Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Gilbert Wakefield

Gilbert Wakefield (b. Sandgate, Kent, 23 April 1892; d. London, 4 July 1963)

Gilbert Edward Wakefield was the youngest son of the Reverend Henry Russell Wakefield (1854-1933), after 1911, the Bishop of Birmingham, and his wife Frances Sophia, nee Dallaway (1856-1919), Gilbert had one sister and two brothers, one of whom was H. Russell Wakefield (1888-1964), the ghost story writer. His father also published a number of books and pamphlets on religious topics.

Gilbert was educated at Harrow, and at University College, Oxford. He served in the war, and was wounded in France, and afterwards worked in the Intelligence Department at the War Office. In 1919 he was called to the bar and became a barrister for nearly ten years, though his interests clearly lay with the theatre. In 1920 he married the stage and (later) film actress Isabel Jeans (1891-1985). Jeans had previously been married to actor Claude Rains from 1913-1915. The couple had no children.

Gilbert authored a number of plays (see the list, current up to 1938, at right). Only one of the plays appeared in book form, Room for Two (1938), and it constitutes Gilbert's only book. It is a farce about a female impersonator. Gilbert's best known work was probably the play "Counsel's Opinion", first produced in 1931. It was made into a film of the same title in 1933 (now considered a lost film), and remade as The Divorce of Lady X (1938), starring Laurence Olivier in the lead role. As a 1930s romantic comedy, it is well-done. A remake as Counsel's Opinon came out in 1949. Another of Gilbert's plays, Room for Two, was filmed in 1940.

Gilbert had been the dramatic critic for the Saturday Review from 1930-1932.  He also worked for a while with London Film Productions as a scenario writer. In person, he was self-deprecating, and having rebelled against his church-upbringing, he held a respect for truth and a contempt for sham. Often in ill-health, he died in hospital at the age of 71. 


Friday, June 28, 2019

Helen Oakley

Helen Oakley (b. New York, New York, 10 February 1906; d. Manhasset, New York, 4 January 2003)

Helen Fairchild McElvey was the middle of three children of Ralph Huntington McElvey (1877-1957), an artist, and Helen A. Fairchild (1879-1964), who were married on 15 July 1903.  Helen had two brothers.

Helen graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1928. She founded a bookshop in New York City in 1929, and ran it for twelve years. Helen married Walter T. Oakley (1913-2000), who worked in publishing, on 6 August 1938. She and her husband settled in Manhasset on Long Island. They had two daughters. Later she taught art and creative writing classes and worked as a library assistant. 
Helen Oakley

As Helen Oakley, she published four books of fiction for young girls:  The Horse on the Hill (1957); The Ranch by the Sea (1959); The Enchanter's Wheel (1962); and Freedom's Daughter (1968). She also compiled a small monograph, An Alphabet of Christmas Words (1966), as selected by Helen McKelvey Oakley.

Walter Oakley
As Helen McK. Oakley she wrote a booklet Christopher Morley on Long Island (1967), about the once well-known author Christopher Morley (1890-1957) who had lived for many years in nearby Roslyn, Long Island. Oakley became greatly interested in Morley, and wrote the only (to-date) full-length biography of him, Three Hours for Lunch: The Life and Times of Christopher Morley (1976).  It was published by Watermill Publishers, a short-lived firm run by Arthur Coleman that published a half dozen books between 1973 and 1979, four of them written by Coleman himself. Three Hours for Lunch is Oakley's most significant book.

Oakley died in Manhasset about one month shy of her 97th birthday. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Maggie-Owen Wadelton

Maggie-Owen Wadelton (b. Roscommon, Ireland, 24 January 1894?; d. Indianapolis, Indiana, 4 February 1972)

Maggie-Owen Wadelton published four books in the 1940s. Three are autobiographical, and the fourth is a supernatural novel. The autobiographical books are very problemmatic because none of the details of Wadelton's early life, and the names of her relations, as given in the three books, can be confirmed through genealogical resources like censuses and birth and marriage records. And in fact Wadelton in the mid-1940s gave conflicting information to two biographical references, including Who's Who (1944 supplement) and Catholic Authors (1948). Even bibliographically there are problems with her works, including two supposedly published books which do not seem to exist.

Her first autobiographical book was The Book of Maggie Owen (1941), which was evidently based upon (yet revised from) some diaries of her childhood in Ireland that had recently come back into her possession (after the death of her great aunt in Ireland). The book gives no author name other than Maggie Owen, and it begins on her supposed twelfth birthday of 24 January 1908. The second volume, Maggie No Doubt (1943), as by Maggie-Owen Wadelton (the same byline as her two subsequent books), and it covers her time in Ireland, America, England and France up to her third marriage in June 1917 to an American reserve captain in World War I. After 1917, Maggie-Owen's life is fairly well documented, and this time period is also covered in her third autobiography (and final book) Gay, Wild and Free: From Captain's Wife to Colonel's Lady (1949).

Maggie-Owen's story, as can be pieced together from the first two autobiographies, is that her young mother (married at age fourteen) had died as Maggie-Owen was born, and her father, who was the seventh child of a family that had moved to America and left him behind in Ireland, abandoned the baby girl with her mother's family and soon afterwards perished in battle in Africa or India. Maggie-Owen was raised mostly by two great-aunts, and some of their other relations. After a trip to New York where she met some of her father's family, they petitioned the Irish court for custody of the minor Maggie-Owen to be given to them, and a plot was hatched that a sham-marriage for Maggie-Owen took place in France with a gentleman temporarily unable to marry the woman he loved. The “marriage” was annulled after some twenty-two months, when Maggie-Owen reached the age of eighteen. Her second marriage, probably in the summer of 1915, was to her childhood love Edward, who was killed in the war three weeks later.

Tommy Wadelton
Maggie-Owen Wadelton and her third husband Thomas Dorrington Wadelton, Jr. (1886-1945) had one child, a son, Thomas Dorrington Wadelton III (1925*-1974), who after publishing two short stories was courted by publishers, and thereafter produced four books (as by Tommy Wadelton) in the early 1940s when he was very young. These include humorous portrayals of his mother and father, respectively, in My Mother Is a Violent Woman (1940) and My Father Is a Quiet Man (1941), and of himself, in Army Brat (1943), which was made into a film as Little Mister Jim (1946). A final book was Silver Buckles on His Knee (1945). Tommy went on to study photography and worked as feature photographer at the Indianapolis Star for more than twenty-two years. When Colonel Wadelton retired from the army in 1939, after some twenty moves to various postings, the family settled in Indianapolis.

Maggie-Owen's birthname, birthyear, and parentage is uncertain. From The Book of Maggie Own, it would seem that she was born in 1896, but in other places the year is given as 1895, 1894, or even (in the Social Security Death Index) as 1890. She told Catholic Authors in 1948 that her birthname was “Margret [sic] Kearns” but she gives it in The Book of Maggie Owen as “Margret Owen” and in Maggie No Doubt as “Margret-Owen Coughlin.” Her parent's names are given variously as Maggie-Kate Melody and Owen Coughlin (in Maggie No Doubt) and on her 1972 Indiana death certificate as Maggieowen O'Malley Kierns and Phenis Paul Kierns (the informant being her son Tommy, but here her birthdate is listed as 23 January rather than the usual 24 January). Her father's family in America appear in The Book of Maggie Owen as the Coughlins. Some Kearns relations of Van Etten (New York?) appear actually to have been of Rhinebeck, New York, where in the 1940s and 1950s Maggie-Owen visited the Mistresses Mary Kearns and Catherine Kearns, who are called in contemporary newspaper accounts her “sisters.” (And Mary Ellen Kearns is the dedicatee of Maggie no Doubt.)

Her first husband's name is given in Maggie No Doubt as Ernest Ruthven Kenmore, but in the 1944 Who's Who as Ernest Leslie Kenmore. Her second husband appears as Edward Bootham Turner-Holt. Her great aunts as Ann (Melody) Conner, and her sister Kate Melody, elsewhere Kate Holt Melody. In the 1920 and 1930 US Censuses, Maggie-Owen's name is given as “Jeanne K. Wadelton.” Yet in a letter to the Indianapolis Star in 1940 she signed her name as "Maggie-Jeanne Wadelton."

