Friday, 31 August 2012

Nuncle and Other Stories by John Wain (Macmillan, 1960): Signed Edition; Lewes Book Bargain; Victor Reinganum Cover Design

This next signed – and inscribed – edition is also a Lewes Book Bargain, as I bought it in the Lewes branch of Oxfam just the other week. Moreover, its dust jacket is, I reckon, splendid enough to join the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – and it's on that jacket that the signature and inscription appears, rather than inside the book itself...

John Wain's Nuncle and Other Stories was first published in hardback in the UK by Macmillan in 1960, although this copy is, in fact, the second impression, issued in the same month (November) as the first printing. Wain, whose profile has, er, waned in recent years, was a poet and critic as well as a novelist, and a friend and contemporary of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, with whom he was associated in The Movement. He was also linked, like Amis, to the Angry Young Men, although neither author really fitted that bill. Reading some of the stories in Nuncle, Amis was the writer who most readily sprang to (my) mind, even before I'd learned of their association; Wain shares in common with Amis a similar wit and a preoccupation – at least with the early Amis – with campus life, and a willingness to twist the knife: the opening story, "Master Richard", about a toddler burdened with adult consciousness, is a gleefully maleficent tale leavened by a late-dawning humanity that in turn leads to a bleak ending. That said, Amis is, I think, the better writer – but then as far as I'm concerned there are few writers as stylish and elegant as Kingsley Amis, so that's really not much of a criticism.

This copy of Nuncle has been inscribed by Wain on the front flap of the dust jacket; you can see part of that inscription above, but here it is in full:

Evidently the book was sent as a Christmas gift (no idea to whom, though; possibly someone living in or around Lewes, given that that's where I found it); Wain hasn't signed his surname in the inscription, but I knew it was his hand because he's also inscribed it from "Eirian and William" – Eirian being Eirian James, his second wife – he was married three times – and William being, I believe, the eldest of his three sons, all of whom came from his second marriage.

The dust jacket design on this Macmillan edition isn't credited, but it is signed: "Reinganum", alias Victor Reinganum, a British abstract painter, designer and illustrator who was linked to Surrealism and who helped guide the style of the Radio Times for forty years. His design for Nuncle is, I think, exemplary, and it's now joined the other covers on the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design page. Speaking of which, and seeing as Nuncle brings the total number of covers on the page up to 87, I thought I'd add a few more jackets to bring it up to a nice round 90, all of them by designers who already have examples on the page, and all wrapping books I bought from secondhand bookshop Dim and Distant in Heathfield, East Sussex. And I'll be unveiling those covers in the next post...

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Westlake Score: The Sour Lemon Score by Richard Stark (Coronet UK First Edition Paperback, 1969)

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog. Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Interrupting the seemingly interminable signed editions and ephemera, here's a Westlake Score which, for me, completes a particular run of Westlake's Richard Stark-written Parker crime novels:

It's the British first edition of The Sour Lemon Score, the twelfth Parker outing, published in paperback by Coronet Books/Hodder Fawcett in 1969 – the same year as the US Fawcett/Gold Medal first edition. This edition is the fourth of a run of four Coronet printings of the Parkers – which, you'll doubtless recall from this post, followed the Gold Medal printing order in the late-1960s (Coronet and Gold Medal being two wings of the same international publishing company) – which all sport the same (uncredited, sadly) style of cover design and art: white backgrounds coupled with colourful but minimalist illustrations. The Sour Lemon Score was the only one of those four – the others being The Rare Coin Score (Parker #9), The Green Eagle Score (Parker #10) and The Black Ice Score (Parker #11) – that I was still missing, until I chanced across this copy online the other week; you don't often see these pre-"bullet hole" cover design printings of the UK Parkers, so I was pleased to come across it.

And its acquisition means that I do now, I believe, own all of the paperbacks of the Parker novels Coronet issued in the UK before they switched to that aforementioned "bullet hole" design in the 1970s. So how about, for the next Violent World of Parker/Existential Ennui cross-post, a gallery of all of the Coronet Parkers from 1967 (when Point Blank debuted in the UK) to 1970 – including some little-seen reprints...? Ahead of that though, next on Existential Ennui it's time for another signed edition... which is also a Lewes Book Bargain... and boasts a Beautiful British Book Jacket to boot...

