Friday 4 November 2011

A Letter from Author P. M. Hubbard to Fellow Suspense Novelist Alan Kennington (28 November, 1974)

Well, I believe I've strung this one out long enough now, no? Certainly I'm in danger of over-egging the significance of the P. M. Hubbard ephemera I've been banging on about all week. So, without (er, much) further ado, let's take a look at what was inside the signed American first edition of British suspense novelist Philip Maitland Hubbard's A Thirsty Evil I blogged about yesterday – which will in turn explain how I knew Hubbard's signature on the book's endpapers was genuine:

It is, as you'll no doubt have already have discerned from the title of this post, a letter from P. M. Hubbard, dated 28 November, 1974 – almost certainly the same date the author signed the copy of A Thirsty Evil, and written in the same hand. The book was, you'll recall, inscribed to an "Alan":

But the letter is addressed to a "Tonti". So who were Alan and Tonti? There's a clue in the second paragraph of the letter, where Hubbard writes, "Here is a copy of my present one [A Thirsty Evil] in return for HEMLOCK GALORE." Hemlock Galore is an obscure thriller published by Robert Hale in 1974 by the British author Alan Kennington, so clearly Hubbard is writing to Kennington's wife (whose full name was Constance, maiden name Rycroft – thank you to Steve Holland for that piece of info). There's scant information about Kennington online; as well as Hemlock Galore he appears to have written a number of books in the 1940s and '50s, possibly all crime/mystery/suspense novels. Titles include Death of a Shrew (1937), A Bagful of Bones (1942), and the intriguingly named – and I'm not making this up – Young Man with a Scythe (1951). He also apparently wrote under the alias Alan Grant, although that's difficult to establish properly due to the fact that there's a rather more famous writer named Alan Grant, which makes googling Kennington's pseudonym a bit of a bugger.

After explaining that he hasn't had time to read Hemlock Galore yet, having been away and consequently "catching up with nearly a fortnight's post", Hubbard notes that he'll read the novel "at a sitting, because (as I'm sure he'll agree) that is the way one would like one's books to be read—apart from the probability that I shall not, as they say, be able to put it down."

The letter continues overleaf:

As to mine, I don't know if you'll like it, but anyhow, try it yourself, & then see if you think it worth while reading [?] to Alan. This, as you will see, is the American edition, but the text is English, because Atheneum now photograph Macmillan's pages. (However, the blurb is an all-American production, & as breathlessly awful as all of them. Please don't read this, as you won't even start the book.)

That wry criticism of American copywriters made me smile. But then we reach the final sign-off line, and a startling admission from Hubbard:

However, it's not one I'm very keen on myself, so you don't have even to say you like it.

Crikey. Probably a good job the blurb was written by an (over) enthusiastic copywriter than by Hubbard himself, then. I've blacked out the full address at the top of the letter – the house may still be occupied – but it was sent from Wigtownshire in south west Scotland, where Hubbard moved to from Dorset in 1973 and lived until his death in 1980. It's not the most detailed of letters – the Joseph Hone missive I found in a first edition of Hone's The Private Sector is perhaps more revealing – but it's still an intriguing insight into Hubbard's life and friendships, not to mention his own views on his novels.

There was one other, more minor piece of ephemera inside the book:

A clipping of a newspaper obituary for Hubbard. Presumably either Alan or Tonti Kennington inserted it in the book alongside the letter, and the whole lot went to a dealer upon either of their deaths (I bought the book from an AbeBooks seller, Anthony Spranger in Marlborough, near Swindon).

And that brings us to the end of this run of P. M. Hubbard posts, although once again I will be returning to him down the line. For our next Existential Ennui series, though, it's back to the spy fiction, with a British, female author who penned a handful of espionage and suspense thrillers in the 1950s before moving on to more literary concerns... First, however: this.

NB: Another piece of fascinating P. M. Hubbard ephemera to do with A Thirsty Evil can be found here.