All these discrepancies are confusing. One can presume that her birthname was probably Margret Jeanne Kearns. (A 1941 newspaper profile notes that the "Owen" is a Gaelic form of Eugenia, which perhaps explains her evolving nickname Maggie-Jeanne / Maggie-Owen.) She also claimed to have used for some years the surname of her great aunt, named as Kate Melody in her autobiographies. 

Her Who's Who entry lists her education at the Sacred Heart Convent, Paris, 1909-1911, and at Carshallton House in Surrey for 1911-1912. She also volunteered as a member of the British Ambulance Service in World War I.

Catholic Authors notes that “under the name of Melody she wrote Sheila and Ponobscot Ferry.” I can find no trace of any such publications. In a 3 October 1943 Indianapolis Star newspaper profile, she reportedly began writing after the stock market crash of 1929, and sold verse to Poetry, a lengthy article on the history of lace to a New York department store, and various short stories to pulp magazines. In the newspaper profile Wadelton notes: “Then I wrote a novel, which is probably the worst book ever written. It is full of rape and murder and everything terrible. I called it 'Sheila.' Scribner's published it--though I don't see why.” None of these publications have been traced. She did write at least one other novel, finished in the summer of 1947, titled Gillian Benedict, about an alcoholic woman in London between the wars. It was turned down by Bobbs-Merrill, who had published her other books.

Her one known and published novel Sarah Mandrake (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, [February] 1946) is the work that concerns us here. Sarah Mandrake has restored a large mansion on the Hudson River in Dutchess County, New York (the setting is based on the house Wadelton visited as a child, as described in her first autobiography). After living there for a while, she disappears, leaving the house to a relative, Stephen Ellers, a British war veteran with his wife and infants, who must unravel the story of her life and of her legacy. The Catholic World called the book a “fascinating, red-blooded ghost-story 'in modern dress'” (July 1946); while Kirkus called it “with deliberate British formality,a sometimes overplayed, overlong tale of evil and retribution, real and spectral, to satisfy some tastes” (January 1946). Sarah Mandrake was reprinted in 1966 as a Paperback Library Gothic.

Both Maggie-Owen Wadelton and her husband are buried in the Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.


* Tommy's birthyear is usually given as 1926 or 1927, but U.K. Birth records confirm he was born in 1925.

Monday, June 10, 2019

G.E. Locke

G.E. Locke (b. Boston, 12 October 1887; d. Boston, 1945)

Gladys Edson Locke was the only child of Winfield Scott Locke (1861-1931), a "ladies underwear merchant" according to the 1900 US Census, and Caroline Augusta Edson (1862-1936), who were married in Boston on 2 December 1886.

She was graduated from the Girls' Latin School in Boston in 1906, and from Boston University (A.B. 1910; A.M. 1911) and Simmons College (Library Science, 1916).  She worked as a tutor in Latin, French and Italian from 1908-1914, and taught Latin and English at a high school in Milford, New Hampshire, for 1915-1916. In 1917 she became a cataloguer at the Boston Public Library, where she thereafter worked for many years. She was active in the Unitarian Church, and a member of the Boston Society for Psychical Research. Locke never married, and lived in the Dorcester area for the bulk of her life.

Locke's first book was a biography of Queen Elizabeth: Various Scenes and Events in the Life of Her Majesty (1913), as by Gladys E. Locke. Her first mystery novel, set in England like many of her books, came out the next year and was published as by Gladys Edson Locke, a byline she used until the early 1920s when it changed more simply to "G.E. Locke." In all she published eleven mystery novels, some with the recurring characters like Inspector Burton or Mercedes Quero. Beginning in 1922, her books were mostly published by L.C. Page of Boston, though two later titles came out in England only. The full list of mystery novels, in chronological order, is as follows:  That Affair at Portishead Manor (1914); Ronald o' the Moors (1919); The Red Cavalier (1922); The Scarlet Macaw (1923); The Purple Mist (1924); The House on the Downs (1925); The Golden Lotus (1927); The Redmaynes (1928); Grey Gables (UK only, 1929); The Fenwood Murders (UK only, 1931), and The Ravensdale Mystery (1935).

None of her novels are fantasies, but The Purple Mist comes perhaps the closest to being one. (It was first published in June 1924 by L.C. Page of Boston, and an undated reprint by A.L. Burt is often erroneously cited as the first edition.) The New York Times described the book as follows:  "The story takes its name from a supposedly supernatural phenomenon but recently revived in the old Devonshire village that straggles around Craghaven Castle, the scene of the book's strange goings-on. This regally tinted vapor, after a lapse of sundry centuries had, just before the story opens, begun to rise again to herald the passage across the Devon moors of a Phantom Coach, that brings death to any one who ventures to check or investigate its course. That forms but the initial mystery . . .  All in all, The Purple Mist remains sheer melodrama, as indeed it was the author's intention to make it. It has thrills; it has compelling onward sweep of narrative; it has moments of genuine interest. Readers not insistent on delicate shades and subtle overtones will find excitement, and find it in generous spasms, in G.E. Locke's pages" (13 July 1924).   The book has weird atmosphere throughout, though the Phantom Coach and purple mist are rationalized in the end as cover operations for smugglers.

Reviewers of other books by Locke were less kind.  Of The Scarlet Macaw, the New York Times opined: "In spite of an occasional crudeness in writing and a clumsiness in construction, The Scarlet Macaw is sufficiently supplied with suspense and unexpected incidents to qualify as an interesting detective story. . . . One fault that Mr. [sic] Locke has is an extremely mediocre prose, and this rather aggravates the reader's sensation of unreality" (28 October 1923). And of The Ravensdale Mystery, the New York Times concluded: "The story is far too long and not absorbing enough to hold the reader's interest throughout its 405 pages" (10 November 1935).

According to the Massachusetts Death Index 1901-1980, Locke died in Boston in 1945, but no specific death-date has been traced.


*Book illustrations courtesy of Steven Mayes.

Friday, June 7, 2019

David Hussey

David Hussey (b. Westham, Essex, 7 April 1903; d. London, 9 September 1959)

David Macdonald Hussey was the son of Edmund Hussey (1862-1959) and his wife Florence Jane, nee Thornber (1867-1931), who were married in the summer of 1890.  David had two older sisters, one younger sister, and an older brother who was killed in World War I.

David attended the Cherry Orchard school in Blackheath, 1913-1917, and the Windermere Grammar School, 1917-1921, before matriculating at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in October 1921.  He read History for his first two years, and then English in his final year (B.A. 1924).  He was awarded a scholarship of £40 for 1924-25. 

In 1924 Hussey was appointed Lecturer in English at the University of Ceylon, and promoted to Professor of English in 1932. He married Dora Eyden (1898-1970), a scientist and graduate of Girton College, Cambridge, on 27 September 1927 at Columbo in Ceylon. 

As David Macdonald Hussey he published a series of books on Ceylon and World History (1930-1936), and retired from the University of Ceylon in 1935, moving back to England and settling near London.  He published three works of fiction as David Hussey, No Sting, No Honey (London: Arthur Barker, [December] 1938),  The Empty Bowl (1943) and Fort Carteret (1948).  From about 1947 he held high office in the Air Ministry, and visited Ceylon again in 1957, and was preparing an official inspection of R.A.F. stations in the Far East when he suddenly fell ill. He died a few months later in the R.A.F. Hospital in Uxbridge, Middlesex. 

Hussey's first novel, No Sting, No Honey, is his only fantasy. In it, three men are shipwrecked on an island in the South Pacific, where they find it to be a vast farm run by women along the lines of a bee colony, ruled by Hive Orders, with Frame-Commanders and Comb-Captains, and a Queen Bee (a wealthy old lady of ninety). The Times Literary Supplement noted that "there are some ingenious decorations in Mr. Hussey's picture of the hive, where two parties, the Traditionalists and the Realists, contend for supremacy. But the fragments are better than the whole. . . . Farce and fantasy, in sum, do not blend very well in this book, though admittedly it has sly and engaging moments" (17 December 1938).  

