiarity with popular theatre.  The melodramatic elements in the novels, which has led some modern critics to believe that Ryan was a woman, also reflect a background in theatre: ‘Mary, a bruise on her forehead, stood, in an unconscious attitude of crucifixion, back against the mantelpiece, her arms extended.’  This could almost be stage direction.

Dwayne Olson’s introduction to the Midnight House edition of Echo of a Curse is the best and most comprehensive essay on the R.R. Ryan novels, and he identifies common themes and interests across the novels: 

The moral angle – Herbert Jenkins billed The Right to Kill as a “profound study” of whether it was morally defensible to kill a person in certain circumstances, in this case where a woman’s virtue is at stake.  A similar theme is explored in Death of a Sadist and No Escape

Other R.R. Ryan novels have professed "serious" themes.  Consider the following contemporary review of The Subjugated Beast that appeared in the Aberdeen Journal in January 1938: “Those who read Mr Ryan’s “Devil’s Shelter” will find in this book similar elements, and if you liked the earlier book you will enjoy this one much more.  To Many, however, the thrill element is lost in the scientific and philosophic sidelights which tend to slow up the pace at which the grotesque plot should move to inspire unreservedly “the creeps.” Reading this book is like being drawn up in a train at every wayside station, when a metropolitan terminus is the destination.  There is much heaviness in the telling which should be got rid of.”

Other novels like Gilded Clay deal with moral dilemmas around abortion and unwanted pregnancy, and the hypocrisy of self-righteous men and women who judge “fallen” women who have lost their virtue through events they cannot control.  Jenkins' blurb for Gilded Clay says: "This is an important book: not only because it is a good story well told, but also because it deals with certain serious social problems in a most graphic and telling manner."

This moral content – often referred to in advertising material and reviews - is also a feature of many of his plays:


The Newcastle Daily Journal wrote of his play, “Slaves of Vice”, in February 1914: “This piece has been written with a purpose, for it exposes some of the evils of the white slave traffic.”

The moral angle is also explicit in much of the output of the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Co, which Rex Ryan wrote for – the expos√©s of the white slave trade, the difficulties faced by poor, young woman placed in difficult circumstances.  Rex Ryan’s novel, The Tyranny of Virtue, written under the name Noel Despard, is a prime example of this, and even has an author’s preface where he sets out his moral theme at some length.

The sadism of Ryan’s villains – R.R. Ryan novels are noted by modern critics for their sadistic villains and descriptions of depravities.  We see something of this already in his play The Secret Mother (1920): the censors “insisted on removing as ‘an unnecessary horror’ the visual evidence of a character having been flogged, and demanded ‘a written undertaking that the towel and shoulders marked with red will be omitted.” 

Madness – as with sadism, we also find madness in his plays: Ambrose in The Hooded Death has a split personality as a result of a head injury, leading a pious life on the one hand, and a life as the Hooded Death, desiring the death of his mother and sister, on the other - we see similar characters in Cameron Carr's The Other and Echo of a Curse.  Mad scientists, homicidal maniacs, demented wives, husbands or children were staples of the popular theatre of the day and, certainly, the R.R. Ryan novels can only be fully understood in the context of the popular theatre of the 1920s and ‘30s.

Black humour – in a couple of places Dwayne Olson emphasizes Ryan’s use of black humour.  Contemporary reviews of his plays also emphasize this aspect of his work.

Untimely pregnancy – untimely pregnancy often out of wedlock is another staple of R.R. Ryan’s novels, and this is also a feature of a number of his plays.  Rex Ryan and Anne Howard of course had first-hand experience of this and of the guilt and personal difficulties that arise as a consequence.

Difficult marital relationships – again, Rex Ryan may well have had first-hand experience of this with the break-up of his second marriage.  In 1924 the successful acting and writing pair Dennis Clyde and Annette Howard suddenly changed their names to Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke and their profile dropped markedly.  It could well be that Rex Ryan’s second wife had caught up with them and they felt it prudent to change their identities. 

Denice Bradley-Ryan - Ramble House has been reprinting the R.R. Ryan novels in recent times with introductions by John Pelan, who follows David Medhurst’s lead in asserting that Rex Ryan’s daughter, Denice Bradley-Ryan, wrote the novels published by Herbert Jenkins.  David Medhurst is the son of Denice Bradley-Ryan, and I've recently learnt that he is also now the R.R. Ryan estate holder. 

As far as I can make out no documentary evidence has ever been forthcoming linking Denice Bradley-Ryan to the novels R.R. Ryan, however David Medhurst says that his mother told him that she wrote more than the four Kay Seaton novels published between 1946-49, and that the style of the Herbert Jenkins novels is hers.  

This seems a curious position to take.  If Denice Bradley-Ryan wrote the R.R. Ryan novels why, when casting around for a pseudonym, would she choose one that so closely reflected her father’s name?
Whoever wrote the novels for publisher Herbert Jenkins was a prolific novelist – eleven books were published in four years.  And yet here is an article on Denice Bradley-Ryan (kindly sent to me by David Medhurst a few years ago) in The NAAFI News for Christmas 1949:

“If you have read “Phantom Fear” or “Tyranny Within” or “Pawns of Destiny,” by Kay Seaton, you have been entertained by a Naafi girl. “Kay Seaton” is the pen [name of] Miss Denice Bradley-Ryan, who works […] in H.Q. Staff Branch on BAOR, and writes novels in her hostel in the evenings. [Only her] closest friends knew her secret. She [writes the] books in longhand and sends the manuscript to her father in Hove, who has them [typed and] sent to the publishers. She is now working on a fourth novel, drawing on material […] BAOR.” Italics mine.

The article speaks for itself.