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."

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