Thursday 3 November 2011

A Thirsty Evil by P. M. Hubbard: US First Edition (Atheneum, 1974), Signed Association Copy

This was to be the final post on British suspense novelist Philip Maitland Hubbard in this latest run, but as I mentioned at the end of the previous post (on Rat Trap Island), this particular book came with a very exciting bit of ephemera enclosed. And since the book itself is special enough, I reckon that piece of paraphernalia deserves a post all of its own. As to what it is... well, you'll just have to wait for the next P. M. Hubbard post. (I'm such a tease...) First though, there's this:

An American first edition of Hubbard's fourteenth novel, A Thirsty Evil, published by Atheneum in 1974 – the same year as the UK Macmillan first. Once again the novel is set largely in the countryside, in this case the West Country, to where novelist Ian Mackellar decamps in obsessive pursuit of a woman, Julia Mellors, whom he met at a London literary party, leading him in turn to an eighteenth-century Folly Pool and to Julia's monstrous twin younger brother and sister. A Thirsty Evil was a particular favourite of the late H. R. F. Keating, who I blogged about just last week, and who said of Hubbard: "Acquire the Hubbard taste, it's richly rewarding". That remark was made to fellow crime writer Mike Ripley, who again has featured on Existential Ennui, this time in person – Mike left a comment on the second part of my Anthony Price interview back in August.

The dustjacket on the Atheneum edition of A Thirsty Evil was designed by James and Ruth McCrea, a husband-and-wife team of illustrators who together created a number of children's titles – among them The Magic Tree and The Story of Olaf – for Atheneum and other publishers in the '60s and '70s, not only illustrating the books but also writing them, setting the type, and pulling the proofs on their own hand presses.

As stated at the start of this post, I'll come to the main piece of paraphernalia that was inside the book in the next missive (there's another piece which is more minor, but still interesting, and which I'll also feature in the next post), but the book itself is quite remarkable in its own right, for this reason:

It's signed by P. M. Hubbard on the front endpapers. To my knowledge this makes it the only signed edition of any of Hubbard's works ever seen online – there are currently no signed copies of any of his novels on AbeBooks, Amazon or eBay. I suspect that, like the British thriller and espionage writer Gavin Lyall, Hubbard only signed books for friends, although that's pure conjecture on my part, and Hubbard aficionados should feel free to set me straight. But if you're wondering how I know it's definitely Hubbard's signature – the book is, after all, merely signed "Philip" – and you're perhaps also curious as to who it's dedicated to: all will be revealed shortly...

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Rat Trap Island by P. M. Hubbard (Cassell, 1964); John Strickland Goodall Cover Art

Next in this short run of posts on British suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard, the second of his two works for children:

Rat Trap Island was first published in hardback the UK by Cassell & Company in 1964, the same year as Hubbard's second novel for adults, Picture of Millie (Michael Joseph). I blogged about Hubbard's debut kids' book – and possibly his debut novel – Anna Highbury during my initial run of posts on the author in May, and Rat Trap Island similarly documents the adventures of three children, in this case the Liddell brood – Carola, the oldest, and twins Jennie and Richard – who, following the hospitalisation of their mother, are taken by their father to their Aunt Maggie's for the summer, just outside the (fictional) village of Silbourne. The children find Aunt Maggie's garden leads down to a river, and begin exploring the stretch of water in a rowing-boat, soon discovering the heavily-wooded Rat Trap Island...

Much like Anna Highbury, the tone of Rat Trap Island is necessarily light – it is, after all, a children's book – but there are hints of Hubbard's obsession with a dark and dangerous rurality, reflecting the disturbed psyches of his protagonists (in his adult fiction; less so here). Take this passage, describing the children's first row-boat encounter with the island: 

The trees grew thick on either side, and here there were no houses or gardens on the left-hand bank, only a wild willow-bank with the bigger trees towering above it. To their right, along the shore of the island, the screen was also dense, but this was hedges and bamboo clumps deliberately planted, and outside them, staked deep into the river bed, the poles of the barbed-wire fence. At intervals, white, forbidding and legible even from this distance, the notices said: PRIVATE. NO LANDING. KEEP OUT.

