Friday 16 March 2012

Ilex Gift Giveaway! WIN! Classic Comics Journals, Postcard Books, Little Books and a Magnet Set!


It's giveaway time on Existential Ennui! Woo-hoo! And unlike the last competition I ran, where American readers could win Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie merchandise, this time the giveaway is open to all Existential Ennui readers across the globe: US, UK, European, Australian – you name it. (Go on: tell me where you're reading this post from in the comments; I dare you.) And even better, there's no daft question to answer!

I've got quite the haul of swag this time, too, all courtesy of Ilex Gift, the newly launched gift (er, obviously) line of Ilex Press, the Lewes-based publisher where I work. Shameless self-promotion? You betcha! But who cares when the prizes on offer are so numerous and splendorous.

Here's what you can win: 

THREE lucky readers will each receive:

6 x Little Books:

• Little Book of Vintage Romance 
Little Book of Vintage Sci-Fi 
Little Book of Vintage Combat 
Little Book of Vintage Crime 
Little Book of Vintage Sauciness 
Little Book of Vintage Horror
Each bijou book contains classic 1950s comic strips, original adverts, short stories and more besides, plus an introductory essay about the source material. (Counter pack not included, I'm afraid.)

2 x Journals:

Lovelorn Journal
Tales of Terror Journal
Featuring quirky quotes from '50s romance and horror comics on lined, gridded and blank paper, and a pocket in the back for keeping ephemera, souvenirs and letters.

2 x Postcard Books:

Lovelorn: 30 Postcards
Tales of Terror: 30 Postcards
Each of the 30 postcards – or rather, 60 postcards, seeing as there are two sets – sports a classic romance or horror comic book cover, with artist and publication info on the back, all wrapped in a fold-out die-cut cover.

1 x Magnet Pack:

Lovelorn: 16 Classic Romance Comic Magnets
Kitsch and kooky romance comic covers to slap on your fridge, plus a booklet revealing the stories behind the covers.

That all adds up to a not-to-be-sniffed-at £76 – or US$120 – worth of swag!

So how do you enter? Simple! Just email your name and address (or leave a comment on this post, although you'll still need to send your address in) using the subject line "I WANT TO WIN THE ILEX GIFT STUFF" to:

The competition closes Thursday 29 March at midnight EST – giving you just under two weeks to enter – with all entries going into Ilex Gift supremo Tim Pilcher's vintage RAF pilot's hat, from which the three winners will be drawn. And I'll be announcing those winners (barring mishaps) on Friday 30 March. Good luck! Oh, and the Ilex Gift range will be widely available online and at all fine book emporiums from next month, so follow the above links for more info.

Next on Existential Ennui: Geoffrey Household...

Thursday 15 March 2012

Charles Kelly on Dan J. Marlowe

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

Ooh, look at this: two posts in one day. Crikey. Although this one's more of a link, really, prompted by Violent World of Parker supremo Trent, who drew my attention to an article at the Los Angeles Review of Books, which Trent tweeted about earlier (as did spy novelist Jeremy Duns; it was also linked by The Rap Sheet the other day). It's a great piece on hard-boiled crime writer Dan J. Marlowe – the subject, of course, of a recent run of Violent World of Parker and Existential Ennui posts – written by Marlowe aficionado and biographer Charles Kelly. Charles left a number of comments on this EE Dan Marlowe post and this TVWoP one, and currently has an essay about Marlowe in the back of the third issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phllips's comic book Fatale, but the Los Angeles Review of Books article – which is ostensibly about Marlowe's time in Hollywood – has some startling revelations in it, including the fact that many of Marlowe's novels were co-written with a US Air Force Colonel. It's well worth a few minutes of your time, so go give it a read, why don'cha. And I'll be back before too long with that promised competition...

The Lewes Book Fair: An Appreciation

Photo Copyright © 2012 Rachel Day
Well I hope we all enjoyed the interview with novelist Christopher Nicole I posted on Monday, and indeed the second part of Chris Lyons's Richard Stark/Parker essay, "The Wolf Man" – available, of course, on The Violent World of Parker blog. And since I seem to be developing a blogging theme this week of posts-which-require-little-to-no-writing-on-my-part, and seeing as this Saturday (17 March) marks the return of the Lewes Book Fair to the fair East Sussex county town in which, dare we forget, I both live and work, I thought I'd persist with that not-much-effort-on-my-part-required theme and post an article I wrote about the fair for local listings magazine Viva Lewes last year.

It's a little out of date now – you'll note I mention May's fair; there have been a few more since then – but I was fairly pleased with it at the time, and I think it pithily summarizes what makes the Lewes Book Fair special. The photos illustrating the article are taken from the website of local animal rescue charity Paws & Claws, the backers and beneficiaries of the event – there are lots more pictures on their site. (The photo at the top of this post, however, which shows some of the books I've bought at the fair, is by Rachel Day, whose website can be found here.) If you're in the area on Saturday, perhaps I'll see you at the fair (although I'll only be making a fleeting appearance, early doors), but failing that, check back here tomorrow for another exclusive Existential Ennui competition – and this time the competition will be open not only to American EE readers, but to UK and worldwide readers too...

