Wednesday, July 1, 2015

VAUGHAN WILKINS


Earlier, we looked at Fanfaronade, a timeslip story. Timeslips, and resonances across time, are also found in the novels of the curiously forgotten mid-20th century author Vaughan Wilkins (1890-1959). His books, with strikingly designed dustwrappers, were nearly all issued by Cape. They are mostly historical fictions, with a rather Dickensian air, full of rumbustious characters and picturesque incidents. He seems to have been particularly interested in Victorian times, and wrote a textbook on the Industrial Revolution.

An exception is Valley Beyond Time (1955), a fantasy in which a legendary island appears off the coast of South West Wales. This is lyrically described and the book has a lightly-touched mystical dimension. The American tycoon in the story is a bit too much of a conventional casting, but Wilkins is not the only author to have used this improbable stock figure. Otherwise, the young family caught up in the miraculous geography are freshly and appealingly drawn. His other fantasy work includes City of Frozen Fire (1950), a lost race novel.

Once Upon A Time, An Adventure (1949), is an historical fantasy described on the dustjacket flap (illustrated here) as “this most exuberant and eventful of all Mr Vaughan’s books”. It certainly crams in a great deal of invention, starting with a secret discovered in the Prince Consort’s study by the newly acclaimed King Edward VII. It then moves to contemporary times (the Forties) where Warrack, described as “a sort of Robin Hood” and “a sort of Scarlet Pimpernel as well”, the leader of a gang of European outlaws, is in pursuit of the lost treasure of the Grand Duchy of Ehrenburg and is up against renegade Nazis as well as the police.

Until recently, even the bare facts of Wilkins’ life were not easily discovered. But a reading group connected with “Reading 1900-1950”, the Sheffield Hallam University special collection of popular fiction, tackled his work in November 2013, and one of their number researched his background. This revealed that Wilkins was not, it seems, Welsh, despite the Welsh settings of some of his books, and his Welsh-sounding name.

The official sources say he was born in Camberwell (London) in 1890. His father, a parson, was born in Nottingham and his mother, a singer and music teacher, was born in London. Wilkins seems to have been a working journalist most of his life, and his novels did not begin until his maturer years, when he was 47. It's not clear why his books have fallen from view. They may have seemed somewhat older than their time when they were published: quite long, with a strong delight in storytelling for its own sake, full of the unlikely and extravagant,and mostly romantic adventures. Has anyone else read him: which of his books do you recommend?

A CHECKLIST OF BOOKS BY VAUGHAN WILKINS

Sidelights on Industrial Revolution (Jarrolds, 1925)
And So – Victoria (Cape, 1937)
Endless Prelude (Routledge, 1937)
Looking Back To See Straight (Individualist Bookshop,1942)
Seven Tempest (Cape, 1942)
Being Met Together (Cape, 1944)
After Bath, or, if you prefer, the Remarkable case of the flying hat… (Cape, 1945)
Once Upon A Time, An Adventure (Cape, 1949)
The City of Frozen Fire (Cape, 1950)
[Introduces] Hermsprong; or, Man as he is not…by Robert Bage (Turnstile Press, 1951)
A King Reluctant (Cape, 1952)
Crown Without Sceptre (Cape, 1952)
Fanfare for a Witch (Cape, 1954)
Valley Beyond Time (Cape, 1955)
And So – Victoria (Revised edition, Pan, 1956)
Lady of Paris (Cape, 1956)
Dangerous Exile (Retitled film tie-in edition of A King Reluctant, Pan, 1957)
Husband for Victoria (Cape, 1958)

Friday, June 26, 2015

ALICE THROUGH THE PILLAR-BOX - Gerald M King


There is a long tradition of unofficial or fantasy stamps, known to collectors as “cinderellas”. They are distinct from those issued by the official authorities, usually sovereign nations or dependencies, who are members of the splendidly-named Universal Postal Union, which always gives the impression that it expects its services one day to reach to Mars or even Neptune.