The Empty Bowl begins in Ceylon two thousand years ago. It concerns an old monk, who in his search for Absolute Reality has traveled far (even to Rome, briefly conversing with the disciple Peter, though he finds Christian truth unsatisfying). The novel tells of his travels with a young soldier, as they exchange stories.The Spectator noted that "David Hussey has created a moving legend with skill and wit; writing it gave him escape from present troubles. This short novel is dedicated to a night-sister in an R.A.F. hospital" (22 April 1943).

Fort Carteret is set on the Hudson River where the passengers and crew of an aircraft are marooned in Arctic darkness and in order to pass the time, they each recount stories from their past experiences. 

*Thanks to Amanda Goode, Emmanuel College Archivist, for information on Hussey's academic record, and thanks to Jonathan Lux for sharing photos.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

William Sambrot

William Sambrot (b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 17 December 1920; d. Napa, California, 26 July 2007)

William Anthony Sambrot was the son of Anthony Sambrot (a laborer at a machine company, per the 1920 US Census) and his wife Nancy, nee Ciccetti, both of whom were immigrants from Italy.  He had two older sisters.

By 1930, William was in Salt Lake City with his widowed mother, and in 1939 he graduated from Balboa High School in San Francisco. He enlisted in the US Army in San Francisco on 29 June 1943, and served in Germany. He studied briefly at the University of Biarritz in Switzerland, and then at University of California in Berkeley, and he studied journalism and short story writing in San Francisco, though he earned no degrees. He worked for a while in a brewery, and at other odd jobs. On 18 January 1948, he married Marina Dianda (1922-2007).  They had one son and one daughter. Sambrot lived in California for the rest of his life.

His first professional sale, in June 1951, was a story "The Strong Man," which became his second published story when it appeared in the February 1952 issue of Esquire ("The Saboteur" appeared in the Fall 1951 issue of Suspense Magazine). He became a full time writer in 1954.  He published some fifty known stories in various slicks and men's magazines in the 1950s and 1960s.  His sole book is a collection of fourteen stories, Island of Fear and Other Science Fiction Stories (New York: A Permabook Edition published by Pocket Books, 1963). He compiled a second volume of science fiction stories but never found a publisher. Sambrot told Contemporary Authors "I am very much interested in writing science-fiction. . . . I'm not happy, however, with the field in general; would like to see it treated with respect by critics, especially our literary lights."  He worked on two novels, Zone of Combat and Substance of Martyrs (the second based on one of Sambrot's own short stories of the same title, published in Rogue, December 1963), but they were never published.

In an autobiographical letter published in Contemporary Science Fiction Authors II (1979), Sambrot noted that he had well over 200 published stories in all the top-paying markets. Sambrot reputedly used two pseudonyms, Anthony Ayes and William Ayes, but no stories have been located published under these names. He summed up his book-publishing experience as follows: "From my own experience with Pocket Books, the advance they gave me ($2000) about equalled what I got for each of some seven or eight stories in the collection of mine (14 stories) they published.  Many of those stories are still selling [in reprints] . . . So, even though that SF collection sold some 385,000 plus here, and went into two printings in England (Mayflower, 1964 and 1966), each of over half the stories therein had earned me well over the total earning for the whole schmear."

Sambrot's 1959 story "Island of Fear" has some decided similarities with a C.S. Lewis story, "Forms of Things Unknown", first published posthumously in 1966.  I have written in more detail about this scenario at my Shiver in the Archives blog, here.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

P.A. Stuart

P.A. Stuart (b. Greytown, Cape Colony [now KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa] 25 or 29 April 1876; d. Rondebosch, Cape Town, South Africa, 11 March 1946)

Philip Arnold Stuart was the son of Martinus Stuart (1841-1881), a magistrate of the Ixopo district, and his wife Mary Porter Stuart, nee Taylor (1846-1918), who were married in Pietermartizburg on 24 October 1866.  They had eight children, three of whom died young.  The five surviving children included four sons and one daughter.

Little is known of Philip's youth, but some details can be gleaned from the life of his oldest brother, James Stuart (1868-1942), who became a civil servant in the Colony of Natal, and who studied the Zulu language and collected Zulu oral traditions. James Stuart published a History of the Zulu Rebellion (1906), and, in the 1920s, five school readers in Zulu. (His extensive collection of materials have been preserved, and a series of books from The James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighbouring Peoples began appearing in 1976.)  Martinus Stuart was killed in July 1881 in the Battle of Ingogo of the Anglo-Transvaal war, after which their mother took James and two of his brothers (presumably including Philip, the youngest) to England, where they were educated.  James returned to Natal in 1886, when he was eighteen.  Philip presumably returned in the 1890s, for he married May Alice Runciman (1876-1958) in Pietermaritzburg on 4 September 1901. They had eight children, four sons (one of whom died young) and four daughters.
The 1938 second edition

Philip shared with his brother James a considerable interest in the Zulu language and history.  His book on the Zulu language first appeared  as Stuart's Zulu Course (1907; second edition 1912), and was retitled for its third edition as A Zulu Grammar for Beginners (1932; fourth edition 1940).

All of his books appeared as by P.A. Stuart.  His one work of historical fiction was An African Attila: Tales of the Zulu Reign of Terror (London:  T. Fisher Unwin, 1927).  It contains nine stories primarily centered on the Zulu ruler Shaka (1787-1828), spelt by Stuart as "Tshaka," who was sometimes called the "Black Napoleon" or an "African Attila," for in twelve years he conquered an area in southern Africa larger than western Europe, unifying many tribes and thus temporarily resisting European domination. A second edition of An African Attila, with illustrations, was published in Pietermartizburg in 1938. An African Attila was translated into Zulu as Unkosibomvu (1938, reprinted 1963, 1964 and 1978).  One of the stories from the book was made into a play in Xhosa (a Bantu language related to Zulu), and performed at the Freemantle School in Lady Frere in the early 1940s.

P.A. Stuart worked as a civil servant in Pietermaritzburg. At the time of his death he was a resident of Durban, though he died in a suburb of Cape Town.

Monday, April 15, 2019

M.H. James

M.H. James (b. Eltham, Kent, 17 July 1858; d. Marylebone, London, 9 December 1938)

Margaret Helen James was the oldest of four children, two sons and two daughters, of Henry Haughton James (1827-1885) and his first wife, Sophia Courthope (1833-1866).  Margaret also had one half-brother and one half-sister from her father's second marriage in 1867, to Annie Sparks (1838-1909).  She was a first cousin of the ghost-story writer M.R. James--her father was the younger brother of Reverend Herbert James (1822-1909), the father of M.R. James.

Her only book was Bogie Tales of East Anglia (Ipswich: Pawsey & Hayes, 1891). Despite its title, which makes it sound like a collection of weird tales, it is a collection of twenty folk tales, as recorded or remembered by Miss James.  Only the first thirteen have a "bogie" element, while the remaining seven are not supernatural at all.

M.H. James worked as an index-maker for over forty years. According to her obituary in the journal of the Alpine Club, she possessed "two assets of great value to her in her work: a wide knowledge and a really brilliant memory."  Her work was praised for its accuracy and completeness.  She was responsible for the index to her cousin M.R. James's Suffolk and Norfolk (1930). Margaret Helen James died of pneumonia at the Nightingale Hospital in Marylebone. 

Bogie Tales from East Anglia was reprinted in 2019, with an appropriate new subtitle "A Victorian folklore collection" and an introduction by Francis Young.  The contents are slightly altered (mostly in terms of punctuation), but also the footnotes, originally at the end of the book, now appear throughout the book on relevant pages. Francis Young interestingly notes that Morley Adams (1876-1954), in his book In the Footsteps of Borrow and Fitzgerald (1914), plagiarized some of James's stories without any credit to her. 


