Thursday, January 22, 2015


The Strange Life of Charles Welsh Mason

Mark Valentine

The astonishing story of the Eighteen Nineties writer who tried to make himself King of China – as a prelude to seizing the throne of the United Kingdom.

“There was such genius in his letters,” a contemporary wrote, “such brooding energy, such hate of life, such an uncanny suggestion of terrific power, that I treasured every word he wrote to me.” He was “fascinating, mysterious and demonic…the most romantic of all men I have met in the spirit”. To this commentator, he was a figure more striking even than D.H. Lawrence, Aleister Crowley, George Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris or Augustus John.

Mark Valentine’s essay tell the story of Charles Welsh Mason, who was thrown out of China for trying to lead an armed revolt, and returned to England to take up decadent literature, writing under three different names. His first book, collecting stories of his Chinese experiences, was compared to Kipling and Conan Doyle. His semi-autobiographical Max, published in 1897 by the modish Nineties imprint of John Lane, caused critics to invoke De Quincey for its descriptions of opium addiction.

The mysteries of Charles Welsh Mason do not end there. He took part in the Yukon gold rush, may have returned to China for the Boxer Rebellion, loved a youthful cup-bearer he called Gazelle Eyes, wrote a now lost book on Chinese torture, was last known as a roadman in the USA, and then vanished – but not before leaving a book of confessions.

This first literary study of an extraordinary character pieces together what is known from his memoirs and his books. A flavour of his work is also offered in a vignette, “A Little Chinese Party”, and there is a checklist of his publications.

Price: 47 Euro + 3 Euro p&p to Europe and U.S.
Orders and enquiries: exoccidente[at]gmail[dot]com.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Voting is now open for The Ghost Story Awards.


To vote, you must be a member of the literary society A Ghostly Company or a reader of The Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter or Supernatural Tales magazine.

Send your votes by email to; markl[dot]valentine[at]btinternet[dot]com, replacing the words in square brackets with the relevant punctuation marks.

Note that the fifth character in the email address is a lower case L for Lima, not i or a number 1.

Your vote must arrive by midnight on February 28th 2015.

You may vote for up to three ghost stories and up to three ghost story collections or anthologies. You do not have to put your votes in any order: they will be treated as of equal weight. You also do not have to give three titles in either category: you may if you prefer give only one or two.

If you happen to be a member or reader of more than one of the three sponsors, you still have the same number of votes as shown above. You do not have extra votes.

Remember that the story or book must have been first published in English in print and paper format in 2014. The term “ghost story” will be interpreted broadly to refer to work about any supernatural entity and to allow for ambiguity.

You should head your email or letter GHOST STORY AWARDS and follow this format:

Your Name
State AGC/G&S/ST (to show which qualifies you to vote)

List (up to) three ghost stories: Title/Author/Publisher
List (up to) three ghost story collections or anthologies: Title/Author or Editor/Publisher

Mark Valentine

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Edward Lloyd's Penny Bloods

It's sometimes said that the popularity of cheap penny literature in Victorian England was very much a London phenomenon, however is clear that Penny Bloods were popular much further afield.  For example, Edward Lloyd's Penny Bloods were advertised in the Hull Packet and East Riding Times in the 1840s.

This advertisement appeared in January 1847 and mentions James Malcolm Rymer's Ada the Betrayed and Varney the Vampire; or The Feast of Blood ("By the author of Ada the Betrayed"):

The following advertisement appared in the 21 April, 1848 issue.  It is interesting for showing the close connection at this time between Edward Loyd and George Purkess.  Although titled "Lloyd's Works" (with Lloyd's London address at the end), according to Marie Leger-St-Clair's excellent Penny Bloods database many of the titles listed in the advertsement were actually published by Purkess or by Purkess & Strange.  The Ringdove, The Pledge, Ethelinde, The Miser's Fate and The Doom of the Drinker were published by George Purkess; The Rosebud, The Corsair, A Lady in Search of a Husband, The Double Courtship, The Unhappy Bride, and The Golden Marriage were published by Purkess and Strange.  The Mysteries of the Quaker City and The Virgin Bride were published by Lloyd & Purkess, while ten of the titles were published by Edward Lloyd.  The publisher of Lucille; or The Young Indian appears to be unknown.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Nugent Barker as Illustrator

Nugent Barker (1888-1955) is best remembered for his collection of twenty-one short stories, Written with My Left Hand (1951). This rare volume was reprinted by Tartarus Press in 2002, and for the introduction in the new edition I gathered together and wrote up what I had found on the elusive author. In 2014, Tartarus published a new edition of the book, and I was glad to be able to update my introduction with some new facts gathered in the intervening years. 

In 2002 I wished that we had  "some examples of Barker's black and white artwork"---at that time none were known. By 2014 I had found one article illustrated with three drawings by Barker. The article is "My Experiences in the 'Black Republic'" by Frank Rose. It appeared in the June 1919 issue of The Wide World Magazine. The article is on the West Indian republic of Haiti. Tartarus chose not to include any of the three drawings in the new reprint, so I post all three here so as to share with the fans of Nugent Barker's excellent fiction. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


One of the last but most welcome publications of 2014 is The Complete Stories of Mary Butts, issued by Mcpherson on 15 December. After a long time in the literary shadows, Mary Butts' work has seen a revival in recent decades, with reprints of her novels and the first publication of her journal, and several critical studies. This year alone has also seen Mary Butts and British Neo-Romanticism: The Enchantment of Place by Andrew Radford and A Fractured Landscape of Modernity: Culture and Conflict in the Isle of Purbeck by James Wilkes, in which she features strongly.