. . . . . . . . . .

The Lewes Book Fair

Once every few months, just before 10am on a Saturday, a small queue forms at the Fisher Street entrance of Lewes Town Hall. On first inspection this assembly might seem entirely respectable: a polite concatenation of beige middle age. But look closer, and you’ll glimpse a fevered anticipation in their eyes…

They’re queuing for the Lewes Book Fair, a staple of the local bibliophile’s calendar. Held five times a year, the fair is a chance for book hounds to peruse the wares of a variety of secondhand booksellers, big and small, all hawking books on subjects as varied as topography, history, local interest and nature, not to mention fiction – first editions and paperbacks a-plenty – poetry and assorted paraphernalia. If it’s the printed word you’re after, the Lewes Book Fair caters to all.

Set up by Lewesian John Beck in 1992, the fair began on a twice-yearly basis with twenty stallholders. These days it’s more like forty, with between 400 and 500 punters attending each fair from as far afield as London and Southampton, as well as Lewes and Sussex. The most recent event in May was typically crowded; an hour in it became tricky to navigate the two long aisles of stalls there were so many people poring over old tomes. But I did spot a signed first edition of Conan Doyle’s 1891 historical adventure The White Company (£500), a very scare first of David Nobbs’s The Death of Reginald Perrin (£165) and, more in my price range (so of course I bought ’em), a book club edition of John Gardner’s first Bond novel Licence Renewed (a steal at two quid) and an early printing of Dennis Wheatley’s innovative 1936 crime fiction dossier Murder off Miami (£6).

The Lewes fair is just one of many such independent events held up and down the country every weekend – on average fifty per month – but having attended a good number in other parts of the UK, I can report that ours remains among the best. I asked John – who runs the fair with his daughter Melanie and friends, and who is an avid book collector himself – why that is. 

“I think Lewes is still popular as we regularly get good footfall and bargains are always to be had,” he told me. “The book trade is suffering from the internet and e-books, but fortunately many buyers still like the tactility of a book, which to many is a piece of art in its own way. Also, by having the book in your hand you can better judge the condition and ‘value for money’ if one is a collector.”

John’s dream is to instigate a Lewes Book Week, based around the fair but featuring “book readings, book signings and talks on the literary heritage that Lewes has. Hay-on-Wye have a very successful annual event, which is well hyped, and Hay is a place with no real literary history at all. So Lewes has a great advantage in many respects.”

Indeed it does. I feel a campaign coming on... 

Monday 12 March 2012

An Interview with Christopher Nicole, alias Andrew York, Author of the Jonas Wilde Eliminator Spy Novels (and More Besides)

As promised, to start the working week I have another exclusive Existential Ennui interview for you. Previously I've posted Q&As with Dexter creator Jeff Lindsay and espionage novelist Anthony Price; today it's the turn of an author who, like Price, penned a series of spy novels, but who, uniquely, has also written a quite remarkable number of other novels besides: Christopher Nicole.

I blogged about Nicole at the beginning of the year, specifically the excellent series of books he wrote under the pen name (one of many) Andrew York in the 1960s and early '70s, starring Britain's state executioner Jonas Wilde, a.k.a. The Eliminator. I was tipped off to the Wilde novels by John at Pretty Sinister Books, when John reviewed the first instalment in the series, 1966's The Eliminator, in August of last year. John has since progressed a lot further in the series than I have, which was why I asked him to contribute half the questions to this Q&A, for which I thank him. Thanks also to Mike Ripley at Top Notch Thrillers for setting up the interview, which was conducted via email last month; Mike has been reissuing the Jonas Wilde books since last year, and the latest books, The Predator and The Deviator, are available now.

John and I concentrate in large part on the Jonas Wilde novels in the interview because those are the books with which we're most familiar (the answers Nicole gives to some of our more convoluted, crackpot-theoretical questions about the books are amusingly prosaic). But the Wilde series is but a tiny part of Nicole's backlist; as will become clear, there's a hell of a lot more to this writer than spy thrillers... 

NICK JONES/JOHN NORRIS: You've been astonishingly prolific in your career – you've had more than 100 books published, I believe, probably a lot more (do you know the total?), and under a dizzying array of aliases. To what do you credit your fecundity?

CHRISTOPHER NICOLE: When Queen of Glory is published in May, it will be number 210. Three of these are non-fiction. I have always written because I enjoy telling stories; that more than 35,000,000 people have seen fit to buy my books never ceases to amaze me. 

Are the many nom de plumes you've written under a consequence of having written so many books, or is there another reason for using so many aliases? Writing in different genres, perhaps?