Note there the "dense", "deliberately planted" bamboo and hedges, the "forbidding" notices: typical of Hubbard's evocation of the countryside as a frequently hostile place – which is, of course, quite at odds with his own biographical background living peacefully in Guernsey, rural Dorset and Scotland.

The dustjacket painting on the Cassell edition of Rat Trap Island is credited to J. S. Goodall, who is, in fact, John Strickland Goodall, a painter and illustrator much admired and highly sought-after by collectors. Fans of Dora Jessie Saint's Miss Read novels will be very familiar with his work, which graced the covers and interiors of thirty-plus Miss Read books over a forty year period from 1955. Goodall's Victorian and Edwardian paintings are held in collections all around the world, and he also produced his own series of wordless children's books from the late 1960s onwards.

As with Anna Highbury, there was no American edition of Rat Trap Island, and the four copies of the Cassell first currently on AbeBooks are all in the UK or New Zealand. However, there was also a Children's Book Club edition, issued in the same year as the Cassell one and sporting the same dustjacket illustration; at present there are nine of those listed on AbeBooks, a couple from American sellers, so all is not lost if you're in the States and you want to get hold of a copy.

Let's move on to the third and final P. M. Hubbard post. And for that one I've got an edition of a Hubbard novel which not only boasts a personalised aspect that, to my knowledge, makes it pretty much unique among Hubbard publications, but also includes two related pieces of paraphernalia, one of which offers a fleeting but nevertheless instructive glimpse into Hubbard's life and work...

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Three from P. M. Hubbard: The Dancing Man, The Graveyard, The Quiet River (Macmillan, 1971 / 1975 / 1978)

I would say we've left the doom and gloom which (understandably) characterized my just-finished series on post-apocalyptic prose behind now, but the subject of this next (mercifully shorter) series of posts isn't the cheeriest of souls either...

Cult British writer Philip Maitland Hubbard had eighteen novels published from 1963 to 1979, the majority of them works of adult suspense fiction. I blogged about Hubbard in a run of posts back in May, reviewing his 1965 classic, A Hive of Glass, and a 1963 short story, as well as looking at one or two others of his books, noting his preoccupation with environment and nature and how his often unnerving rural settings reflect the fractured psychologies of his characters. The dustjacket you can see up top is from the 1967 Geoffrey Bles first edition of The Tower, which I showcased during the aforementioned dystopian series as part of this post on the British first of Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon – both covers being illustrated by Donald Green. And it was the writing of that post which prompted me to recall I still had some Hubbard books to blog about, and led to me stumbling upon something very special indeed from the author, which I'll be revealing later this week.

But to begin, let's have a look at a trio of Hubbard first editions, all published in the UK by Macmillan in the 1970s, and all of which I came across when I was hoovering up Hubbard books around the time of that initial run of posts...

The Dancing Man (Macmillan, 1971) was P. M. Hubbard's eleventh novel, and like A Hive of Glass is a tale of obsession, this time of an archaeological kind and set in rural Wales (an environ which Hubbard aficionado Wyatt James reckoned was the author's "most creepy"). The dustjacket on the Macmillan edition was illustrated by Bush Hollyhead, one of the partners – with George Hardie and others – at noted design agency Nicholas Thirkell Associates (NTA Studios). Like almost all of Hubbard's books, The Dancing Man has been out of print for years; AbeBooks does have fourteen copies of the Macmillan first for sale presently, but only one of those is from a UK seller, for £12.

The Graveyard (Macmillan, 1975), Hubbard's fifteenth novel, is set in the Scottish Highlands (where Hubbard moved to in 1973 and lived until his death in 1980), and is as much about deerstalking and the hardships of life around the slopes and lochs of Scotland as it is about a secret buried on a hillside. The Macmillan first of this one is in even shorter supply than The Dancing Man (although there are a lot of BCA book club editions around): AbeBooks has just seven copies listed worldwide at the moment. (It's also worth noting that the pages in the Macmillan edition are prone to browning; evidently the publisher was using inferior paper stock around this time.) The customarily – for Hubbard novels, that is – weird and unnerving jacket illustration is by Cheryl Drower, about whom I've been able to determine virtually nothing other than she provided some illustrations for Science Fiction Monthly in the mid-1970s.