Friday, 24 August 2012

Memo from Macmillan Publisher Alan Maclean to Chairman (and Former Prime Minister) Harold Macmillan Concerning P. M. Hubbard's A Thirsty Evil (1974); plus Review of the Novel

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

That mouthful of a title up top should give you a pretty good idea of what we're dealing with in this latest post on signed editions (and ephemera), but further explication is, I suspect, warranted...

This is the British first edition of cult suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard's A Thirsty Evil, published by Macmillan in 1974. Now, those of you with reasonable memories might recall my having blogged about this book before, albeit in a different edition: a 1974 US Atheneum first edition, to be precise, signed by P. M. Hubbard and inscribed to his friend, the author Alan Kennington, making it the only signed Hubbard book I've ever seen. That copy of the book came with its own remarkable bit of ephemera: a signed, handwritten letter by Hubbard to Kennington about the novel, which, one might reason, together with the signed edition would be quite enough for any Hubbard enthusiast. But I later spotted this Macmillan edition online and then went to take a look at it at the seller's bookshop, and simply couldn't resist it and the ephemera that was stapled to its front free endpaper.

I'll return to that in a moment, but first, the novel itself. As is often the way with the books I buy, I hadn't read A Thirsty Evil when I originally wrote about it, but I have since, and it is, as the late Wyatt James dryly notes in his annotated bibliography, "a characteristic book by this author". It certainly reminded me of Hubbard's clammy masterpiece A Hive of Glass (1965), although A Thirsty Evil isn't quite of that calibre; overall it's less oppressive, though still with that intensifying aura of dread, the juxtaposition of a rural idyll – in this case centred on a remote pool hiding a submerged, totemic tooth-like stone – with a sense of there being something very wrong in this summer sun-drenched English backwater.

Hubbard's protagonists are often unpleasant fellows, and the narrator of this one, novelist (and heir to a biscuit empire) Ian Mackellar, is a man who is, at root, as feckless as his nemesis, Charlie, the mentally disturbed brother of Julia, the woman Mackellar is obsessed with; it's evident early on that matters won't end well, and so it proves. But the getting there is grotesquely gripping – the tense scenes where Mackellar encounters Charlie and Julia's other sister, Beth, are especially memorable – and both Wyatt James, who labelled the book "not outstanding", and indeed Hubbard himself, who, in his letter to Kennington about the book, stated, "it's not one I'm very keen on myself", were, I think, doing A Thirsty Evil a disservice: it's a short, taut, unnerving little triumph.

The dust jacket illustration on the Macmillan edition of A Thirsty Evil is by well-known children's illustrator (and onetime tutor at Brighton College of Art) Justin Todd, and it's that image which prompted the writing, on 4 February, 1974, of the piece of paraphernalia stapled to the front free endpaper of this particular copy:

It's an internal Macmillan memo, from the then-publisher, Alan Maclean – brother, incidentally, of Cambridge spy Donald Maclean (who recently made a cameo in spy novelist Jeremy Duns's The Moscow Option) – to Macmillan's then-chairman: one Harold Macmillan, prime minister, from 1957 to 1963, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. You see, after retiring from politics in 1964, Macmillan rejoined his family's publishing firm (he'd been a junior partner from 1920–1940), this time as Chairman – and if this document is anything to go by, it seems he was quite an active one...

Maclean's memo is apparently a response to a note from Harold Macmillan, who was evidently far from keen on Justin Todd's Henri Rousseau-esque jacket artwork for A Thirsty Evil. Maclean's defence of the design choice runs thus: "All the jackets for [Macmillan editor] George Hardinge's list are aimed particularly at the 'thriller' market, and this one has been very well received in the trade. The Australian company ordered 250 copies on the strength of the jacket alone!" After reasoning that the illustration "is not entirely irrelevant", Maclean signs off by saying that he's returning Macmillan's own copy of the book – presumably the very copy seen in this post.