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Katharine Metcalf Roof

Katharine Metcalf Roof (b. Clifton Springs, New York, 31 March 1871; d. probably New York City, after 1958)

Katharine Metcalf Roof (her first name is often mispelt Katherine) was the only child of Francis Henry Roof (1840-1916), a physician (and a 1862 graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University), and his first wife, Mary Metcalf Stocking (1841-1917), who were married in 1866.

Katharine was educated at private schools, and at the New York School of Art.  Her parents were divorced in the 1890s, and in 1901 her father was remarried to a much younger woman.

Katharine started publishing in 1902, and from then on through the 1920s she was a prolific writer of short stories and novellas for Ainslee's Magazine, The Smart Set, All-Story, The Century Magazine, Munsey's Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and many others. Though her output diminished in the 1930s, she published a good number of detective stories on into the 1940s. She also published some weird tales. Two appeared in Ghost Stories in December 1927 ("How I Got Back My Soul")  and February 1928 ("My Bewitched Bedroom"), while another, "A Million Years After," appeared in Weird Tales in November 1930. A ghost story, "The Edge of a Dream," had earlier appeared in The Smart Set for December 1907. Despite her prolificity, very few of her stories have ever been reprinted.

With regard to books, Roof published three plays, two works of nonfiction and three novels. The plays include Three Dear Friends: A Feminine Episode in One Act (1914), The Mirror: An Original One Act Play (1924) and Man under the Bed (1924). ("The Mirror" is a play about reincarnation; it originally appeared in Shadowland, July 1920.) Her first work of nonfiction, The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase (1917), a biographical work on her former teacher at the New York School of Art, was her most successful. Her other nonfiction title was Colonel Williams Smith and Lady: The Romance of Washington's Aide and Young Abigail Adams (1929).

Of her three novels, the first, The Stranger at the Hearth (1916), is a study of New York society, while her third, Murder on the Salem Road (1931), is both a romance and a murder mystery, set in the late 1830s, during the presidency of Martin Van Buren. With regard to supernatural literature, Roof's main contribution is her second novel, The Great Demonstration (New York: D. Appleton, 1920). It is primarily a romance, with some occult happenings. Basically it is a love triangle between two men and one woman.  Both Roger Lessing and Terry Endicott are in love with Lucretia Dale.  When Terry goes off to war, Lucretia decides that she loves him, but Terry is reported dead, and Roger then presses her to marry him.  Roger is a proponent of New Thought, believing that "What I desire, will come to me." He has become successful but is rather arrogant and unpleasant. To gain Lucreita's favor he strengthens his will and attempts mind control. When Terry returns after having only been imprisoned in Germany, Roger uses astral projection, which goes tragically awry. The novel is flawed but not wholly without interest. 

The last I have been able to trace Roof is to December 1958, when she renewed the copyright on her book Murder on the Salem Road. She was then living in New York City, where she had resided for decades.  (If any one can supply an obituary and a death date, I'd be grateful.) 




Saturday, April 6, 2019

Joan Davids / Joan Hewitt

Joan Davids (b. Hampstead, London, 23 November 1912; d. reg. Windsor, Berkshire, July-Sep. 1981)

Little is known of Joan Evelyn Davids. One entry in a writer's directory (1977) lists her as a writer and portraitist. She married Arthur F. Hewitt in Hemel Hemsptead in late 1948.  So far as I know, she published only two books.

The first, under her maiden name Joan Davids, was The Glastonbury Adventure (London:  Peter Lunn, 1946). It is set up like a book of the type that Alan Garner would write a few decades later. A bunch of (annoying) children become involved in the mythic legends of Glastonbury, and most of the book is seemingly just that, if on the light side, until the final chapter throws a curve ball, making the book into something on the lines of a ghost story, with an unexpected and disappointing final twist (in the final line) that undermines any interpretation.

Under her married name, as Joan Hewitt, she published one additional novel, A Pity Beyond Telling (1956). It is a story of eccentric characters and love in a country village called Broone.

Copies of both books are held in the Robert Aickman Collection at Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio.  The Glastonbury Adventure is inscribed by the author to Aickman.  One suspects that she was a client of the Richard Marsh Agency, the literary agency run by Aickman and his wife, and that they secured publishers for the two books. 

The writer's directory listing for Hewitt notes two further items: "The Grandfather Clock," as by Joan Davids, was read by May E. Jenkin on the BBC Children's Hour on 23 May 1950;  and a second item, possibly unpublished, is given as "Unfinished Portrait of a Royal Nanny" (Royal Archives). 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Henry S. Wilcox

Henry S. Wilcox (b. Delhi, Iowa, 22 November 1855; d. Chicago, Illinois, 18 May 1924)

Henry S. Wilcox was the second of nine children (seven sons, two daughters)  of Erastus Wilcox, Jr.,  (1817-1914), a farmer, and his wife Matilda Casey (1818-1882).

Henry became a lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa, and on 30 May 1878 he married Mary A. Boeye, about six years his junior, in Cerra Gordo, Iowa.  They had at least two children, one son and one daughter.  The family moved to Chicago in the 1890s. Henry self-published, or vanity-published, eight books between 1885 and 1909, including two novels, four books about aspects of the law, and one final collection of poems, Joys of Earth (1909), dedicated to his wife of thirty years.

His first book was a novel, Flaws (1885), as "By a Lawyer." It was republished as A Strange Flaw (1906), under the author's name.  It is a strange book concerned with frauds devised in connection with railroad building. An advertisement for the later version notes: "This novel shows by a thrilling story how small a flaw is likely, under our present system of government, to cause widespread distress and great injustice when used by skillful schemers for the purposes of exploitation. The thread of the narrative introduces scenes in the state legislature, U.S. Circuit Court, U.S. Supreme Court, and the president's mansion, and the interest of the reader is held to the last." But this description fails to show the rather heavy-handed satire (e.g., a newspaper editor is named "A. Lyer"). It exemplifies Wilcox's criticism of inequalities in American society.

His second novel is even stranger, and difficult to describe adequately.  It is called The Great Boo-Boo (Des Moines, Iowa: J.B. Swinburne,1892), described on the title page as "a tale of fun and fancy, replete with love, wit, sentiment and satire." It is one of a small genre of crackpot fantasies that came out in America (usually self-published) from around the 1880s through the early 1900s. Perhaps the most notable of such titles is Etidorpha (1895), by John Uri Lloyd. 

The Great Boo-Boo,  reprinted in 2019 by Ramble House with an introduction by Chris Mikul, has as set-up a ship-wrecked embezzler name Hogg stranded on the island of King Monop, who lives in a palace of crystalised human tears and blood.  The blurb describes the book as "a unique mixture of fantasy and science fiction, social satire and farce, with bonus scenes of torture, blood drinking, nudity, homoeroticism and lesbianism." One aspect this blurb omits is how smooth and readable the witty prose style is. 

Wilcox's other titles include:  The Trials of a Stump-Speaker (1906), about his thankless work in politics; and his four satiric considerations of the law,  Foibles of the Bench (1906), Foibles of the Bar (1906), Frailties of the Jury (1907) and Fallacies of the Law (1907).

Though I found no record of his wife Mary's death, Henry was married again on 27 March 1912, to Eugenie [sometimes spelt Eugenia] Beeman (1865-1941) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Both Henry and his second wife died in Chicago.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Mark Channing

Mark Channing (b. Kentish Town, Middlesex, 30 March 1879; d. Amersham, Buckinghamshire, 19 December 1943)

"Mark Channing" was the pseudonym of Leopold Aloysius Matthew Jones, the first of four children of George Horatio Jones (1844-1920), a dental surgeon, and his wife, Blanche Louisa Lucas (1843-1908).  He had two younger brothers and one sister.

Little is known of his early life and education.  His father published, as George H. Jones, a book Dentistry: Its Use and Abuse (1872), and sought a patent in 1875 on a method of adapting artificial teeth by use of atmospheric pressure. A further book was on Painless and Perfect Dentistry (1885).

