Friday, February 7, 2020

"NEW" AUTHORS: wartime settings (part 2 of 2)

Continuing on with nine more new additions to my main author list who all wrote at least one book dealing with World War II. They'll thus also likely all make it to my revamped World War II Book List, currently in process.

One of the most interesting of this batch comes to me courtesy of Gil (aka Cestina), who read the second of MARJORIE HESSELL TILTMAN's three memoirs of farm life, A Little Place in the Country (1944), which covers the early war years. Gil reckoned it was right up my alley, and I reckon she's right, but at the moment it's waiting on my TBR shelf. Hessell Tiltman's other two memoirs are Cottage Pie (1940) and The Birds Began to Sing (1952). She also published several novels. 

Her father was a successful art dealer and presumably influenced her debut novel, Quality Chase (1939), which was, according to the Guardian, "as convincing on the human side as it is brilliant in its evocation of bustling Birmingham and the policies, the humours, and the drama of the antique trade." Quality Chase's Daughter (1955) is presumably a sequel. Goodbye to Lilly House (1948) is a family saga: "The background is first the heterogeneous art world at the turn of the century, then theatrical circles as the stage first met the challenge of movies, and finally a Fleet Street scene of English journalism." The ending seems to take place during the Blitz. Details are sketchy about her wartime novel Mrs Morel (1942), but it appears to deal with village life before and during the war. She and her husband traveled extensively in Asia, and she used those backgrounds in Born a Woman (1951), about women in Japan in the aftermath of World War II, and Master Sarah (1959), about the opium wars in China.

Although your standard run-of-the-mill romance novel is not usually my cup of tea, I wonder if ELIZABETH FRAYNE might be one of the charming exceptions. Certainly some of her settings seem interesting enough: Her debut, Change of Hearts (1936), is set in a London movie studio, while Marvell's of Mayfair (1937) is set in a beauty parlor. Champagne in Spring (1938), meanwhile, deals with a woman whose artistic success threatens her marriage. But it was a short review of Life Goes On (1941) in the Guardian that really put her on my radar: "The four Brooke sisters in 'Life Goes On' are a bit 'awful and girlish,' to quote one of them—or three of them are—but their loves, which begin on a holiday in Cornwall from flower-shop keeping in Bayswater and 'go on' in spite of the war, are brightly told." Now if only it were possible to obtain a copy…

Alas, MARGARET BUTCHER is similarly inaccessible. She was a journalist and author of four novels. Details are lacking about Destiny on Demand (1938), except that it is included in some checklists of science-fiction and fantasy. Comet's Hair (1939) is described in a publisher's blurb as "A perfect picture of all that is good and bad in a typical English village … The ideal novel for those who require a skilfully told story full of life-like characters and charming pen pictures." 

But again, it's Vacant Possession (1940), a wartime novel about a group of neighbors living near the Fulham Road, that piqued my interest, but it appears to be hopeless to obtain. Her final novel, and the only one that's relatively accessible, is Hogdown Farm Mystery (1950), apparently a thriller.

NORA LLOYD is a bit more readily available. I've got my hands on her second novel, Sea Winds (1936), about a teenage girl who accompanies her doctor father to an isolated lighthouse island off of Ireland and creates complications for the handful of keepers living there. Glancing through it, it looks like a rather more grown up Mabel Esther Allan tale, with highly promising atmosphere. Her only other novel for adults was The Young May Moon (1935), which describes the Irish troubles of 1916-1917 through the eyes of a young girl. The Manchester Evening News said, "The haunting beauty of the Ireland of other days fills this first novel with a silvery light." 

Cover courtesy of my Fairy Godmother

Lloyd also wrote two children's titles, and it's the latter of those, The Young Liberators (1949), which made me sit up and take note. According to a blurb, it's "about an Anglo-French family's wartime exploits in the Savoy Alps."

I love a good research challenge, as you all know, and it's a great feeling when one finds a clue that allows for the identification of an author who has been a mystery at first. Lloyd was initially a challenge to identify. Desperately googling away, I finally came across a blog post here. The blogger mentioned having met Nora Lloyd during her later years, and also noted that she had written a novel about her aunt, one Alice Mary King, who was killed in the Irish War of Independence (presumably The Young May Moon). King, unlike Lloyd, is quite well documented, and some poking around on Ancestry led me straight to Lloyd. On the 1939 England & Wales Register, her occupation is shown as a publisher's reader as well as "research chemist".