Finally, The Quiet River (Macmillan, 1978), which I found in an actual, physical secondhand bookshop (as opposed to buying it online) – Colin Page Antiquarian Books in Brighton – and which came with a review slip inside it:

The Quiet River was Hubbard's penultimate novel, and is about the relocation of a married couple to a remote country house. There's no mystery to speak of, merely an examination of the disintegration of an unstable relationship, reflected in the mundane, flooded Midlands setting. The jacket photo is by Chris Yates, one of a handful of British book cover photographers whose pictures are typified by a flat, 1970s style (see also Beverley le Barrow). I blogged about Yates previously in this post on Geoffrey Household's Rogue Justice; these days Yates is better known as an angler than as a cover designer. The Macmillan first of The Quiet River ranks somewhere in-between The Dancing Man and The Graveyard in terms of availability; currently there are nine copies for sale on AbeBooks worldwide.

Next from P. M. Hubbard, a book from very early in his career: the second of his two children's novels...

Monday 31 October 2011

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: UK First Edition / First Impression (Picador, 2006)

And so, after a Violent World of Parker cross-post interlude, we reach the grand finale of my interminable series of posts on post-apocalyptic books. And to round things off, here's a reasonably recent dystopian tale which has become something of a literary sensation:

Cormac McCarthy's The Road was first published in hardback in 2006, in the US by Alfred A. Knopf and in the UK by Picador. The edition you can see above is the Picador first edition and first impression (with the full number strike-off line on the copyright page), which had a much smaller print run than the US edition (and subsequently went through a number of printings), and is therefore much scarcer and generally more expensive than its American counterpart. In fine or near-fine condition, third or fourth impressions go for £10–£15 or so; second impressions for £20–£30; and first impressions vary wildly from £125–£250. My near-fine copy was a lucky find; I'd been on the lookout for a British first edition/first printing for a few years, and finally chanced upon this one in a Cecil Court bookshop for £30, which, considering Cecil Court booksellers tend to price their wares at the higher end of the scale, wasn't bad at all.

First editions of all of Cormac McCarthy's novels are in demand, and The Road – which was his last novel to date – especially so; it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007, begat a well-received, largely faithful film in 2009, was recently chosen as one of twenty-five books to be given away on the next World Book Night (the list also includes Mark Billingham's Sleepyhead), and has been announced as a set text for A-level students from January 2012. It's easy to see why on that last one: the novel is famed for its grammatical idiosyncrasies, notably McCarthy's fondness for sentence fragments, the absence of quote marks around dialogue, and the lack of apostrophes on certain contractions ("dont", "cant", etc). There's an interesting post (and attendant comments) on the grammar of The Road here, and I actually considered writing this post in a mock-Road manner ("Published in 2006. Valuable in first..."), but figured that might get a bit much.

Of course, these grammatical peculiarities shouldn't distract from – indeed are intrinsic to, the devolving language signifying the disintegration of society – the success of The Road as a powerful and memorable piece of fiction. Written in the third person in short passages (there are no chapters), it's a frequently terrifying account of a man and a boy's journey across an ash-covered, ruined America, with occasional flashbacks to the immediate aftermath of the unspecified apocalypse which destroyed the country. There's a glimmer of hope at the end of the novel, but by and large it's a relentlessly bleak affair, the only comfort being the boundless love the father has for the son.