Leopold was a medical student at Guy's Hospital Medical School before he served in the Boer War, returning to England in 1902, after which he joined the Indian Army and started out at Fort St. George in Madras, though he was later stationed in Ceylon, Bangalore, and other places. Since boyhood he had aspired to be a poet, and in Madras he published a slim book Poems (1904), bylined Leopold Jones, with a larger follow-up of the same title the following year. He spent close to twenty years as an officer in the Indian army, retiring in October 1921. In the summer of 1910 he married Anna ("Nan") Maria Levy, with whom he had two daughters and one son.

After retiring from the army with the rank of Major, he worked for the British Hungarian Bank. From 1924-26, he served as editor of the Economic Supplements of Le Temps in Paris, and from 1929-31 held a similar position at The Morning Post in London. He began publishing short fiction and character sketches, first as "Major L.A.M. Jones." By the early 1930s he was using the byline "Mark Channing." His first novel was serialized in The Daily Mail from May 4 through June 21, 1933.  King Cobra (London: Hutchinson, [June] 1933; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [June 1934]) was the first of four novels Captain Colin Gray, of the English Secret Service in India.  The Colin Gray thrillers were similar to the novels of Talbot Mundy, and their mix of adventure and Indian mysticism was popular with readers, particularly in the United States.  The follow-up novels were White Python (London: Hutchinson, [April] 1934; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott,[October 1934]), The Poisoned Mountain (London: Hutchinson, [July 1935]; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [November 1935]), and Nine Lives (London: Hutchinson, [August 1937]; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [September 1937]).

Channing also published a nonfiction volume, Indian Mosaic (1936), which was retitled India Mosaic for its U.S. release (also in 1936), and one non-fantastic novel, Indian Village (1939), retitled The Sacred Falls: A Novel of India for its U.S. edition published three months later. At the time of his death at the age of 64, Channing was working on what was described to be his finest work, The White Bird, a book seeking to show a common foundation for all religions.

A collection of thirty-four short stories, The Breath of Genius (London: Hutchinson, [October 1944]), appeared posthumously, and only in England. It contains a short memoir of Channing by Sir John Pollock, who notes that Jones was familiarly called "Lamb" (from his initials, L.A.M.) and that he used a pseudonym when he turned to fiction because he was told that "Jones" was impossible for an author.  Pollock notes: "he was tall and massive, and held himself well; and on this big body was set a big, handsome head, with expressive features, and very fine, often laughing, dark blue eyes.  Habitually he dangled a gold-rimmed monocle slung on a broad silk ribbon which he used in his right eye for reading; and this, coupled with a certain easy, courteous manner that he had in all things, gave him somewhat the look of those grand Irish gentlemen of a century and over ago, from whom indeed he was doubtless descended."


Lippincott, 1934
Lippincott, 1934
Lippincott, 1935
Lippincott, 1937

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Nicholas Olde

Nicholas Olde (b. Hampstead, London, 8 October 1879; d. reg. Thorrington, near Colchester, Essex, July-Sep. 1951)

The pseudonymous "Nicholas Olde" is remembered primarily for one book, The Incredible Adventures of Rowland Hern (London: William Heinemann, [March] 1928). The copyright registration in the U.S. fortunately gives the author's real name, A.L. Champneys, thus allowing  us to find some biographical information on the author.

Amian Lister Champneys was the oldest of four children (two sons, two daughters) of Basil Champneys (1842-1935), a well-known architect of many collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings, and his wife Mary Theresa Ella Drummond (1858-1941), who were married in 1876. Basil's father and one of his brothers were clergyman (his father was very late in life made the Dean of Lichfield). Basil had been one of eight children of a hard-working old county family with only a modest income; at his death he left an estate valued at nearly fifty-thousand pounds. Amian's youngest sibling was Adelaide Mary Champneys (1888-1966), who published a number of books, some of which were fairly popular in England and America, including Miss Tiverton Goes Out (1925), which appeared anonymously. Adelaide also co-wrote a pseudonymous book with her other brother, the clergyman Michael Weldon Champneys (1884-1957). (I have written in more detail on Adelaide here.)

Amian attended the Charterhouse school in Godalming, Surrey, and in 1898 matriculated at New College, Oxford (B.A. 1902). He followed his father's footsteps and became an architect. Under his own name he published one book, Public Libraries: A Treatise on Their Design, Construction and Fittings (1907).

Under the pseudonym "Nicholas Olde" Amian published three books. The first was The Incredible Adventures of Rowland Hern. It collects fifteen episodes of crimes studied by Rowland Hern and his Watson-like unnamed narrator.  The cases themselves are tinged with humor and paradox in the manner of G.K. Chesterton.  Aside from the reprinting of one story ("A Collector of Curiosities") in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in July 1942, no other stories were reprinted until Jack Adrian selected "The Windmill" for his Twelve Tales of Murder (1998).  The whole collection was reprinted by Ramble House in October 2005.

In 1933 "Nicholas Olde" published Essex Verses and Others: In Tendring Hundred and the Pageant of Progress, a slim volume of poetry (39 pp.), which in 1934 was expanded to be (at 86 pp.) The Last Goddess (Essex Verses and Others).

Monday, March 11, 2019

Pat Root

Pat Root (b. Hailey, Idaho, 16 July 1917; d. Sandy Hook, Connecticut, 1965)

Pat Root published only two books, the first of which, from 1952, gives in a biographical note on the dust-wrapper most of what is known about her.  It reads:
Pat Root was born in Hailey, Idaho, but she didn't stay there long. Her father was a government employee and the family moved around a good bit. One of their longest stays was in the West Indies, for three years, before Miss Root came to New York where she studied art instead of going to college. Back in the islands for a year's visit, she tells us: "I wrote some children's stories which were too old for children, and painted some pictures which were not."  She is married and now makes her home in Connecticut. 
She was born Doris Patricia Root, the only child of Carl L. Root (1881-1956), who was born Charles Levi Rosengren in Minnesota, and his wife Mildred Eleanor Campling, née Hill (1893-1984), who was from England.  They were married in South Dakota on 10 April 1915.  Carl Root worked  for the Federal Government as an appraiser, and as a collector of customs in the Virgin Islands for twenty years, before he retired to Miami in 1952. 

Pat Root's husband was Charles Sherman Robinson (1911-1967).  It was his second marriage; he had a son and a daughter from his first marriage, which lasted from 1932 until he was divorced in 1939. He had studied at Yale, M.I.T., and the University of Berlin, but spent most of adult his life in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.  At the time of his death he was working for the U.S. Navy on a research project at Yale.  He and his second wife lived in Sandy Hook. They had no children.

Her two books, both mysteries with gothic overtones published as part of the "Inner Sanctum Mystery" series, appeared under her maiden name, though she was married before the first one came out. Evil Became Them (New York:  Simon and Schuster, [February] 1952) also achieved a British edition (1953), a US paperback edition (Dell, 1954), and a translation into Spanish (Argentina, 1958).   It tells of the charming Vail siblings, a sister and two brothers, on Santa Gorda Island, who seek to inherit a fortune from their stepmother, who is wary enough of their plotting to warn a mysterious guest before she perishes. 

Her second book was less successful, The Devil of the Stairs (New York:  Simon and Schuster, [February] 1956). It concerns a beautiful opera singer who is quintessentially evil.

Pat Root died in 1965 (information from her gravestone; no obituaries have been found).

Pat Root's gravestone gets her birthyear incorrect (as 1918)
Both of her books were reprinted as mass market paperbacks in 1966 in the short-lived series of  Lancer Gilt-Edge Gothics, which also included two novels by Phyllis Paul. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Alexander Pitts Bettersworth

Alexander Pitts Bettersworth (b. Athens, Alabama, 1830; d. Los Angeles, California, 8 January 1903)

Little is known of the early life of Alexander Pitts Bettersworth. Born in Alabama, he moved to Illinois in 1849.  He was awarded a Doctor of Medicine at Louisville Medical College in Kentucky on 2 March 1855.  His thesis, signed as by A. Pitts Bettersworth, was on "Plastic Fibrin."

