Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sorting Out Jonathan Aycliffe / Daniel Easterman / Denis MacEoin

"Jonathan Aycliffe" is the pseudonym, for ghostly novels and short stories, of Denis MacEoin, who writes academic works under his own name, but who is best known for his international thrillers, many set in the Middle East, written under his "Daniel Easterman" pseudonym. Recently I discovered that there was a (new to me) Jonathan Aycliffe novel published a few years ago after a long gap.  This inspired me to sort out his publications, some of which originally appeared in hardcover, others in paperback (listed below as tp = trade paperback or mm = mass market sized).  Some first appeared in England; some in Canada; some in the U.S.  The Aycliffe novels are basically commercial supernatural fiction, but they are very well-done and engaging, though some are better than others.  The best Aycliffe one is (arguably) Whispers in the Dark.

Denis MacEoin was born as Denis Martin McKeown on 26 January 1949, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the son of David McKeown (1922-1995); he apparently altered the spelling of his surname as a young adult.  He studied at the Belfast Royal Academical Institution, then at Trinity College, Dublin, where he specialized in medieval literature (MA in English Literature, 1971), the University of Edinburgh (MA in Persian and Arabic, 1975), and at King's College Cambridge (PhD in Persian studies, 1979). He married in 1975; his wife, Beth MacEoin, has three degrees, in English, Art History, and homeopathic medicine; she has written many books on homeopathy and natural health. Denis was a lecturer at the University of Fez, Morocco, 1979-80, and lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Newcastle, 1981-86, after which he became a freelance writer, though he has more recently been involved professionally with editing the Middle East Quarterly, beginning in 2009, and afterwards becoming (around 2013) a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

In 1980 MacEoin made a formal break with the Baha'i religion he had converted to at the age of seventeen. In 1994 he wrote:  "I'm very sceptical about religions and occult beliefs, astrology, reincarnation, New Age ideas and so on, but as anyone who has read my novels will know, I am deeply conscious of the importance of the irrational as a factor in human life. Even scientists often adopt an irrational position in defence of pure science just as secularists adopt an irrational stance about secularism."  On the topic of ghosts  he is a non-believer, but is "spooked" by old houses and graveyards:  "Much of this is undoubtedly childhood fears carried into adulthood, although I think ghosts represent much more than that: they represent memories, regrets, remorse, inability to come to terms with the past, the presence of our own past in our present, or the simple sense of continuity with people now dead. I am perpetually puzzled by one curious thing. There are three ghost-story writers closely attached  to King's College: M.R. James, A.N.L Munby and myself. All three of use were, in some measure, bibliographers and antiquarians, and all three of us have published serious studies in that area. But however much I ponder on this, I can never quite work out what significance, if any, to attribute to it."

Of his thrillers, he noted in a 1993 interview that "If you read the Eastermans you will see there is an element of playing with the supernaturala person seemingly coming back from the dead, characters having visions and so oneven though there is an ultimately rational explanation. But always, because they are thrillers, you have to bring them back to reality." In the same interview he said: "The thrillers require all sorts of research to underpin the reality. In order to keep the reader believing them you can't let them go that bit too far. Indeed I've had letters from people who believe them in their entirety. This particularly applied to Brotherhood of the Tomb. An awful lot of people thought I really knew about the secret brotherhood in that book. But if you create something as fanciful as that you've got to try to get your facts right and hope that your reader will go along with you for the duration of the story. You cannot in that context allow yourself the luxury of having genuine supernatural events, But supernatural fiction allows you to break beyond the bounds of plausibility and get away from having to depend on the illusion of reality."

In a biographical note about MacEoin at the Middle East Forum it presents the following impressions of MacEoin:

Denis has a range of interests. He runs a blog entitled 'A Liberal Defence of Israel' and is involved with pro-Israel activity in the UK. He is a huge fan of Portuguese fado music and is currently trying to organize a concert to include Portuguese musicians and British poets reading translations of the poetry used in the songs. He loves French cinema, American films like Metropolitan and Lost in Translation, Persian classical music (Muhammad Reza Shajarian above all), Arabic and Persian calligraphy, and a wide range of British and American novelists. He also loves the best US TV shows, from NYPD and The West Wing to ER and Mad Men, as well as a steady diet of British classical dramas from Austen to Mitford. He is a former President of the UK Natural Medicines Society, and continues to take an interest in the debate over alternative and complementary medicine.

As "Jonathan Aycliffe" he has published nine novels and two short stories, the bibliographical details of which are given below, along with notice of some interviews (with links to the online ones).  As "Daniel Easterman" he has published sixteen novels (one with a different title in the US and UK), and one nonfiction book.  As "Denis MacEoin" he has published seven books and one booklet, some based on his theses; another book was published online (google for Music, Chess and other Sins: Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain, 2009). Most of the bibliographies (online or offline) have conflicting dates for the first publication of Aycliffe's/Easterman's/MacEoin's books. I spent a considerable amount of time sorting them out, and hope that I have the facts (formats, months and years for Aycliffe; just years for the other bylines) and chronology correct. Here are the bibliographies, Aycliffe first, followed by Easterman and then MacEoin.

