Sunday, August 12, 2018

Harry Ludlam

Harry Ludlam in 2005
Harry Ludlam (b. reg. Holborn, London, Oct-Dec 1924; d. reg. Hastings, Somerset, 25 November 2011)

Herbert William Ludlam, always known as Harry, was the son of  Charles W. Ludlam and his wife, Winifred Hook, who were married in Tendring, Essex, in early 1924.  Little is known of his early life, but during W.W. II he served in the R.A.F. in the Far East. After the war he was engaged in newspaper work, in the Midlands and later in London. Harry Ludlam married Barbara E. Steele in Birmingham in the summer of 1951. They had two children.

In the early 1950s, Ludlam met Bela Lugosi, and a few years later he found a cheap first edition of Dracula (a book he had previously encountered as a schoolboy) and began to work on a biography of Bram Stoker. Ludlam had written short stories and novels without any achieving publication, and he yearned to do something more noteworthy.  He was aided by Stoker's son, Noel, and Ludlam spent seven years researching the book, which finally came out as A Biography of Dracula: The Life Story of Bram Stoker (1962), some months after Noel Stoker's death. Decades later Ludlam would publish a short book My Quest for Bram Stoker (2000), which gives an account of the evolution of Ludlam's most famous work. The Stoker biography was pioneering, as no one had bothered previously to study Stoker in such detail. Despite several more recent (and much better sourced) biographies of Stoker, Ludlam's anecdotal book still retains interest. (A paperback edition from New English Library in 1977 was more sensibly titled A Biography of Bram Stoker: Creator of Dracula.)

After his first book, Ludlam published prolifically. His publisher, Foulsham, hired him to edit two volumes of "true" hauntings by Elliott O'Donnell (1872-1965), who was a very popular figure in his time for his lectures, broadcasts and writings on the paranormal, being well-known as the premiere  ghost-hunter. The first, The Screaming Skulls and Other Ghost Stories (1964), contains thirty-eight of O'Donnell's tales compiled and arranged by Ludlam from O'Donnell's many books. Ludlam also contributed a one-page introduction about O'Donnell. The second, The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts (1965), contains another thirty-seven tales, similarly arranged by Ludlam, with an even shorter introduction. After O'Donnell's death, Ludlam was given to complete O'Donnell's last project, which he was working on when he died.  It was published as Elliott O'Donnell's Casebook of Ghosts (1969). A further collection appeared as Elliott O'Donnell's Ghost Hunters (1971). It has no introduction but on the dust-wrapper it notes that "recent discovery of further papers among the effects of the late Elliott O'Donnell makes possible this collection of true stories by Britain's most renowned ghost-hunter." It contains eighteen tales. An Omnibus edition Elliott O'Donnell's Great Ghost Stories (1983) collects only two books, The Screaming Skull and Other Ghosts from 1964 and Elliott O'Donnell's Casebook of Ghosts from 1969.  The 1991 volume The Great Ghost Hunter (as by Elliott O'Donnell, with the cover title True Stories form the Great Ghost Hunter) contains twenty-one tales; it is basically a reprint of Elliott O'Donnell's Ghost Hunters from 1971, with the final three tales in the book being reprinted from The Midnight Hearse (1965), itself having been made up of reprints from previous publications.

Ludlam launched his own series of books of true hauntings with The Mummy of Birchen Bower and Other True Ghosts (1967) and The Restless Ghosts of Ladye Place and Other True Hauntings (1967).  Both volumes were combined in 1985 in what was labeled by the publisher "A Harry Ludlam Omnibus" but which was otherwise confusingly titled the same as his first volume, The Mummy of Birchen Bower and Other True Ghosts. In the 1990s Ludlam published two further volumes of true hauntings,  Ghosts Among Us (1994) and True Ghost Stories (1999). 

The 2005 Ash-Tree reprint, using the first edition cover art
In 1964, Ludlam published his first novel, The Coming of Jonathan Smith (retitled Witch's Curse in the 1969 U.S. paperback edition).  This book is Ludlam's most significant achievement in the weird fiction genre. It is supposedly based on some material discovered during Ludlam's research on his Stoker biography.  The story concerns a haunting from the past by a malevolent spirit which is possibly causing suicides in the present. The details of the haunting aren't entirely worked out (some aspects are left without any explanation or context), but the narrative is engaging.  Ludlum's second novel was a paperback original, Oh Jimmy, You’ve Gone (1974), in which a rock-star continues to make and release hits after his supposed death in an airplane crash.

Ludlam also published another biography, Captain Scott: The Full Story (1965), about the antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912).  And with Paul Lund, Ludlam began a series of books that recount various stories of action in World War II.  These include: PQ 17: Convoy to Hell (1968);
Trawlers Go To War (1971); Night of the U-boats (1973); The War of the Landing Craft (1976); Out Sweeps! (1978); and Nightmare Convoy (1987). The series was very popular. Atlantic Jeopardy (1990) is a compilation of the first three volumes. In 2010-12 the six books were reissued in a series headed "I Was There" with the original titles sometimes slightly altered.  The first few came out as trade paperback and ebooks, but subsequently the others came out as ebooks only.  

Lund and Ludlam also tried their hand at military fiction of World War II, including novels The Fate of the 'Lady Emma' (1978); Hit the Beach (1979); and Icekill (1984). 

Ludlam's final solo novel was The Eye of Starosta: Being the Strange Journals of Captain Adam Thain (2005). Billed as his "second horror-thriller" (the first being The Coming of Jonathan Smith), it is the reminiscences of Adam Thain, a criminal who committed supernaturally-inspired atrocities in World War II who is imprisoned by his mother at a house in Cornwall. Sadly, the novel is rather diffuse and ineffective.  

Ludlam's final book was Talk of the Devil ... and His Awful Relations (2006), a slim collection of eighteen lighter notes on topics such as "Lilith the Shriek," "Loki the Fickle," "Choice Hells," "The Wild Huntsman," and "Dracula's Relations."  It is illustrated by Paul Lund.  Ludlam spent most of his last years as caregiver for his wife, who suffered from Parkinson's Disease. Ludlam died at the age of 87.
Thanks to Andrew Parry for considerable help with this entry. Originally posted on 12 August 2018, this entry has been updated on 1 October 2018.

1 comment:

  1. In the early months of 1972 - in a well lit newly opened refurbished Warner Robins High School library I became acquainted with Elliott O’Donnell and hid ghost stories thanks to Ludlam’s edited compilations - CASEBOOK...SCREAMING SKULLS...THE MIDNIGHT HEARSE. Thanks to Taplinger publisher for the lavishly illustrated, whimsical dustcovered hardcover editions(1969). I have never forgotten...