In 1855 he settled in Carlinville, Illinois, where he worked as a practicing physician for the next thirty-five years.  He married Anna Jane Fishback (1839-1919) in Carlinville on 20 November 1856.  They had three children, two daughters, and a son also named Alexander Pitts Bettersworth (1860-1938).

Bettersworth retired in 1898 and moved to California, where he died of heart troubles.  His obituary notes that he had been "a regular contributor to newspapers and periodicals" and that he had published several works. Only two books are known. Both are novels, and both appear to have been subsidized by the author, as they were printed by H.W. Rokker of Springfield, Illinois.  Rokker also published the local newspaper The Springfield Star. The first novel is prosaically titled John Smith, Democrat: His Two Days' Canvass (Sunday Included) for the Office of Mayor in the City of Bunkumville (1877), published as by "Bettersworth."

His second novel, by far the more interesting, was The Strange MS. By —, M.D. (1883), published anonymously. The story purports to have been written in 1881 and concerns the prevision of events that might take place in 1883-1884, when a comet strikes the earth and the narrator retreats into Mammoth Cave with his black servant.  After the firestorm, they emerge into a destroyed world which has shifted on its axis. Humanity has nearly all perished, but the few survivors trek to upper Canada where it is now warm enough to live. Eventually the narrator awakens back in Mammoth Cave and finds a pile of manuscript pages he has written.  E.F. Bleiler summed up his valuation of the book "as a novel, amateurish, with period ethnic humor about blacks, but with some touches of imagination."

Monday, March 4, 2019

Thomas Bontly

Thomas Bontly (b. Madison, Wisconsin, 25 August 1939; d. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 29 June 2012)

Thomas John Bontly was the son of Thomas L. Bontly (1906-1968), a hotel cashier, and his wife, Mary Helen, née Hackett (1911-1971).  

Bontly got his B.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961, and in the following year he was a Rotary International Scholar at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England. Bontly married Marilyn Mackie in 1962.  They had one son.

Bontly got his Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1966. His dissertation was on Henry James (about whom he also published essays), and he also held a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship.  His first novel was published in 1966. Also in 1966, he began teaching literature and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he held many positions until his retirement in 2001.

The third of his four published novels was Celestial Chess (New York:  Harper & Row, 1979), his only work relative to the genre of the fantastic.  It follows an American academic in 1962 who is a visiting scholar at an imaginary college at Cambridge University. David Fairchild is there to study a particular medieval manuscript, long neglected, but which has an unsavory reputation and which Fairchild learns is haunted. Bontly's novel has a second narrative track following the twelfth-century author of the manuscript, Geoffrey Gervaise, a rogue priest. Thus as a novel Celestial Chess straddles  multiple sub-genres, historical, detective and supernatural, and it does so successfully while maintaining a high level of interest and suspense.

Bontly's other novels are The Competitor (1966), The Adventures of a Young Outlaw (1974), and The Giant's Shadow (1988). The first concerns a single day at a shoe-store. The second is a boy's coming of age novel set in the summer before high school.  The Giant's Shadow is a thriller set in West Germany about an American poet, who had defected to the Soviet Union years earlier, attempting to return to the West. Bontly also contributed stories, essays and reviews to many magazines. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Harrison Dale

Harrison Dale (b. London, 10 February 1898; d. County Mayo, Ireland, 19 March 1988)

from the cover of Bus by the Brook (1964)
Between 1926 and 1933 six books appeared in England under the byline "Harrison Dale." In several reference sources, these books have been erroneously attributed to an American author and academic, Harrison Clifford Dale (1885-1969). A directory of writers from the early 1930s notes that "Harrison Dale" was the pen name of an author and journalist born in London in February 1898.

The first of the six published books was autobiographical, Vanishing Trails: Ten Years of a Wanderers Life (1926), in which the author described being the wireless operator on a steamer ship sunk in May 1918 by a U-86 submarine, from which three men were taken by the Germans as prisoners of war.  From these details, research reveals that this was the British steamer Medora, sunk on 2 May 1918, and the radio operator who was captured was one Maurice James McGrath. Other sources have confirmed his identity as "Harrison Dale."

Maurice James McGrath was the second child of Patrick McGrath (1862-1918), who was Irish-born but worked in London as a Constable with the Metropolitan Police, and his wife (born in England of Irish immigrants) Mary Mulligan (1866-?). Their first child was a daughter, Mary Isabella McGrath (1894-1971), who emigrated to Australia at the age of eighteen.

Maurice was educated at Bishop Eton, Wavertree (near Liverpool), and at the Marconi Radio School. After he qualified as a Wireless Officer, he joined the Merchant Navy. His father was a great lover of books, and passed that love onto Maurice, often reading to him stories of the "creepy" variety. After a torpedo struck his steamer ship, he spent a month as a prisoner in a submarine before being interred in Brandenburg Camp. He gradually lost his hearing until he went completely deaf.  In 1924, facing his loss, he settled in London, having sailed on the seas for seven years.

In 1925, Maurice McGrath married Blanche Edith R. Axton (1900-1938); they had one daughter. His first autobiography Vanishing Trails appeared in March 1926.  This was followed by another work of nonfiction on Ireland, published in October 1927.  Next came four anthologies, Great Ghost Stories (London: Herbert Jenkins, [October] 1930), The Marryat Book: Scenes from the Works of Captain Marryat (1930), More Great Ghost Stories (London: Herbert Jenkins, [November] 1932), and Where Away? Famous Stories of the Sea: The Boys' Book of Sea Stories (1933). He also published stories and articles in newspapers and journals, like The Nineteenth Century and After, Fortnightly, T.P.'s Weekly, Irish Independent, Manchester Guardian, and various other periodicals. 

The two anthologies of ghost stories are McGrath's most significant contribution to the field of supernatural literature. The first book contains fifteen stories, the second twelve. The first contains a wide-ranging twenty-four page introduction on "The Art of the Ghost Story," while the second contains another eleven pages on "Anthologists and Other Ghouls." These introductions exhibit McGrath's particular knowledge of the genre, as he mentions familiar works along with some much lesser-known writings like Ferelith by Lord Kilmarnock. He calls Bulwer-Lytton and J. Sheridan Le Fanu "the two great masters of the ghost story during the Dickens period" and shows a familiarity with many stories published in periodicals. In his introduction to the second volume, McGrath admits that he doesn't believe in ghosts, and that he isn't much interested in the "true ghost story." He notes that for both anthologies he has selected a number of tales that have not been previously reprinted but he feels that all of the tales selected are worth reading.

Where Away? contains twelve stories (authors include A. Conan Doyle, Captain Marryat, and W. Clark Russell, among others) but has no introduction at all, and a surprising omission from the contents is anything by William Hope Hodgson, whose first-rate sea stories, often horrific, with a large number of them classics of weird fiction, would be likely to have been favorites of the editor if he knew them.

He reworked his autobiography into a new book, The Last Landfall as by Desmond Malone, published in 1936.  It was the first (and only) of his books to achieve an American edition.  In fact, it was more successful in the U.S. than in England, for there was a book club edition published by the Book League of America.

After the Second World War, McGrath moved to western Ireland to explore his family's roots. He married Gertrude [later known as "Jill"] O'Kane (1914-1977) in Mayo, Ireland, in 1949; they had three daughters.  His final book was a third autobiography, detailing his life after he came to Ireland.  It was published as Bus by the Brook (1964) under a pen name slightly altered from his real name, Morrow MacRath.  He died at the age of ninety.

*Thanks to Shirley Burns and Geraldine Gahan for their generous help.



Monday, February 18, 2019

Alan Hyder

Alan Hyder (b. reg. Croydon, Surrey, Jan-March 1895; d. The Lizard, Cornwall, 29 June 1952)

Alan Hyder was born Frederick Alan Hyder, the oldest of three children of Frederick Richard Edie Hyder (1863-1942), a railway clerk, and Ellen Frances Jackson (1864-1843), who were married in Deptford St. Paul on 20 December 1890.  He had two younger sisters. Before adulthood he switched the ordering of his names (presumably to avoid confusion with his father Frederick), and was thereafter known as Alan Frederick Hyder.