On which appropriately gloomy note we leave the end-of-the-world behind for now – to be returned to at a later date, as I've some other post-apocalyptic fiction I want to write about – and move on instead to a suspense novelist who I blogged about in a short run of posts in May of this year: P. M. Hubbard.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Richard Stark's Parker Novels: US Fawcett Gold Medal and UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet Paperback Editions, 1967-9

(NB: a version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

Earlier in the week, at the end of this post on the review slip in Jeffrey Goodman's copy of the 1967 Gold Medal edition of Donald "Richard Stark" Westlake's Point Blank!, I mentioned that seeing that review slip helped me make a connection that answered a question I'd been pondering for a while, and that as a consequence I'd be writing what would likely be a highly tedious follow-up post in which I would explain all. This, dear reader, is that post. I make no apologies for its pseudo-academic didactic nature, so if you have little interest in matters to do with publishing, skip to the end of the post for some pretty pictures.

Still with me? Well you've only got yourself to blame. As I was saying: I was struck by a realization whilst writing that second Point Blank! post, to do with Coronet, the British paperback publisher of the Parker novels in the late-1960s. See, in common with many of the outfits who've published Richard Stark's Parker books over the years, Coronet issued the novels out of sequence. Indeed, to my knowledge, the Parkers have only ever been published in the correct order twice: on their initial publication – although even there I've heard rumours about a couple of the books switching places due to a delay – and more recently when The University of Chicago Press acquired the rights. Every other time, each publisher – Berkley, Avon, Allison & Busby – managed to mix up the running order somehow, whether it be bringing forward a novel due to there being a movie adaptation (both Avon and Allison & Busby with Slayground) or seemingly through sheer incompetence (Berkley).

Coronet were no different. The British publisher started off well enough by issuing The Hunter, the debut Parker novel (original US publication 1962), in 1967, again retitled Point Blank! and with a still of Lee Marvin from John Boorman's movie of that year on the cover. But then, for their next Parker offering in 1968, Coronet skipped the subsequent eight Parkers and published instead the ninth novel, The Rare Coin Score (orig. US publication 1967), following that the same year with the tenth one, The Green Eagle Score (also orig. 1967 in the States). Parker #11, The Black Ice Score (orig. US 1968) was next in 1969, before Coronet jumped back to the seventh Parker, The Seventh (orig. US 1966), now retitled as The Split, and rounded off 1969 with the twelfth Parker, The Sour Lemon Score (orig. US 1969).

Coronet's treatment of Point Blank! and The Split are easy enough to understand: both sport movie stills on the cover and were issued to tie in with their respective film adaptations. But I could never quite work out why Coronet opted to publish Parkers #9–12 instead of, say, The Man with the Getaway Face (Parker #2, orig. US 1963), The Outfit (Parker #3, orig. US 1963), and so forth. Until, that is, I finally fixed on a word in the expanded version of the publishing house's name – a word that also appears in Gold Medal's full name: Fawcett.

Coronet, you see, was an imprint of Hodder Fawcett Ltd in the UK, while Gold Medal was an imprint of Fawcett Publications in the States. They were, in effect, the same publisher, and once you – or rather, I – realise that, then Coronet's publishing strategy becomes easier to comprehend: Fawcett Gold Medal acquired the rights to the Parker series in the States from Pocket Books as of The Rare Coin Score, which is why Hodder Fawcett Coronet followed suit with that book in the UK (after publishing Point Blank!, that is). I guess I should have made the connection earlier with all the blogging I've done on the Coronet editions of the Parkers, but as I said before, I've never been the sharpest tool in the box.

Anyway, so this post isn't a complete waste of everyone's time, I thought it might be instructive to compare the different approaches on the covers of the Fawcett US and UK paperback editions. The American covers were all illustrated by the great Robert McGinnis, but I'm still none the wiser as to who illustrated the UK ones (those that were illustrated, that is). I speculated here that it might be John M. Burns, but, as ever, if anyone reading this can shed light on the true identity of the cover artist on the British editions, you know what to do. The order of publication differed slightly from US to UK, so I'm going with what I think is the US order.

US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1967 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1968
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1967 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1967
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1967 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1968
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1969
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1969
US Fawcett Gold Medal, 1969 / UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet, 1969

Next up, it's the final post-apocalyptic post...