As I said in my essay in Sacrum Regnum 1 ("Inner Bohemia - The Mystical Fiction of Mary Butts"): "Mary Butts is sometimes invoked as an associate of Aleister Crowley and Jean Cocteau, and as part of the wild Parisian-bohemian “Lost Generation” set of the interwar years, with a story and a life fuelled by drink, drugs, sex and the occult. But she was much more than this picturesque figure. She was an avant-garde, modernist writer whose work was yet also infused with a deep sense of tradition and of the past. She was an enthusiast of the work of M. R. James, championing him in an essay for the London Mercury, one of the first critical appreciations of his work. And she was also an admirer of the mystical fiction of Machen, E.F. Benson, and de la Mare. Most of all, her own work succeeded in uniting these two strands, the modernist and the mystical, with a force only otherwise seen in such achievements as Eliot’s The Waste Land, the alchemical poems of ‘H.D.’, or Malcolm Lowry’s work."

I commented: "some critics consider her real forte was the short story, and her piece “Mappa Mundi” has been particularly praised for the way it mingles inner and outer worlds, the streets of Paris becoming also a terrain of hidden dimensions: it recalls her own genuine experiences. Her characters struggle to explain it: “An extraordinary, a unique sense of all sorts of mixed pasts, a sense of the ancient city and all the fury of life that went to make it…that and something else. Like something out of which they all came. A matrix, which is Paris and the secret of Paris.” This sense of overlapping realities was not only known in London and Paris, but in Dorset, in Cornwall, in the country: the implication is that it might be encountered anywhere."

This edition of her complete stories should at last see Mary Butts take her place as one of the most original, thoughtful and innovative writers of supernatural fiction in English in the 20th century.

Mark Valentine

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Michael Birch Collection Auction

Last weekend Sydney Rare Book Auctions sold the vast book collection of Australian academic, Michael Birch, in 700 lots, including many rare and interesting items of Wormwoodiana interest.  Here are a few:

About 60 issues of Pearsons Magazine from 1910 through to the 1930s went for $500.

 Four bound volumes of The Red Magazine, which published a lot of science fiction and weird fiction, comprising about 100 issues from issue one (1908) sold for $300.

About 20 issues of Weird Tales, estimated at $200-$500 sold for $325, while a lot comprising three issues of Terror Tales and seven issues of Horror stories went for $160.

 A number of Penny Dreadfuls and Penny Bloods went under the hammer.  A nice two volume copy of James Rymer’s Edith The Captive, or the Robbers of Epping Forest, published by John Dicks, sold for $180.

There were four lots that included Edward Lloyd Bloods.  The first included Prest’s The Maniac Father, Rymer’s The Lady in Black (with the signature of Melbourne book dealer John P. Quaine), and a volume containing Sylvester the Somnambulist and The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, sold for $80.  Another lot containing two Prest titles, Ela the Outcast and The Love Child, and Charles Lever’s St Patrick’s Eve, went for $550, while a lot of Prest titles – Ernnestine de Lacy, Gallant Tom and two copies of The Old House of West Street went for $400.  A copy of the Lloyd title, The Bottle, or the First Step to Crime, sold for $50.

A first edition, later issue of Dracula with the 16 page advertisements at the end, made $1,600.

Five novels by Bram Stoker, four of them in nice dust jackets, estimated at $100-$400, sold for $925

A second edition triple-decker of Jane Webb’s The Mummy achieved $2,300, while a four volume first edition (1818) of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion made $5,200.

A couple of Wilkie Collins triple deckers went under the hammer – No Name, volumes 1 and 2 lacking the front end paper, sold for $90, while Man and Wife, with the bottom part of a letter with his signature pasted on to the fep if the first volume, made $900.

The first Dublin edition (1794) of Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho made $800, while a four volume edition published in 1799 sold for $120.

A nice 1st of Richard Marsh’s Tom Ossington’s Ghost made $55, while his scarce novel, The Devil’s Diamond (1893), estimated at $100-$400, did not sell.

A nice 1st edition of Gerald Kersh’s collection, The Horrible Dummy, sold for $30.

Five nice jacketed volumes of Christine Campbell Thomson’s Night at Night series sold for $2,000.

There were also bulk lots of vintage crime and science fiction paperbacks, dust jacketed crime novels of the 1920s and 1930s, Edwardian crime novels and Victorian novels that were picked up for bargain prices.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


The public library at Newport, Gwent, houses a splendid Arthur Machen collection, including rare items, some donated by his admirers, friends and family over the years. It is the best public collection of his work in the UK, and an argument can be made for its international significance. The library is now under threat of closure. The local council are considering a plan to replace it with a few much smaller local hubs.

The Friends of Arthur Machen literary society is very concerned about this and is joining the campaign against the closure. Please add your voice to those urging the local council to protect the library and collection. A national and international response may help them rethink plans or at least safeguard the collection.

A local consultation is under way. No final decisions have yet been made either about the Library or the Arthur Machen collection, but the danger is that it may not be accessible in the future to either scholars or the general public. The worst case might even be that it is sold.

Please consider following this link to Newport City Council’s online consultation document. The first page asks where in Newport you live, but you don't have to fill this part in and can go to the second page where you can leave comments.

You may wish to explain that the Machen collection is of national and international importance. Do let them know where you are in the world, and how vital it is for Newport to continue to make this internationally important collection accessible to literary scholars and the general public.

You may also wish to write courteously to the leader of Newport City Council, Bob Bright:

Bob Bright
Leader of Newport City Council
80 Allt-yr-yn Road
South Wales, NP20 5EF

Or via this electronic form (scroll down to view).

Thank you for your support for this priceless collection devoted to one of the towering figures of fantastic literature.

Mark Valentine