Hyder published four novels between 1932 and 1936, and two story collections in 1944 and 1950.  He appears to have kept a regular job in the architectural department of the Civil Service all the while he was publishing.  Biographical details on Hyder are scarce. The dust-wrapper of the U.S. edition of Hyder's fourth novel, Prelude to Blue Mountains (1936), has a photograph (reproduced at right) and some biographical data, worth recording here:
Age 39. Height 6' 3" Weight 14 stones (196 lbs). Fought as a boy throughout the War in France. Wounded 5 times. Survived to discard 3 medals with a lot of other old junk and to regard the unfortified frontier between America and Canada with ardent admiration. Been at various times: Civil Servant, black-and-white artist and short-story writer. Lived in Egypt, Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, and the West Indies. Have never yet visited U.S.A. but two main ambitions are (a) to spend a week on horse in the Grand Canyon; (b) to spend a day with a blonde—a real hard-boiled American Cinematic gum-chewing wise-cracking ganster's moll—is that correct?—at Coney Island. 
Hyder's narrative of an episode in his war service, "A Nightmare," was published in Everyman at War: Sixty Personal Narratives of the War (1930), edited by C.B. Purdom.

Hyder's four novels include Lofty (1932), the story of wild boy sent to a reformatory, who escapes and is taken to Cairo where he falls in love, only to end up in the trenches in France, after which his poverty and despair leads to tragic results. Black-Girl, White-Lady (1934) is the story of a "near-white" woman in Jamaica. It is filled with annoying dialect and today the book would doubtless be considered racist.

Hyder's third novel is his most significant, Vampires Overhead (London: Philip Allan, [April] 1935). It was published as part of the Creeps series, and is basically a pulp horror thriller, wherein London is invaded by hordes of vampires, devastating the city.  Three survivors escape to the countryside. While it has a fascinating set-up, the story quickly descends into a simplistic contest of jealousies and survival.  Vampires Overhead was championed by Karl Edward Wagner in one of the ecclectic lists he published in Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine in 1983.  Wagner listed Vampires Overhead as one of "The Thirteen Best Science Fiction Horror Novels." 

Hyder's final novel Prelude to Blue Mountains is the only one of his books to achieve a contemporary American edition. It tells of Start Hansone, who murders his nagging wife, and falls in with a vagabond and his daughter, escapes execution and end up in Jamaica.

Jack Adrian, in an introduction to the 2002 Ash-Tree Press reprint of Vampires Overhead, notes that Hyder's novels all concern "doomed lives battling hopelessly against the inevitable," and that his four novels all come from publishers not known for quality literature. 

Between 1934 and 1950, Hyder published around 130 short stories in the London newspaper The Evening News. Many of these stories are about a ten-year old Jamaican boy named Matthias Nehemiah Martingue but called Matt, and twenty-six stories were collected in Matt (London: Quality Press, 1944).  A further fifty  stories were collected in The Magic of Matt (London: P.R. Gawthorn, 1950), which includes seventeen rather crude illustrations by the author.  The dust-wrapper blurb notes the ingredients of the stories are "humour and pathos, thrills and adventures, fantasy and romance, with a slight salting of horror." Jack Adrian characterized Matt as "lively, mischievous, and irrepressible" and his stories as "knockabout tales in which Matt either gets the better of fat constable Mermian, or gets whupped by his (equally fat) Mammy."

Hyder also published stories in The Star, Empire Youth Annual, Britannia and Eve, The Strand Magazine, and Pearson's Weekly.

Hyder married Winifred M. Lillington in Fulham, London, in the last quarter of 1924.  He died of cardio vascular degeneration. His death certificate notes he was a "retired author."

Friday, February 15, 2019

Clifford Ball

Clifford Ball (b. New York City, 24 January 1908; d. Baltimore, 11 January 1947)

Clifford Nankivell Ball was the only child of Emma Vaughn Nankivell (1874-1965), and her first husband, whose first name is presently unknown.  By the 1910 US Census, Emma had been married for three years, but she and her son had moved in with her parents in Millerstown, Pennsylvania. Emma's parents were Thomas Nankivell (1844-1930), who had been born in England (the name Nankivell originated in Cornwall), and his wife Martha Ann Vaughn (1848-1918). Around 1921 Emma married Asel B. Porter (1876-1956).

Clifford graduated from the Millerstown High School in May 1925 and, according to his 1941 U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, completed one year of college.  Between 1937 and 1941 Ball contributed six short stories to Weird Tales magazine, the first three of which are sword and sorcery tales reminiscent of Robert E. Howard's barbarian tales. These feature Duar, a muscular barbarian, or Rald, a barbarian thief. The first, "Duar the Accursed" (May 1937) is fairly derivative of "The Tower of the Elephant" (Weird Tales, March 1933), a Conan story. The other two are "The Thief of Forthe" (July 1937); "The Goddess Awakes" (February 1938). Ball's last three stories are very different from the first three. These stories include "The Swine of Aeaea" (March 1939); "The Little Man" (August 1939); and "The Werewolf Howls" (November 1941). Ball's first four stories were accompanied by illustrations by Virgil Finlay. 

A biographical note on Ball, announcing two further stories forthcoming, appeared in October 1937 issue of Weird Tales, after two of his stories had already been published.  It reads:
This 29-year-old newest sensation of Weird Tales has led a life as adventurous as that of either of his two barbarian heroes. He went through high school in Millerstown, Pennsylvania, experiencing great difficulty with his mathematics and with a young and attractive school-teacher of whom he became enamored. After he had been graduated, he took a job in the license bureau of the State Highway Department. A few months later he began to hate the place, and left. The Miami catastrophe of 1927 occurred [actually a devastating hurricane which hit Miami in September 1926], and he and a friend trekked south to Florida, expecting to find heavy salaries waiting for eager workers. The state was "broke;" and tourists, alarmed by the tidal wave, were frightened away. Ball has slung hash, worked on dynamite crews as a capper, fry-cooked, run a dice table in a gambling-house, dug ditches, leveled auto springs, spread cloth in a shirt factory, and served beer in a Virginia tavern. This will always remain in Ball's memory, he says, as the best moments of his life (p. 510).
Ball also wrote three letters to Weird Tales that were published in the letter column, "The Eyrie."  The first was in appreciation of the late Robert E. Howard:
I have been a constant reader of your magazine since 1925, when some author's conception of weirdness was a gigantic ape dragging a half-naked female about a jungle, and I have watched it progress steadily upward to the zenith. I do not write criticisms; the main purpose of this letter is that I feel moved to offer my condolences upon the death of Mr. Howard. A hundred international Tarzans could never erase the memory of Conan the Cimmerian. Neither Northwest Smith nor Jirel of Jory—and in Moore you have an excellent author—can quite supplant his glory. When I read that "Red Nails" would be the last of Conan's exploits I felt as though some sort of income, or expected resource, had been suddenly severed. (January 1937, written from Astoria, New York) 
A letter in the January 1938, Ball praises stories by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, and Robert Bloch; and in a final letter in June 1938 Ball issue replies to some criticisms of Ball's third story "The Goddess Awakes."

He married twice, first, on 7 June 1933, to Hermine J. Mahle, of Woodside, Long Island.  The couple settled in New York City after their marriage, but were divorced before the 1940 Census.  Ball enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on 27 January 1941, and served in W.W. II as part of the 788th Bomb Squadron.  He married Jean E. Stewart in Boise, Idaho, on 12 January 1943.

Ball settled in Baltimore with his wife after his discharge from the Army in September 1946. He drowned in the harbor in Baltimore on Saturday night, 11 January 1947, moments before a rescue boat could reach him. Clifford Ball is buried alongside his mother's family in Millerstown, Pennsylvania.