And then, at the bottom of the memo, comes something quite extraordinary: a handwritten note by Harold Macmillan, signed "HM", with a "thank you" to Maclean, followed by the exclamation, "Oh God! Oh Montreal!" On first inspection those words might appear slightly baffling – they did to me, anyway – but it's actually a reference to English novelist and satirist Samuel Butler's "A Psalm of Montreal", a commentary on what Butler perceived as the Canadian propensity to embrace financial matters above artistic ones, as embodied by the fate of a plaster cast of the classical Greek sculpture Discobolus (epitome, appropriately enough in the wake of London 2012, of the Olympic spirit) on the premises of the Montreal Natural History Society. Essentially, Macmillan was bewailing the justification of what he thought was a rubbish cover by the book's advance sales.

As remarkable as this document is, there are a couple of things about it which, to my mind, make it even more so. For one, Harold Macmillan clearly read and enjoyed A Thirsty Evil, which strikes me as being, at the very least, notable: a former prime minister was a "fan" of P. M. Hubbard (there's one for the blurbs on the forthcoming Murder Room ebook reissues of Hubbard's novels). For another – and this is priceless – it looks to me as if Macmillan actually corrected Maclean's original note when he acknowledged receipt! Maclean misspelt "douanier" – as in Le Douanier, Henri Rousseau's nickname – as "douanaie", which Macmillan – it appears to be in his hand and his slightly darker blue pen, not Maclean's – has in turn amended, crossing out the additional "a" and adding an "r" at the end!

To be honest, I'm not sure if the bookseller I bought this from quite knew what he had on his hands – I paid a fair amount for it, but not much more than you'd have to pay for a decent Macmillan first edition of A Thirsty Evil anyway (like most of Hubbard's novels, it's become quite quite uncommon in first). In any case, I shall treasure this just as much as my signed Atheneum edition and accompanying Hubbard letter – and as a bonus, you all get to see it as well.

Next: we're leaving the signed editions for the moment for a Westlake Score...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

LB Score: Hit Man by Lawrence Block; Signed First Edition (Morrow, 1998)

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

Returning to the signed editions after a piece of signed Gavin Lyall paraphernalia, here's a book by a friend and contemporary – not to mention occasional collaborator – of Donald E. Westlake's, collecting – and reworking – a series of short stories starring a self-absorbed assassin...

This is the US first edition/first impression of Lawrence Block's Hit Man, published by William Morrow in 1998, with dust jacket art by Phil Heffernan (actually misspelt "Heffernen" on the jacket flap) and overall jacket design by Bradford Foltz, whose recognizably elegant designs have wrapped novels by the aforementioned Donald Westlake (Watch Your Back!, Mysterious Press, 2005) and Dennis Lehane (the Kenzie and Gennaro novels Darkness, Take My Hand, Sacred, Gone, Baby, Gone and Prayers for Rain), among others.  

Hit Man is the first of four books – soon to be five; there's a new one due next year – featuring John Keller, a hired killer in the throes of an extended existential crisis. The stories in this first collection – some of which originally appeared in Playboy – see Keller carrying out a variety of hits, most of which take him from his base of New York to nothing towns that he fantasizes about moving to and settling down in. Keller's quest to find some purpose in his life also sees him enter therapy (to less-than-satisfactory ends), get a girlfriend (ditto), get a dog (ditto again) and, best of all, in the final story, "Keller in Retirement", take up stamp collecting (as a book and comic collector, I was especially tickled by some of the collecting minutiae Block works in in that last one). The stories are wryly amusing and in places jarringly violent; you get that same sense of a tale being spun by a master storyteller as you do with Westlake (his capers in particular) or Elmore Leonard (another friend and contemporary of Block's). I liked the book a lot, and will definitely be back for more.

Hit Man had been on my radar for a while as one to read, so when I saw this copy squirreled away in the basement of a Cecil Court secondhand bookshop a few months back, and furthermore noted this inside:

I snapped it up. On the way back to Lewes from London I tweeted in a smug fashion that I'd just found a signed Lawrence Block book. Quick as a flash, LB tweeted back with, "It's the unsigned ones that are rare". Given that there are getting on for 3,000 signed Lawrence Block titles currently listed on AbeBooks, I guess he has a point, but even so: I was chuffed to get hold of a signed first edition of Hit Man, and an American first at that.

