Friday, January 6, 2012

Vivian Meik


Vivian Meik (b. at sea, registered at Calcutta, 21 July 1894; d. San Clemente, California, 22 December 1955)

Vivian Bernard Meik was the son of Lorenzo Meik (1847-1918), a maritime inspector based in India, and his wife Alice Gertrude Thomas (1856-1918). Meik’s family were originally from Scotland, but his father and grandfather had mostly lived in India. He was the oldest surviving child of five (an older brother and an older sister had died in infancy); he had two younger brothers. 

Details of his early life are sketchy, and by his own account (which often seems exaggerated) he claimed to have circled the globe three times before he was eighteen.  In 1913 he was working on a rice plantation in Borneo, and after the outbreak of war he was commissioned in Calcutta and served with the British Sixth Division, being wounded a number of times. He claimed to have earned the Croix de Guerre for acts of bravery. In Calcutta, on 14 October 1916, he married a woman named Bernadette Marie (1898-1981), whose original surname was possibly Desperadza (after her divorce from Meik, probably in the late 1920s, she used the surname Cooke, before changing it officially in 1946 to D’Esperance; it became Nightingale after her 1961 marriage to Peter Nightingale).  They had two children, a son Colvin Bernard Peter Meik (1917-1996) and daughter Valerie (1924-2003).

After demobilization in 1919, Meik joined the staff of the Bengali-Nagpur Railway, based out of Calcutta, as an assistant traffic superintendent. For this (and other) railway-associated work, he traveled extensively, and was eventually transferred to Central Africa. In 1928, bothered by war wounds, Meik left the tropics and soon settled in London, where he took up writing. Probably in the late 1920s he was also divorced from his first wife, and married Elsie May Howard (1903-1997), known familiarly as “Eve”.

His first book was a type of sensational nonfiction, The People of the Leaves (1931), in which Meik claimed to have discovered a race of primitive aborigines in a little-known section of India. It was fairly successful, and also had an American edition, published by Henry Holt. Zambezi Interlude (1932) is a kind of follow-up, covering Meik’s experiences in central Africa. Lacking the narrative hook of the first volume, it is more personal and, perhaps as a consequence, more interesting, but it did not sell nearly as well.

With Devils’ Drums (London: Philip Allan, 1933), Meik turned to fiction. A collection of ten short stories with recurring characters, most of the tales concern central African voodoo, witch doctors, and curses. These stories are well-executed and are a refreshing change from the typical British horror stories of the 1930s.  One story, “The Doll of Death”, was filmed in 1973 as an episode of Rod Serling’s Night GalleryDevils’ Drums was published as part of the famous “Creeps” series, edited by Charles L. Birkin.  Meik contributed one related story to one of the “Creep” anthologies, Monsters (1934). 

A follow-up novel, focusing on new figures but with brief appearances by some of the characters from Devils’ Drums, was The Veils of Fear (London: Philip Allan, 1934).  In it a small group travels to the Near East, to the Himalayas, and on to Hong Kong in order to challenge two figures of supernatural evil. As a novel it is unsuccessful, with long dream sequences that backtrack the plot, and a terrible ending in which one of the major point-of-view characters realizes in the final line that he is dead.

Philip Allan edition
Hillman-Curl editoin
Meik’s next novel, The Curse of Shiva (London:  Philip Allan, 1936; New York:  Hillman-Curl, 1938), was also his last, but it shows considerable improvement in pacing, and in the narrative handling of a long story.  It is a non-fantasy thriller based on the enactment of a centuries-old Indian curse in modern London. The Saturday Review described the book as a "blood and thunder yarn of slinking Eurasians, renegade whites, stranglings, etc., with reasonably good detective trimmings" (23 July 1938). 

In late 1935, Meik turned to journalism, and this seems to have put an end to his fiction writing.  Owing to his expertise in Africa, he was hired to cover the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. Around the start of WW II, Meik joined the staff of The People, a weekly, then the largest circulation English language newspaper in the world.  He also worked for other similar weeklies, like The Illustrated and John Bull. He was in London during the Blitz, and lost his left eye during the intense bombing. 

His final book was the small polemic, Nemesis over Hitler (1941), which is a sensationalist attack on Hitler, claiming to cover supposed inside meetings of Hitler’s inner circle in Berlin. Towards the end of the war, Meik began to investigate Mormonism, and he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in April 1946.  The following year, he moved with his family to Salt Lake City, where the Church has its headquarters, and where his uncle resided. Meik joined the staff of the church-owned Deseret News, where he was given a column entitled “Interpreting the News”.

Medusa Press edition
In 1953 Meik moved with his family to San Clemente, California. In early 1955, owing to ill health, he gave up his column. He suffered a fatal heart attack while driving his car during the afternoon of 22 December 1955. 

Vivian Meik published six books: two novels, one short story collection, and three works of nonfiction. His best work is to be found in his short stories.  A long-overdue expanded edition of Devil’s Drums, adding two stray tales and an excerpt from Zambezi Interlude, appeared in 2011 from Medusa Press. This edition is limited to 300 copies. For ordering information, see the Medusa Press website HERE.  


NB: This entry updates and is based on part of my more detailed “Introduction” to the 2011 expanded edition of Devils’ Drums, published by Medusa Press. 

4 comments:

  1. your research is pretty good...but not quite accurate..Eve, Elsie Meik was my grandmother, and Valerie, was my mother...Vivian died before I was born, but my older brothers knew him. All the while I grew up hearing wonderful stories of what a great man he was, so kind, intelligent and top notch. One day I will post more of him

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    1. I have found these entries about Vivian Meik most interesting. My Grandfather was George Gelder (1879-1923) and he worked for the Calcutta Port Commissioners as a Boat Gunner at Kidderpore Docks, Calcutta with V. B Meik (believed to be Vivian Bernard Meik) and B. V. Mann (Source: 1915 edition of Thacker’s Indian Directory). A Boat Gunner or Supervisor was responsible for checking the ingress and egress of all craft entering or leaving the Docks.

      I have also located Vivian Meik’s Baptism and marriage records in the British Library India Office Records.

      I would be interested to know whether Vivian Meik has left any documents/memorabilia/recollections of his time working with George Gelder and/or at Kidderpore Docks or whether this features in any of his writing. Given the date of Vivian Meik's marriage I wonder if there are any photographs or guest lists of the occasion and whether his workmate George Gelder attended.

      Look forward to hearing from you.


      John Gelder

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  2. Thanks for writing. Please do post more of him someday. The details I have of his family come from genealogical sources and his books, none of which are sources free from error. I'll be glad to have further specifics.

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  3. Most interesting. Presently I lay claim to 197 MEIK cousins, based (I fear) too much on other people's information - and I'd be happy to share what I think I know with you & "Anonymous" - try me at don(dot)montague(at)virgin(dot)net.

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