Ball's first story "Duar the Accursed" was reprinted by Lin Carter in his anthology New Worlds for Old (1971), part of the acclaimed Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. All six of Ball's stories were collected in The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories (2018).  None of Ball's stories are very original, and they do not aspire to be more than competent and entertaining pulp fiction.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Rah Hoffman

Rah Hoffman (b. Muscatine, Iowa, 25 November 1920; d. Los Angeles, 25 February 2013)

Robert Arthur Hoffman was the son of Fred Harold Hoffman (1887-1933) and Hazel Miriam Becker (1894-1955),  He had an older sister, Miriam Hazel Hoffman (1912-1975), whose married name was Auld.

Hoffman was a 1937 graduate of Muscatine High School, and in the 1940 Census he is listed as a secretary at a real estate firm.  Sometime later in 1940, or soon after, Hoffman and his mother moved from Iowa to California.  Hoffman studied music at the University of Southern California, his education being interrupted by war service (he was drafted in 1943), after which he received his B.A.

Clark Ashton Smith, Francis T. Laney, and Rah Hoffman in 1943
Hoffman did not write much, and is primarily remembered as a friend and associate of Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961). He became a leading figure behind the scenes in Smith scholarship. Hoffman read Smith's stories in Weird Tales when he was in high school, and visited Smith in Auburn first on 27 December 1941, and several times in 1943, after he was posted near Auburn for his war service. On 30 October 1943 he was accompanied on a visit to Smith by Francis T. Laney (1914-1958), the editor of the Lovecraftian fanzine The Acolyte. Hoffman had secured a number of Smith items for publication in Laney's fanzine, and the Spring 1944 issue of The Acolyte (volume 2 no. 2; whole number 3) contains an article "The Arkana of Arkham-Auburn" as by "R.A. Hoffman" (soon to acquire the nickname Rah), an account of his visits to Smith. (The uncredited co-author was Smith himself.)  The same issue includes a poem ("The Statues") by Hoffman in the manner of Smith, and drawings ("Lemitrons on Venus," the other untitled) by Hoffman, as well as a contribution by Smith ("Excerpts from The Black Book"). "The Arkana of Arkham-Auburn" was reprinted in the Clark Ashton Smith issue of Nyctalops, no. 8 (August 1972).

Hoffman was active for many years in the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, and professionally he was as a film editor in a number of Hollywood studios. Hoffman and Donald Sidney-Fryer met in May 1961, inaugurating a friendship that would last for over fifty years. Hoffman contributed a letter of Smith-related reminiscences to Sidney-Fryer's long-awaited Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (1978).  The letter is reprinted, along with some of Hoffman's photographs of Smith, in the exquisite volume In the Realms of Mystery and Wonder: Collected Prose Poems and Artwork of Clark Ashton Smith (2017), edited by Scott Connors. The 1979 Arkham House volume The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith is based on a transcription by Hoffman and Donald Sidney-Fryer made of Smith's notebook in 1961-62.

Hoffman is credited with advice and help on the textual corrections to two of the three volumes of the stories of Clark Ashton Smith, as edited by Donald Sidney-Fryer and published as mass market paperbacks by Timescape:  The City of the Singing Flame (1981) and The Last Incantation (1982).  Hoffman assisted Steve Behrends on many of his Smith publications throughout the 1980s, most notably the grab-all volume Strange Shadows: The Uncollected Fiction and Essays of Clark Ashton Smith (1989), edited by Behrends, "with Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman."

In August 1998 Hoffman asked Donald Sidney-Fryer to share his house in Westchester on the west side of Los Angeles, and Sidney-Fryer, in his autobiography Hobgoblin Apollo (2016), called that fifteen year period beginning in 1998 the happiest and most productive of his life. Hoffman died at the age of 92, while recuperating from a broken hip sustained in a fall.

Monday, February 11, 2019

R.H. Wright

From The Imp
R.H. Wright (b. Belfast?, before 1880; d. New Zealand?, after 1920)

R.H. Wright is known to have published four books between 1904 and 1908, three novels and one work of nonfiction.  In order the books were A Plain Man's Tale (Belfast, 1904). The Surprising Adventures of My Friend, Patrick Dempsey (Dublin, 1906); The Outer Darkness (London:  Greening & Co., [December] 1906), and The Scout in War: What He Does and How to Do It (Dublin, 1908), as by R.H.W., one of "Rimington's Tigers."

A Plain Man's Tale is boys adventure story about a young Yorkshireman who sails for Ireland and lands in Antrim.  The Surprising Adventures of My Friend, Patrick Dempsey is a shorter book, comprising seven comedic tales told by the hero.

Wright's third novel, The Outer Darkness, is a significant fantasy novel.  Bookseller George Locke listed it, along with two other books, as forerunners "of the mystical but very imaginative interplanetary which was to culminate in David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus."

It is an afterlife fantasy, told in the method of a found manuscript. The set-up is that Wright has read in a Tasmanian newspaper about a sailor who has found a curious silver casket which contains a strange manuscript. The manuscript is the narrative of a cruel businessman who died in "189—", having  neglected his wife and children in his pursuit of wealth. He is taken bodily through space to be judged by the King before the Great White Throne. What makes The Outer Darkness interesting is that it is not a preachy tract but a series of strange episodes that gradually unfold the mystery of the story. It has sentimental touches, yet the ending is intriguingly left ambiguous. The book has no apparent relationship to A Voyage to Arcturus beyond the fact that both are early interplanetary fantasies. [Some of the above is extracted from my much longer review of the book in my Late Reviews (2018).]

A contemporary review of the book in The Evening Post for 29 June 1907 is quite dismissive:
The infernal regions are controlled by a she-fiend, a blend of Circe and "She," omnipotent and omniscient in her own domain. So long as her subjects do not displease her, they enjoy themselves to their heart's content in the indulgence of their desires; but for the slightest offence they are tortured to death or consigned to perpetual misery immured in the most loathsome hells.  Here again, there is no co-ordination between offence and penalty, all being at the absolute caprice of the Queen of Evil. The book strikes us as a mere "pot-boiler," something to meet the desire of jaded readers for a new sensation. But it is dull and lifeless, appealing neither  to the intellect not to the imagination. Its lurid horrors may commend it to depraved tastes; but it has no value, literary or otherwise.
It has been difficult to track down R.H. Wright, for nowhere have I been able to discover his full first and middle names. (He was not Robert Hamilton Wright, as one source has alleged.) I give here the relevant details from the two known sources of biographical information on Wright. I'll be grateful if any one can add to it.

From Ireland in Fiction (1919) by Stephen J. Brown:
A Belfast man who served with the Rimington Guides in the South African War and afterwards emigrated to New Zealand. He was wounded in the present war. . . . he has written . . . many short stories and articles.
From The Imp Supplement to December 1907, the house organ of Greening & Co., publisher of The Outer Darkness:
The earliest ambition of Mr. R.H. Wright, author of The Outer Darkness, was to be a locomotive driver. Although he has never attained to this ambition, he has had a fairly varied and interesting career. At the age of eighteen he emigrated to New Zealand, where he gained a vast amount of Colonial experience. When the South African War broke out he joined Rimington's Guides, or "tigers"  as they are called. During the war he had two horses shot under him, and gained a medal and five clasps. He is very keen on shooting and yachting, and is the honorary secretary of the Ballyholme Sailing Club. He is also a staunch Home Ruler and Socialist, but not a Little Englander. The Outer Darkness is a strange story, dealing with the life we are to live in after we die. It is distinctly powerful and original.
The records of the Rimington Guides do not give his full name (only "R.H. Wright"), and the New Zealand Army WWI Casualty Lists for 1914-1919 confirm that R.H. Wright of the New Zealand Engineers, was injured on 9 June 1915.  The minutes of the Ballyholme Sailing Club for 1907-1909, held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland,  confirm that R.H. Wright was a member but they do not spell out his full name. 

Of his "many" short stories and articles, only three are known: "The Training of a Rifle Shot" in The Imp, August 1907, "The Building of the 'Susan Jane'" in The Imp, November 1907, and "Heads or Tails?" in The Novel Magazine, July 1909.