Next up, it's back to the signed ephemera, although in this case, unlike the Gavin Lyall letter mentioned above, the extraordinary piece of paraphernalia under discussion this time is stapled inside a book. Moreover, it hasn't been signed by the book's author, but by the book's publisher and, believe it or not, by a former prime minister...

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Signed Letter by Thriller Writer Gavin Lyall to Author Rowland Ryder on Publishing, plus Lyall on Desert Island Discs

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books. Er, letters, rather.

I realise I'm treading on the toes of Letters of Note with this latest post in this lengthy series on signed editions (and now ephemera too), but before you go accusing me of plagiarism I should point out that I do have form here: witness this post on a letter by suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard and this one on a letter by spy novelist Joseph Hone.

The letter in question this time out is by British thriller writer Gavin Lyall, an author of whom I'm a great admirer – see here, here, here, here and here for a sample of previous missives, including some signed editions. It was written in 1981 to fellow author Rowland Ryder, who'd evidently asked for Lyall's thoughts on publishing rights and translation. Lyall sent Ryder two typed pages' worth of suggestions, which make for fascinating reading:

The opening paragraph will be familiar to anyone who's a part of the weird and occasionally wonderful world of publishing. Certainly for as long as I've worked in publishing – twenty years, all told – the feeling within the industry has always been that it's been "in recession", and Lyall's letter confirms that this was the case even back in 1981. His line about there having been "several nights of the long knives at the major houses, with departments being merged and a number of people out on the street" will doubtless send a shiver down the spine of fellow industry folk, especially in the, ahem, current climate. The "Cavell book" he mentions is Ryder's biography of Edith Cavell, published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton (hence the "HH" references) in 1975. Seems Ryder was frustrated at the lack of a paperback edition of the book, a frustration that must have persisted since the biography was never published in paperback and ultimately fell out of print.

In the next paragraph, Lyall lays out how publishing rights work in relation to hardbacks and paperbacks. He makes the point that they are "indivisible legally; there is simply one right", which is controlled by the hardback publisher, who may (or may not) sublicense the rights to a paperback house. "In practice," Lyall continues, "this means that if your book goes into paperback, a fair percentage of the royalties will be scooped off by your original hardcover publisher. So be braced for this. On the other hand, it does mean that your publisher has an incentive to get your book into paperback, although" – and this, I think, is my favourite line in the letter – "I have never found excess of energy to be a normal publishing vice."

The third paragraph is instructive on translation rights for those who aren't au fait with that aspect of publishing, and then, after a bit about agents, in closing Lyall mentions the military historian Ronnie Lewin, for whom Lyall "did a book... when he was at Hutchinson". That book was The War in the Air 1939–1945 (1968), one of only two non-fiction titles Lyall published (the other being Operation Warboard, a well-liked instruction manual on wargaming). Lyall notes that Lewin "was a nice chap and a good editor", and signs off with the line, "I sincerely hope he's more use to you than I am."

If, like me, you're interested in matters to do with publishing, the letter makes for absorbing reading in its own right, but for a Lyall fan like myself, it's additionally thrilling. Lyall didn't sign many of his books – only really inscribing some of his novels to friends and acquaintances – so I was immensely chuffed to acquire this signed document. And let me just say a quick thank you to the fragrant Ellie Wilson for kindly scanning the letter for me.

While we're on the subject of Gavin Lyall, I've stumbled upon a couple of diverting links since last I wrote about him. The first is a short video piece on Web of Stories featuring Lyall's widow, the journalist Katharine Whitehorn; Whitehorn talks frankly about Lyall's struggles with writing and the demon drink towards the end of his life and career, so it's well worth four minutes of your time. The second is a 1976 edition of Desert Island Discs, with Gavin Lyall as presenter Roy Plomley's guest. Lyall selects the records he'd like to take with him to a desert island – largely jazz – and in between discusses music, his early cartooning, his time as a fighter pilot, writing for the Cambridge University paper, journalism, how he met Whitehorn, the origins of the title of his debut, The Wrong Side of the Sky (1961), and how he wrote some of his novels.

