Friday 2 September 2011

Gavin Lyall, Author... and Cover Artist (The Wrong Side of the Sky, Hodder & Stoughton, 1961)

Veering away from the signed editions momentarily, I mentioned at the end of yesterday's post on a signed edition of Gavin Lyall's Blame the Dead that, during the course of what I laughingly call my research into Lyall's inscription inside the book, I turned up a nugget of info about an earlier Lyall novel, which answered a question that had been bothering me for a while. (Let's not get into why such things prey on my mind; that way lies madness.)

To recap: the dedication in that copy of Blame the Dead is to a "Frank", who, I reasoned, might well be Frank Hardman, with whom Lyall and an old schoolfriend named Martin Davison worked on the story for a 1969 Hammer film titled Moon Zero Two. Intrigued by Lyall's involvement with the movie, I dug a little deeper and turned up this interview with Martin Davison on David Sisson's sci-fi model website. In the interview Davison reveals all manner of titbits about the making of Moon Zero Two in general and Lyall's role in particular, as well as one or two extraneous bits of Lyall info, such as the fact that he was a keen model-maker (as was Davison). But the quote that really caught my eye concerned this book:

The Wrong Side of the Sky was Gavin Lyall's debut, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1961. It's an excellent thriller, starring Jack Clay, the first of a series of pilot protagonists in Lyall's novels (Lyall was an RAF pilot himself, as evidenced by the back cover photo), who embarks on a quest for lost treasure around the islands of the Middle East, which entails, as you'd expect, a number of gripping flying sequences. P. G. Wodehouse said of the book, "Terrific! When better novels of suspense than this are written, lead me to them." (Hopefully someone led Mr. Wodehouse to Lyall's later novels, some of which are indeed better than The Wrong Side of the Sky.)

Ever since I bought this first edition of The Wrong Side of the Sky, at the – now sadly defunct – Rye Book Fair back in 2009, I've been wondering who the artist responsible for the painting on the front of the dustjacket was. There's no credit on either jacket flap, and no signature on the painting itself. So imagine my delight (go on: just imagine it) when David Sisson's interview with Martin Davison finally provided the answer. Here's the relevant quote: 

"[Lyall] was a very successful thriller writer and continued as such for many years... I attach a scan of an extremely beaten up book cover of his first thriller The Wrong Side of the Sky from 1961. The artwork on the cover was actually done by Gavin himself, because he thought the cover provided by Hodder and Stoughton was inadequate for the job."

There you have it. The cover artist on the first edition of The Wrong Side of the Sky by Gavin Lyall was... Gavin Lyall. And a creditable job he did, too. Mystery solved!

Anyway, next week I'll be rounding off my series on signed editions with a final handful of books; I've been saving the best to last and there are some real doozies in this lot, among them novels by authors who are favourites both old and new on Existential Ennui. I'm keen to get through them by the end of next week because the week after that I'll be dedicating Existential Ennui to a spy fiction author who's also made a fair few appearances on this blog, to mark the occasion of the release of a new film based on one of his most famous books: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. That's John le Carré Week – or, perhaps more accurately, George Smiley Week – in just over seven days' time.

Next up, though, as promised, I'll likely have another Donald E. Westlake science fiction story...


  1. Hi, You may no longer check this site for comments but I'll hope for the best. Since you've solved a Gavin Lyall question here I'm wondering if you've found answers to others. All Lyall's early heroes had C-A names (Case, Cary, Clay etc.) Did you ever encounter a reason for this? I once wrote a college paper connecting these characters and their afinities for machines with Cassidy from the Ginsburg poems wh was a "greater driver". He's also the driver in The Electric Kool AId Acid Test. In Gibson's Neuromancer the hero is also called Case, and he has special ability to deal with cyber security. Interesting, no? Another question I've had is whether Lyall was simply having fun with all the royalty references in Judas Country. (Queen Air, King David, Jehanghir, Roy ="Roi" Ken short for King, there are more but you get the picture.) Is there a way to put these together or is he just playing? Wrong Side of the Sky has a bit of an Odysseus or Aeneas feel, as they bounce around the Mediterranean. Can a tight connection be made? Lyall was clearly not averse to amusing trickery in story telling. In Shooting Script the pilot mocks the Bolivar movie but winds up living out the script himself. Your thoughts on any of these? (

  2. I tried to post this comment before but I don't think it went in. My apologies if it did. Since you seem interested in questions about Lyall I wonder if you've thought about these or encountered answers. Why all the C-A names in the early books- Case, Cary, Clay Canneton and others? I wrote a paper linking these guys and their affinity for airplanes or guns to Cassidy, the extraordinary driver in Howl and The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, and to Case, who has a special talent for bypassing cyber security in Gibson's Neuromancer. In the end the Lyall characters succeed not just by acumen or toughness but by superior use of technology. The beginning of The wrong Side of the Sky describes Ken as having a perfect affinity for airplanes. Are all the characters the same because their personalities are secondary to this affinity? How about the wanderings in the WSotS? These include Greek islands and an encounter with the wrong woman in North Africa, like Odysseus and Aeneas. Can the connection be extended? We know Lyall likes games like this because he has the pilot in Shooting Script live out his own mockery of the movie script. How about all the kings in Judas Country? Roy (roi) and Ken (king) fly a Queen Air they got from Kingsley loaded with Kroeger Royale, stay at the Castle and drink at the King David and the Palace. They have encounters with Eleanor (the name of several queens) and Jehangir (an eastern version of Alexander.) Is this all just for fun since they're looking for Richard's sword or is there more intent? If anyone reads this and has thoughts they can e mail me at Sine this is a ten-year -old blog perhaps nobody looks at it any more and I am writing into the void! Thanks, Sasha