FRANCES HARRIS has definite potential as well. She published four novels, which appear to be family comedy-dramas with some romantic elements. Fain Would I Change (1937) is about a family with two grown daughters, coping with the girls' romances, a cousin's elopement, and the mother's empty nest syndrome. The Sydney Morning Herald said: "[Harris] writes in the Jane Austen tradition, with sympathy and insight, and a shrewd sense of humour in regard to human weaknesses which enlivens the pages and often brilliantly illuminates her studies." 

Her fourth novel, June to September (1941), is the one of interest here, set among French, English, and Russian residents of a village in the South of France on the cusp of World War II—the Guardian called it "a simple, delightful book." Here's hoping, since it's on my TBR shelf as well. Her other titles are Villa Victoria (1938) and In Sleep a King (1939). Harris was married to Cyril Patrick Hankey, a Dean of Ely.

Another Frances, FRANCES GRAY, published only two novels, which seem to be fiercely satirical. B.U.N.C. (1938) sounds like it could have considerable relevance today, since it deals with industrial war profiteering: the Guardian said, "British and United National Chemicals sell virulent gas to a foreign Power and initiate an advertising campaign at home to sell gas masks and anti-gas to a torpid British Government." Perhaps it sounded far-fetched in 1938, but today it sounds sadly plausible. Her other novel, Period Piece (1941), is about the leisured classes, "seen with so merciless a comic eye and presented with such diabolical suavity that Period Piece will give sophisticates a couple of hours of pure pleasure" (Observer). I'm guessing that it must be set in wartime, but I haven't found additional details to confirm.

It's possible that MARGERIE SCOTT belongs on a Canadian women writers list. She definitely spent time there both before and after World War II but returned to England to organize a first aid post in Chelsea and remained for the duration of the war. She was a stage actress and author of five novels. Life Begins for Father (1939) was humorous in theme, but other details are lacking. Mine Own Content (1952) and The Darling Illusion (1955) both utilize flashbacks to tell women's lives—in the latter case, an actress who has been shot and killed as the novel opens, whom we then see growing up in Canada and in London during the Blitz. Return to Today (1961) dealt with a rekindled romance from wartime, while Mrs Tenterden appeared published posthumously in 1975.

I know just enough about MARJORIE SCOTT JOHNSTON to include her in these posts, but frustratingly little about her books. She published three novels in all, and a blurb from the Daily Telegraph called the second, Pilgrim and the Phoenix (1940), "one of the most absorbing novels produced by the war," but unfortunately gave not the slightest indication of its plot. Her other novels are The Mountain Speaks (1938), about a young woman running away from an unhappy love affair to an isolated Alpine village, and The Ghost in Galoshes (1941), which follows a young woman through the ups and downs of work in Fleet Street, publishing, and the BBC. I did find that Johnston was an enthusiastic Alpine climber and worked for a time with the Woolfs at the Hogarth Press.

And to end on even more of an anticlimax, ELIZABETH GORELL came to my attention because of an ad for her 1941 children's title (I think), So Early in the Morning, which was apparently based on her own children who had been evacuated to America and so therefore (presumably) deals with evacuated children (?). Her other titles include Miss Fairitch and the Little Greenes (1943), Fay's Croombe (1944), The Bear Garden (1945, illustrated by Dorothy BURROUGHES), and The Captured Stream (1950). Earlier in her life, she had apparently acted as a medium as part of William Butler Yeats researches into the occult.

On that vague note, that's all for this post. There are still quite a number of new authors to mention from the last update, however, including "new" mystery writers, children's authors, and more, so stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Scott, after reading your post, this Canadian went on the hunt for books by Margerie Scott. I found a nice copy of The Darling Illusion which I bought from an Australian bookseller. Months passed, Covid-19 raged, and I all but gave up on ever seeing the book.

    But it arrived a couple of weeks ago.

    I've now read and reviewed it. Wish I could say it is an undiscovered classic. It's not, though it is interesting. I don't for a moment regret the purchase.

    If interested, here are my thoughts:

    They Fell in Love With the Actress

    Thank you for bringing Margerie Scott to my attention.


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