By this point Lyall had written seven in total, prompting Plomley to point out that seven books in fifteen years is a little lax. To which Lyall replies, "I wouldn't pretend to be the most energetic man in the writing business." I also like the part where Plomley asks what Lyall's writing discipline is. Lyall's response: "Sit down at a desk, brew a pot of coffee, read the papers, sooner or later I get so bored I start working." It's a great interview, so go give it a listen.

I have another piece of intriguing publishing paraphernalia waiting in the wings, concerning the aforementioned suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard, but ahead of that, I'll probably have another signed edition, and accompanying review, this time of a Lawrence Block book. Not quite sure when those posts will appear, as blogging will probably be a little sporadic over the coming weeks – summer hols and all that – but keep 'em peeled...

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Cross of Fire (Pan, 1992): Author Colin Forbes's Handwritten Notes for the Novel

Compared to the previous two books in this short run of posts on thriller writer Raymond Sawkins, better known under the nom de plume of Colin Forbes, this third and final tome isn't, on the surface, that special. It doesn't, like the copies of Tramp in Armour and A Wreath for America (written under one of Sawkins's other pseudonyms, Richard Raine), boast a signed inscription to his wife, and it dates from much later in his career, when Forbes was writing longer novels that weren't to everyone's taste (although they sold by the bucketload). But it does contain a unique piece of paraphernalia related to the book...

Published in hardback in the UK by Pan in 1992, with a dust jacket illustration by David Scutt (who would go on to illustrate the jackets of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy), Cross of Fire is one of Sawkins/Forbes's twenty-four novels featuring Tweed of the British Secret Intelligence Service and his colleagues. It's a beast of a book, clocking in at over 500 pages, and if its Amazon reviews are anything to go by, it's either "dreadful", "dire" or an "excellent thriller" (although the review that last quote was taken from is suspiciously PR-like). However, its relative merits are by the by in this instance, because the really interesting thing about the book is what was secreted inside it:

An incomplete typewritten manuscript page. Far as I've been able to establish this is from an early draft of the novel, as the scene doesn't seem to appear in the book itself (although there is a scene that's quite close). Which might lead one to conjecture that perhaps it wasn't written by Forbes at all – that it's an unfinished piece of fan fiction or something. Except for what's on the reverse side:

Forbes's handwritten notes for the novel. If you compare the handwriting here (click on the image to enlarge) to that of the inscriptions in A Wreath for America and Tramp in Armour:

It's does appear to be the same hand, albeit looser, as befits scrawled notes as opposed to a heartfelt inscription. All three of the Forbes books I've showcased came from the same batch acquired by book dealer Jamie Sturgeon – and then acquired from Jamie by me – so it's a fairly safe bet that the manuscript page and notes in Cross of Fire are indeed Forbes's.

Of course, quite what the notes mean is another matter entirely. It looks as if it's mostly a way for Forbes to keep track of who drives what in either the story or a particular scene – BMW, Renault and so forth – but what the ticks next to Tweed and some of the other characters' names signify I've no idea. There's also what may be a scrawled line of dialogue on the right hand side about "permanent solitude", which, when I shared the notes with spy novelist Jeremy Duns on Twitter, prompted Jeremy to recall that according to the late Iwan Morelius – who had a cameo in one Forbes novel – Forbes reportedly never let his wife, Jane, enter his study. (There's an interesting piece by Morelius on his friendship with Forbes over on Mystery*File.) As ever, if anyone has read Cross of Fire and can shed further light on the notes, do please leave a comment or drop me a line via the email address in the right-hand sidebar.

That's yer lot from Colin Forbes for the moment, but seeing as this series of posts on signed books has now veered into the realm of ephemera, let's take a look at an extraordinary letter next, one written by a British thriller novelist – a firm favourite of mine – to another author, on the ins and outs of publishing in the 1980s...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Tramp in Armour by Colin Forbes: Signed and Inscribed First Edition (Collins, 1969)

On to the second of three very special books by thriller writer Raymond Sawkins, alias Colin Forbes, all of which I acquired from noted book dealer Jamie Sturgeon. And like yesterday's paperback edition of A Wreath for America – written under one of Forbes's other pseudonyms, Richard Raine – today's book also boasts a highly personal inscription from Sawkins/Forbes to his wife.