Andrew York was my first pseudonym. I wanted a break from my historical novels and my then publishers, Hutchinson, thought that in view of the drastic change in genre we should have a different name. Later pseudonyms were usually caused by contractual difficulties; writing for different publishers at the same time. 

Was it always your intention to write in different genres – romance, espionage, historical, adventure, etc. – or do you simply write and not think about where the novel will fit?

I am sorry to say that the Jonas Wilde books are my only venture into spy fiction per se. Anna Fehrbach, while a natural progression from Wilde, and is an altogether more rounded and attractive character, is technically World War II. I am an Historical Novelist by choice. Nowadays WWII seems to be included in the Historical category. But as I lived through it it seems like yesterday. 

Anthony Price once remarked that the past is lying in wait for the present. As someone with a passion for history, is that a statement you'd agree with?

I entirely agree. One of the most distressing aspects of modern education, and therefore society, is the neglect of knowledge of where we come from. H. G. Wells wrote that to confront an enemy is to look into the red, hate-filled eyes, of Neanderthal man.

Would it be fair to say that many of your novels are informed by a sense of place? Whether that be the West Indies, where you were raised, or the Channel Island of Guernsey, where you live and which, of course, features in the Jonas Wilde novels as part of The Route. Is location an inspiration for you?

I am concerned only with plot and character. The background is drawn in afterwards. However, whenever possible, I have visited the location where the book is set. 

You've lived and worked on Guernsey since, I believe, 1957 (correct me if I'm wrong!). I've been there myself a few times and love the island. What was it about Guernsey that first attracted you, and what keeps you there?

I had never set foot on Guernsey until, on passage to the Mediterranean [Nicole is a keen yachtsman], I misjudged the tides in fog and struck a rock off the west coast. It was necessary to put into St Peter Port and have the damage assessed and repaired. By the time this was done we had liked the island and the people so much that we bought a house and have used the island as a base ever since. 

What inspired you to begin writing spy novels, specifically the Jonas Wilde ones?

As mentioned above, Wilde was a break in my routine. I have never read a spy novel but after seeing a couple of Bond movies with their absurd and increasing obsession with gadgetry I did not see how I could do worse. 

Very few spy novels during the period you wrote the Jonas Wilde books had a character arc, or changed and developed throughout the books. And I can't think of any who aged through the series as Jonas does (Anthony Price's David Audley novels aside). Was it intentional that things like Wilde's sciatica and his haunted past with Jocelyn be recurring features in the books? How important do you think it is to readers to better know a series character over the course of several books?

To me, as with all my characters, when I was writing about him Wilde was a living, breathing human being sitting beside me at my desk. All processes were a natural progression. 

The women characters far outshine the men in the Wilde novels, in my opinion. Often, as in the case of Glorious Torro, Jonas seems to have met his match. What led you to focus on the women in these books?

I hate to confess this, but women have always been my hobby. So I enjoy writing about them. Nearly all of my big historicals have been about women.

I was surprised by what I call genre blending in some of the Wilde books. The Coordinator to me seemed like a throwback to the old 1930s pulp magazines with its blind character and his sonic glasses and his glass furniture. There was also the mad scientist and his cryogenic experiments in the finale. The Deviator had an element of science fiction it as well with the invention of the impervious alloy Tition. Where did those ideas come from? Are you a fan of old science fiction or the pulp magazines? Which writers have you read, if any?

As indicated above, I never relate my work to anyone else's and therefore do not consider my work as belonging to a genre. I have never read any science fiction save for my boyhood hero John Carter on Mars. 

I'm always interested to find out if a writer I enjoy is familiar with writers who came before him. Are you familiar with any of the early spy writers who were popular in the early part of the 20th century? Like Oppenheim, William LeQuex or Francis Beeding? Maybe someone else?

I have actually read an Oppenheim, simply because I was once interested in buying the house he lived in in Guernsey. I don't remember what the book was about. My reading almost entirely history and biography. In my novel reading days it was Hemingway, Maugham and wild historical romance such as Sabatini. 

What happened to Wilde's taste for Bacardi? I liked waiting for the scene when I would be introduced to yet another odd "Cocktail of the Book" and was disappointed when the unusual rum cocktails like the Moscow Mule and the Bijou disappeared and Jonas was suddenly a Scotch drinker. Or in one instance was forced to drink sherry! Did you forget about the Bacardi? Did your publisher think it was too much free advertising? Or did Jonas sort of take over and change his mind for you?

Again, I don't analyse my work to that extent. Wilde drank Bacardi because I drank Bacardi. Towards the end of the series I had switched to Scotch. 

Finally, which of your many novels are you most proud of, and why?

This is a tricky one with such a choice. Ratoon would have to be my favourite simply because it was my first big seller: over 2,000,000 copies in the States. Lord of the Golden Fan ranks high as does Ottoman. I consider the two Jane Digby novels as my best. But my favourite character of all is, and I think always will be, Anna Fehrbach: the Angel series.