Thursday, June 15, 2017

Newbies (1 of 4)

After months of working on it every free moment, my newly-revised, significantly expanded main list is just about ready to roll out. Thanks is due to the Middlebrow Syllabus, which bought me a lot of time to focus on the list instead of on reviews or other content, and to you all for enthusiastically embracing that list so I didn't feel so bad about neglecting you.

I've been holding off on discussing a bunch of new authors until the revised list was complete. There are 60 new additions in all, and I decided to be uncharacteristically linear in discussing them here—I'm actually taking them in alphabetical order, with 15 authors in each of four posts. This is strikingly disciplined for me, but next time the randomness may return. Who can say?

Every time I add new authors to my list, I repeat that I'm surprised how many really interesting or substantial new authors are still out there. It's getting rather dull, and one would think eventually it would no longer be true—surely the number of British women writing fiction in a 50 year period must be finite!—but I'm apparently not there yet. Not all of these are scintillating, of course, but a fair number of them are quite intriguing.

So, starting at the top, slightly anticlimactically, with an author about whom I know relatively little. MIRIAM ALEXANDER wrote five novels with Irish themes. The first, at least, is historical. The House of Lisronan (1912, aka Beyond the Law), set during the 17th century Williamite War, was quite a success, going through six editions in 1912 alone. According to Ricorso, The Green Altar (1924) "deals with the national question and includes accounts of the Gaelic League and the Black and Tans." Her other novels were The Port of Dreams (1912), The Ripple (1913), and Miss O'Corra, M.F.H. (1915).

Much more is known about MEA ALLAN, and it appears she was a bit of a trailblazer. According to Wikipedia, Allan "was the first female war correspondent accredited by the British military and the first female news editor on Fleet Street." Later on in her career, she specialized in books about gardening and botany—her 1967 title, The Hookers of Kew, 1785-1911, is not nearly so scandalous as it might sound, dealing with botanists William Hooker and Joseph Dalton Hooker. In between those two careers, however, she also wrote four novels, including Change of Heart (1943), which imagines the Allies winning World War II only to find Nazi beliefs regaining ground.

Back on Irish themes: I don't know how many readers these days are into tales of the Irish hunting set, but if there are some you may want to add MARIGOLD ARMITAGE to your TBR lists. Her debut, A Long Way to Go (1952), was described by Lionel Gamlin as a "vastly entertaining story of a gloriously unbalanced hunting community in County Tipperary". Armitage published one sequel, A Motley to the View (1961), and reportedly worked on a third volume, to be called A Run for My Money, but it was never completed. She was the daughter of the controversial head of the Royal Air Force in World War II, Arthur "Bomber" Harris—see here.

Actually, several of my new authors have links (not surprisingly) to the two world wars. BANCO is the pseudonym of an unidentified author who seems, by internal evidence, to have been a woman, but we don't know for certain. Her 1915 novel, The Outrage, was about a woman novelist trapped in a Belgian town when the Germans arrive, and was criticized by one reviewer for excessive violence. She wrote at least five other novels, but information is sketchy.

Meanwhile, NATALIE BARKAS is linked to World War II via her husband, filmmaker Geoffrey Barkas, who was also a camouflage expert during the war. She published several books about the making of his films, as well as two children's books—The Quest of the Bellamy Jewels (1949), based on a play by Michael Berrenger, and The Gold Hunters (1963). She comes to my list straight from the Oxfam shop in York that made me realize an additional suitcase would be necessary for our flight back. I didn't buy Bellamy Jewels, but I did note her name.

Despite the fact that I'm proceeding in strictly alphabetical order, it so happens that MARY BOSANQUET is also added to my list thanks to Oxfam. Andy patiently took cell phone pics of a copy of her one adult novel, The Man on the Island (1962), about a lonely young woman finding new friendships while studying in the north of England. She fits my time frame because of an earlier children's book, People with Six Legs (1953). She also has a war connection, as the second of two travel books she published, Journey Into a Picture (1947), deals with her time with the YMCA in Italy in the final year of World War II. From my earlier mention of her, however, it seems her best known title is her first memoir, Saddlebags for Suitcases: Across Canada on Horseback (1942), which detailed her gruelling horseback ride from Vancouver to New York. That book was later reprinted as Canada Ride.

There are a number of authors of my list that I know little about, but D. KATHERINE BRERETON may take the cake. Not only have we not been able to identify her or find out any details, but apparently no one can even pen down the year that her one children's title, The Savages on Gale Island, was published (1950 seems to be a bookseller consensus). The book is not listed in the British Library or Library of Congress catalogues, nor in Worldcat, though copies are available for sale, so the book does indeed exist. She was also the author of a number of stories in periodicals at around the same time. Perhaps she went into a witness relocation program? Or was she an alien accidentally left behind on Earth, who wrote a children's book to kill time until she was rescued?

I came across GRACE CARLTON because one of her books was listed on the back of a Dorothy Hunt novel, but her three novels—The Wooden Wedding (1923), The Black Ace (1924), and Shuttlecock (1947)—remain a mystery to me. She was the daughter of publisher and editor Thomas Greenwood, and later wrote a biography of him as well as one about Friedrich Engels.

NINA CARROLL and CLAUDIA CLEEVE each wrote only one book. Carroll's—Adventure on the Moon (1947)—is perhaps the most impressive for having been written and illustrated by Carroll herself when she was only 12 years old. She can therefore be added to my virtual list of child prodigies à la Daisy Ashford. Cleeve's one children's book, by contrast—Oak Apple Inn at Thistledown Bottom (1942)—didn't appear until she was just shy of 60. It's certainly a catchy title.