Published in hardback in the UK by Collins in 1969, under a dust jacket designed by Brand 4, Tramp in Armour was Sawkins's first book using the Colin Forbes moniker. (As noted yesterday, Sawkins would later distance himself from his earlier novels, preferring to name Tramp in Armour as his overall debut – although, as spy novelist Jeremy Duns just pointed out to me on Twitter, if you zoom in on the author photo above, you can see some of the other novels he wrote as Sawkins and Richard Raine on his bookshelves – which, Jeremy believes, is how Forbes's fans later discovered he was the author of those works.) It's an action-packed World War II-set tale of a British tank crew who find themselves stranded behind German lines, and is widely regarded as one of Forbes's best novels – Steve Holland at Bear Alley, for example, cites it as one of his favourites, and there's a positive Kirkus review here.

This copy of the Collins first edition is almost certainly one of the advances Sawkins mentioned in the inscription in A Wreath for America, but Sawkins had an additional reason to celebrate around the time the advances arrived, besides the publication of Tramp in Armour, born out by the inscription on the front free endpaper of the book:

Dated 16 August, 1969 – a week on from the inscription in A Wreath for America – Sawkins begins with "Jane's book – for Jane", then proceeds to list the cryptic events of this "Anniversary Day": "Guildford... Whitefriar notice... Bookseller... terracotta curtains... Albion..." The mention of "Pan-Fontana" is possibly a reference to the paperback rights of Tramp in Armour, which were indeed picked up by Pan, in 1971; thereafter Pan would publish all of the Forbes novels in paperback. Finally, Sawkins signs off with "Happy Anniversary!", confirming that 16 August was his and Jane's wedding anniversary. And as in A Wreath for America, and more understandably given that the Forbes novels were the works Sawkins liked to be known for, he's dedicated the book to his wife too:

Both this inscription and the one in A Wreath for America offer fleeting but remarkable glimpses into a writer's daily life, but the final Colin Forbes book I'll be showcasing, while not signed or inscribed, contains a piece of paraphernalia which grants an insight into the writing of that particular novel...

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A Wreath for America by Richard Raine (alias Colin Forbes): Signed and Inscribed Edition (Mayflower Paperback, 1969)

The next three books I'll be showcasing in this series of posts on signed editions all came from renowned book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, who brought them along especially to the most recent Lewes Book Fair (along with some other unsigned books, which I'll unveil down the line). All three are by British thriller writer Raymond Sawkins, who published around forty novels under a variety of monikers over a forty-year period from 1966 to 2006. Sawkins's best-known alias was Colin Forbes, under which appellation he wrote the bulk of his books (a number of which are still in print and available as ebooks), later distancing himself from the early novels he wrote in the 1960s under his own name and under the nom de plumes Richard Raine and Jay Bernard. As is often the case with authors in the wake their deaths, Sawkins/Forbes is increasingly overlooked these days, but he does still have his admirers – Steve Holland at Bear Alley, for one, is a fan of Forbes's early work.

Two of the three Sawkins books I'll be blogging about over the next few days boast unusual inscriptions – certainly more unusual than any of the twenty or so signed Colin Forbes titles currently listed on AbeBooks (most of which date from later in his career) – and while the third isn't signed, it does contain a remarkable piece of related paraphernalia. Let's begin, though, with the earliest novel in the triumvirate:

Published in paperback by Mayflower in 1969 (originally published in hardback by Heinemann in 1967), A Wreath for America was the first of three thrillers written under the alias Richard Raine. The Raines have become quite uncommon in any edition, probably because Sawkins effectively disowned them – he preferred to point to the first Colin Forbes novel, 1969's Tramp in Armour, as his debut – and they all fell out of print. But there are a few battered Mayflower paperbacks of A Wreath for America on Amazon Marketplace, and a single Italian edition on AbeBooks. None of those are signed, however, whereas my copy is – although "signed" doesn't really do justice to the inscription on the first page:

It's a highly personal dedication to Sawkins's wife, Jane, dated 5 August, 1969, and listing the events of that "Happening Day": the arrival of "books by every post"; "'Tramp' ad.", which I think is a reference to the advances of the aforementioned Tramp in Armour, which was due to be published the following month; "9.2º", which, if it's a reference to the day's temperature, sounds pretty chilly for August; something to do with a "Scots holiday cheque"; a lunch invite (from Elaine); and an appointment with Michael Hyde. I haven't been able to determine who Hyde is, but it's possible he was either an editor or publisher, or a fellow writer: a Michael Hyde had a book published by Andre Deutsch in 1968 – Nootka: The Adventures of John Jewitt Among the Red Indians. As ever, if anyone can shed any light on either who Hyde was or any of the other titbits in the inscription, leave a comment or drop me a line via the email address in the right-hand sidebar.

The disparity between Sawkins inscribing a paperback of A Wreath for America to his wife in 1969, only to later rewrite history and remove the Richard Raine books from his own canon, is, to me, quite interesting, and even more so given that the author dedication on the copyright page is also to Jane, which here Sawkins has ringed:

There's a similar dedication in the next book I'll be blogging about, but in that case it's more in keeping with Sawkins's feelings about his various pseudonyms. And once again, the copy of the book in question has been inscribed by Sawkins to his wife, in this instance to mark the occasion of a special anniversary...

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Circe Complex by Desmond Cory: Signed First Edition (Macmillan, 1975), plus US First Edition (Doubleday, 1975)

From one signed Desmond Cory novel – although signed in that instance by the dust jacket designer, Val Biro – to another signed Desmond Cory novel – and this time the book has been signed by Mr. Cory himself...

Published by Macmillan in 1975 – Cory's first book for that particular publisher – The Circe Complex is a standalone work about a psychiatrist, Ollie Milton, whose girlfriend Valerie enlists his aid in springing her husband from prison in order to track down the jewellery hubby stole (Kirkus review here). The dust jacket of the Macmillan edition was designed by Yves Simard, who also illustrated jackets and interiors for Charles Dennis and Gavin Lambert, and who worked as a graphic artist on Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!, the 1973 sequel to If (1968).

Compared to the majority of Cory's earlier Johnny Fedora spy thrillers, copies of The Circe Complex are in relatively plentiful supply: AbeBooks has nine listed at present. None of those, however, are signed, whereas my copy is:

On the front free endpaper, and inscribed, to Pete, whoever he may be. Indeed, there are very, very few signed copies of any of Cory's novels around; I can only see one online at present, a signed and again inscribed copy of the US Walker edition of Deadfall (1965), which makes me wonder if, like Gavin Lyall (who I'll be returning to shortly), Cory only signed books for friends and acquaintances.

Speaking of American editions of Cory's novels, the signed Macmillan edition of The Circe Complex isn't the only copy of the book I own; I also have this:

The US edition, published by Doubleday in 1975, with a dust jacket designed by noted children's book illustrator Wendell Minor. I bought this from famed book dealer Jamie Sturgeon when I visited him at his house back in May, along with a stack of other crime and spy novels by the likes of Geoffrey Household, Manning O'Brine, Dan J. Marlowe and more. Those books will be filtering onto Existential Ennui over the coming months, but I have some more recent acquisitions from Jamie that I'll be blogging about next, a selection of novels by a British thriller writer, two of which boast intriguing inscriptions, and the third of which contains a remarkable piece of paraphernalia...

Friday, 10 August 2012

Secret Ministry by Desmond Cory (Frederick Muller, 1951): Dust Jacket Proof, Val Biro Signed Wrapper

NB: featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

After that showcase of Peter Probyn's lovely dust jackets for Francis Clifford's thrillers, let's stay on an art and design tip with another signed edition, one which hasn't been signed by the author, but by the cover artist...

Desmond Cory's Secret Ministry was first published in the UK by Fredrick Muller in 1951, under a dust jacket designed by Val Biro. It is, as we're all doubtless well aware, since I reviewed it earlier this year, Cory's debut Johnny Fedora spy thriller. However, the jacket seen above isn't the same one as wrapped the copy of the Muller first edition I wrote about back in January; it is, in fact, a proof of the wrapper's front and spine, which I acquired from book and art dealer David Schutte – who represents Val Biro's work – along with this:

A pristine proof of the full jacket, with Muller's publication date stamp on the front flap. Val's original artwork is seemingly long lost (unless anyone knows otherwise...), but publishers would often send Val a proof of the jackets he designed, and such was the case with Secret Ministry. Finding a first edition of Secret Ministry, let alone one in a dust wrapper, is nigh on impossible – I had to order mine from an African website, remember – so to come into possession of not only a pristine wrapper but an additional proof of the front and spine is quite something.