Books by “Jonathan Aycliffe”

Naomi’s Room
            London: HarperCollins, [November] 1991 [hc 0-246-13892-0,
                        tp 0-246-13926-9]
            New York: HarperPaperbacks, [April] 1992 [mm]
            London: Grafton, [November] 1992 [mm]
            London: Corsair, [October] 2013 [tp]

Whispers in the Dark
            London: HarperCollins [November] 1992 [hc 0-246-13893-9,
                        tp 0-246-13927-7]
            New York: HarperPaperbacks, [May] 1993  [mm]
            London: HarperCollins, [November] 1993 [mm]
            London: Constable, [October] 2014 [tp]

The Vanishment
            London: HarperCollins, [November] 1993  [hc 0-00-224160-9,
                       tp 0-00-224157-9]
            New York: HarperPaperbacks, [June] 1994  [mm]
            London: HarperCollins, [November] 1994 [mm]
            London: Constable, [October] 2014 [tp]

The Matrix
            London: HarperCollins, [November] 1994  [hc]
            New York: HarperPaperbacks, [April] 1995 [mm]
            London: HarperCollins, [November] 1995 [tp]
            London: Corsair, [October] 2013 [tp]

The Lost
            New York: HarperPrism, [June] 1996 [hc]
            London: HarperCollins, [November] 1996 [hc 0-00-225239-2,
                        tp 0-00-649615-6]
            New York: HarperPrism, [August] 1998 [mm]
            London: Constable, [October] 2015 [tp]

The Talisman
            Ashcroft, British Columbia: Ash-Tree Press, [November] 1999
                        [600 copies]
            London: Severn House, [February] 2001 [hc]  
            London: Constable, [October] 2015 [tp]

A Shadow on the Wall
            London: Severn House, [February] 2000  [hc]
            New York: Night Shade Books, [February] 2015 [hc]
            London: Constable, [October] 2015 [tp]
            New York: Night Shade Books, [August] 2016 [tp]

A Garden Lost in Time
            London: Allison & Busby, [January] 2004  [hc]
            Eugene, OR: Bruin Books, [October] 2013  [tp]

The Silence of Ghosts
            London: Corsair, [October] 2013 [tp]
            New York: Night Shade Books, [February] 2015 [hc]
            New York: Night Shade Books, [April] 2016 [tp]

Short Stories:

“The Reiver’s Lament”
            In Blue Motel (1994), ed. Peter Crowther
“The Scent of Oranges”
            In Midnight Never Comes (1997), ed. by Barbara and 
                       Christopher Roden

“Jonathan Aycliffe Prefers the Shadows”
            In Wordsmiths of Wonder (1993), by Stan Nicholls
Interview with Paul MacAvoy
            Prism, 2003
“Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Aycliffe” by Lucy Moore
            FemaleFirst, posted 30 November 2013

Books by “Daniel Easterman”

The Last Assassin (1985)
The Seventh Sanctuary (1987)
The Ninth Buddha (1988)
Brotherhood of the Tomb (1989)
Night of the Seventh Darkness (1991)
Name of the Beast (1992)
New Jerusalems: Reflections on Islam, Fundamentalism and the 
            Rushdie Affair (1993) by Daniel Easterman   [nonfiction]
The Judas Testament (1994)
Night of the Apocalypse (US May 1995), retitled Day of Wrath (UK 
            October 1995)
The Final Judgement (1996)
K (1997), sometimes listed as K Is for Killing
Incarnation (1998)
The Jaguar Mask  (2000)
Midnight Comes at Noon (2001)
Maroc (2002)
The Sword  (2007)
Spear of Destiny (2009)

Books by “Denis MacEoin”

A Revised Survey of the Sources for Early Bābī Doctrine and History 
           (PhD. thesis, King's College Cambridge, 1977)
Islam in the Modern World (1983), ed. Denis MacEoin and Ahmed 
A People Apart: The Bahaʼi Community of Iran in the Twentieth 
            Century (1989) [booklet, 35 pp.]
The Sources for Early Bābī Doctrine and History (1992) 
The Hijacking of British Islam: How Extremist Literature Is 
            Subverting Mosques in the UK (2007) 
Sharia Law or "One Law for All?" (2009)
The Messiah of Shiraz: Studies in Early and Middle Babism (2009) 
            [revision of a 1979 thesis]
Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism (2014)


  1. Many thanks for all this hard work, Doug. I had no idea that Aycliffe was Easterman, let alone MacEoin. I must find out more about the Easterman thrillers. In some ways, MacEoin reminds me of Robert Irwin, who manages to produce serious Arabic scholarship, lively popularizations of that scholarship,and imaginative novels of various kinds, while also working as the Middle East editor at the TLS and, to some degree, as the force behind Dedalus Books, with its emphasis on decadent literature. --md

    1. Interesting comparison with Robert Irwin, though of the two I'd say that MacEoin deliberately aims for the general market, while Irwin takes the higher road. My favorite Robert Irwin book is The Arabian Nights: A Companion (1996).

    2. Oops. The year of publication for The Arabian Nights: A Companion should be 1994.

  2. Here's a first for Wormwoodiana. I received a comment which I'm excerpting below, rather than merely approving it for release. It deserves an answer, but (as even the comment-maker says) politics has no place in this forum. Thus I have deleted the charged language of the comment. Though the comment was signed, this person's google profile does not give any way to contact him directly.

    "Commentary on a writer's fictional work is all well and good on this site. But I'm curious. Why do you give a platform for this <7 words deleted> diatribes. <139 words deleted> I could say much more but as I also don't want to bring politics into this forum I will say no more."

    Obviously I am interested in the Aycliffe fiction. I have never read anything bylined Easterman or MacEoin, but I think it is interesting to see any author's bibliography in toto. Without listing the MacEoin titles, particularly from 2007 to 2014, one would really be left to wonder why there was no Aycliffe fiction published for nine years after 2004, and only two Eastermans in that time period. Doubtless an author's real life interests inform their fiction, whatever their political stripe, and authors interest me, whether I agree with them or not. I'll leave that as my final comment on this topic.