I was driving myself crazy for a day or two with VALENTINE CLEMOW, who started as a silent film and stage actress before going on to write eight romantic novels. I knew I had added an author to my list who was a silent film actress whose films have now mostly been lost, and for some reason I was convinced it was Clemow. Finally, I identified her as OLGA PETROVA (real name Muriel Harding), who I added to my list with the last update. Information about Clemow's film work is very difficult to come by, however, so it's possible that some of her work has been lost as well. My time-wasting led me to the National Film Preservation Society here, where I learned, in five minutes flat, 1) that as few as 20% of U.S. films from 1910-1930 survive (presumably the situation is much the same in the U.K.), and 2) that most of a previously lost Alfred Hitchcock film was recently unearthed in New Zealand. The internet is a wondrous place for accruing odd bits of information.

It rather seems as though NICOLETTE DEVAS should have been in my sights before now, considering the status of her famous in-law, but in fact it wasn’t until Patrick Murtha, a reader of this blog, emailed me about her that I first heard her name. She was the sister-in-law of no lesser figure than poet Dylan Thomas, and was even, along with Dylan and his wife Caitlin (Nicolette's sister), portrayed in the 2008 film The Edge of Love. She published four novels, but she's best known for the memoir Two Flamboyant Fathers (1966), which tells of her childhood moving freely between two households—her own, led by an eccentric Irish poet father, and that of the family's neighbor, artist Augustus John, who was leading a bohemian lifestyle with numerous friends and family members. A subsequent memoir, Susanna's Nightingales (1978), traces the maternal line of her family. See here for more information about her.

Jumping just slightly out of order, to another famous connection, though this one's not exactly a household name: CLAUDE DU GRIVEL (born Florence Marie DuGrivel Oxenford), who wrote three historical novels in the 1940s and 1950s, was the mother of actress Daphne Oxenford. Google had to tell me who she was too, but some of you in the U.K. may know her voice from the opening of the radio show Listen With Mother. She was also an early cast member on Coronation Street and apparently a shop owner in To the Manor Born, so I must have seen her but I can't for the life of me recall a shop owner at all. I know even less about her daughter, though King, Queen, Knave (1946) is apparently set in "the stirring days of King John and Magna Carta."

JANE DOE, meanwhile, was best known for her "Through the Glad Eyes of a Woman" columns in the Daily Chronicle and Sunday News in the 1920s and 1930s, but she did publish a single novel, The Enchanted Duchess (1931), described by one source as a "bodice-ripper." She also published three collections of her columns in the 1920s.

And last but not least is WATSON DYKE, whose output of four novels in 32 years could hardly be called prolific. The Monthly Packet said that her first, Craiktrees (1897), was "monstrously overweighted with dialect." I'm a bit intrigued by her second, though—according to the Outlook, As Others See Us (1899), is about "a silly but open-hearted, a deceitful but ingenuous governess in a seaside boarding school." It will appear on my Grownup School Story List whenever I get around to updating it next. Dyke (real name May Bradley) lived in the U.S. for many years, basing her third novel, The Hunter (1918), there. Late in life, she returned to England and lived in Yorkshire.

I have to confess that from this batch of newbies, there are probably only a couple of titles I'm adding to my TBR list, and those both non-fiction. Several readers recommended Mary Bosanquet's Saddlebags for Suitcases when I mentioned her before, and I am certainly intrigued by Nicolette Devas's Two Flamboyant Fathers. What about you? Do you see anything that catches your eye here?


  1. Scott, I am IN LOVE with some of the cover art! I can envision reproductions of the covers neatly matted and framed andhungin rows in my den - although it owujld be hard to replace the sert of old(er!) LP covers now hanging there - I mean, Tammi Wynett, Claudine Longet (my only album by an acquitted murderess!) and Baltimora! Still - your covers are fabboo~ Tom

    1. Thanks, Tom. Of course, I had to look up Claudine Longet, of whom I'd never heard!

  2. Although none of these are household names, I am impressed by the varied and interesting lives they led apart from writing. Quite a few of the titles also sound intriguing, and I would probably give them a chance if I found them in a charity shop.

  3. Scott, was 'The Savages on Gale Island' published by Spring, by any chance? I have a couple of girls' school stories published by Spring which also aren't in any catalogues (Bodley, BL, Congress, etc) in the early 1950s. I think this was because the books were printed in Czechoslovakia, and if Spring (the 1950s imprint of Andrew Dakers) didn't bother to send the books to the copyright libraries, the libraries themselves wouldn't have known about them.

    1. I looked at some of the listings for the book on Abe, and yes indeed, Spring is shown as the publisher. How interesting. So a search for Spring Books titles might bring up several more mystery authors. Hmm...

  4. Two Flamboyant Fathers was much in demand when I worked at Ringwood Library in the 1970s/80s Augustus John and his extended family had lived near Fordingbridge - just up the road towards Salisbury - and Caspar John was one of our readers, as was Bridget - whose surname escapes me - who was also somehow related/connected.

    1. How interesting, Ruth. It does sound like an intriguing book, and the Johns must have been an interesting family.

    2. Interesting and highly unconventional! I did read the book at the time, but cannot now remember many details. Well-written, though, and certainly worth your time reading it if you can track a copy down.


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