David brought the jacket(s) with him to Saturday's Lewes Book Fair (along with a piece of original cover art, which shall, for the moment, remain a mystery...), after I'd asked him at one of the Midhurst Book Fairs if he had either the original artwork or a rough. Obviously he didn't, but after rummaging in Val's loft he came up with these proofs instead. Val himself was actually at that Midhurst show as David's guest, and having heard that he'd be there beforehand, I took along my copy of the Muller edition of Secret Ministry. Initially Val thought that the wrapper design wasn't one of his, until David pointed out Val's signature at bottom left of the front cover, whereupon Val kindly signed the reverse of the jacket front flap:

So I now own not only the single (physical) copy of Secret Ministry I've ever encountered, but its jacket bears Val Biro's signature. Meanwhile I've replaced the image of the slightly battered (but now signed) jacket wrapping my copy of Secret Ministry in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery with an image of the proof – and very lovely it looks, too.

I've got much, much more to come from Val Biro in the future, but I'm staying with Desmond Cory for the next post, with one of the very few signed books of his that I've come across...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Peter Probyn Dust Jackets for Francis Clifford's Time is an Ambush, The Green Fields of Eden and The Hunting-Ground (Hodder, 1962/3/4)

The symbiotic relationship between authors and cover artists is something I touched on last week when I was writing about the dust jackets that William Randell designed for Harry Carmichael crime novels in the 1950s and '60s. Sometimes the relationship between a writer and a cover artist is lengthy and celebrated – the covers that Tom Adams designed for the Fontana paperbacks of Agatha Christie's novels spring to mind. Other times it's a fleeting encounter, often brought about by happenstance – an author is published by a particular publisher, for whom a cover artist happens to be working at the same time.

Such is almost certainly the case with thriller writer Francis Clifford and artist and cartoonist Peter Probyn. By 1960 Clifford had had six novels published, first by Jonathan Cape (Honour the Shrine, 1953), then by Hamish Hamilton; as of his seventh novel, 1962's Time is an Ambush, he moved over to Hodder & Stoughton, where he would remain for the rest of his career. Probyn had been a cartoonist for Punch in the 1930s and '40s and a schoolteacher (one of his pupils was the painter Howard Hodgkin, who remembered Probyn fondly in this 2006 Guardian interview), and in the '50s wrote and drew the comic strip Grandpa for the Eagle (home of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future). He began illustrating books and designing dust jackets in the late-1950s, for Lutterworth Press, Chapman and Hall, and then, in the early 1960s, Hodder.

As the 1970s approached, and in common with other thriller writers, the dust jacket designs for Clifford's novels would become largely photographic in nature, but the initial three books published by Hodder all boasted illustrative wrappers, and were all designed by Peter Probyn. I posted one of them, The Hunting-Ground (1964), yesterday, as part of my ongoing series of posts on signed editions, and I blogged about the first of Probyn's Clifford jackets, Time is an Ambush (1962), last year. But I've also come into possession of the other Probyn/Clifford wrapper, The Green Fields of Eden (1963), courtesy of book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, so I'm now able to present all three of the extraordinary dust jackets Peter Probyn designed for Francis Clifford's novels in the 1960s. (Needless to say, The Green Fields of Eden has also now joined Probyn's other designs on the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page.) I'll be returning to Clifford soon enough, but for now, enjoy.

Time is an Ambush by Francis Clifford (Hodder & Stoughton, 1962); wrapper designed by Peter Probyn

The Green Fields of Eden by Francis Clifford (Hodder & Stoughton, 1963); wrapper designed by Peter Probyn

The Hunting-Ground by Francis Clifford (Hodder & Stoughton, 1964); wrapper designed by Peter Probyn