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...