The design and form of these cinderella stamps varies. Some betray their impromptu or amateur origin: but many look just like “proper” postage stamps: they are gummed, perforated, with a value, a notice of origin and artwork often at least equal to the conventional issues.

Examples in Britain include those issued for use by offshore islands, such as Lundy, in the Bristol Channel off North Devon, which do not have a Royal Mail service, and therefore offer a local post to the mainland. I wrote about a fictional local post of this kind, for one of the Islands of Fleet off Galloway, South West Scotland, in my story “The Prince of Barlocco” (available in The Collected Connoisseur).

For a while, experiments were made in sending post to remote islands by small rockets, such as to Scarp in the Hebrides. These were not always successful, and singed examples of such Rocket Post stamps, letters and cards are now highly collectable. Railways in Britain were also allowed to carry parcels, and letters (between stations only), alongside the Royal Mail monopoly, and some therefore issued their own “railway letter stamps”.

Most such stamps, however, are not used to pay for carriage, but are more like a form of miniature art or fiction. From Victorian times onwards, advertising stamps were issued to publicise exhibitions and trade fairs: these are often known as “poster stamps”. As well as these, however, there has also been a thriving tradition of purely “fantasy” stamps.


The most notable of these are the Wonderland stamps designed and issued by artist and philatelist Gerald M. King. This came about when he was dismayed that the Post Office declined to honour the centenary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1965 with an official stamp. He therefore decided to celebrate the occasion himself, and imagined what sort of postal service Wonderland might have.

The result was a charming and beautifully made series of stamps featuring characters and scenes from the book, some involving nice puns (eg "Hare Mail", and the Dodo Dead Letter Office). These also appeared in an illustrated album, Alice Through the Pillar-Box: A Philatelic Fantasy (1978). Mr King has gone on to create further stamps set in imaginary worlds, including a mingling of Wonderland with Lundy, and others that contemplate several alternative histories.

These are the talismans of untold stories, and Gerald M King's marvellous work is well worth celebrating in the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Update: Gerald M King has produced some excellent new stamps and covers to commemorate the 150th anniversary. Enquiries to: kingphantas@aol.com

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

IN FAIRY LAND - Tessa Farmer


A new exhibition of the macabre and fantastical work of Tessa Farmer opens on 28 June 2015 at The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History, and continues until 13 February 2016. Her pieces combine forms from the insect world with legends of the fairies in a way that is original and unsettling: they look like creatures that you might just see fleetingly on the wing or crawling up the walls of your room at dusk. The gossamer picturesqueness of Edwardian fairy books is usurped by a starker entomology that places the little people in a more authentic niche in the natural world, a world of predator and prey.

I saw Tessa's creations in the gardens of Belsay, the Northumbrian manor house, where they were hidden in glass cases amongst the grottoes and hollows of the rock formations, or shaded by the green arches of giant ferns. I was certainly glad they were behind the glass.

"Since her student days at The Ruskin in Oxford," the exhibition announcement tells us, "Tessa Farmer has inhabited a world that is not our world and, to some degree, is not even a human world. It is Fairy World and whereas she started out by making the fairies, increasingly it seems to be the other way around....Now an increasingly sinister and hostile force seems to have taken hold, resulting in work that hovers between violence and taunting, haunting humour." Tessa is the great-grand-daughter of Arthur Machen, no stranger to the little people himself.

A highly illustrated book on Tessa’s work, In Fairyland: The World of Tessa Farmer, will be published by Strange Attractor in the Autumn.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

ROMANCES OF THE WHITE DAY


Romances of the White Day collects three long stories written in the tradition of Arthur Machen:

John Howard's 'The Floor of Heaven' celebrates the byways of London and echoes Machen's delight in wandering its obscurer streets and squares, with a mystery redolent of his story 'N'.

Mark Valentine's 'Except Seven' takes place in Herefordshire, in the Welsh/English border country, and draws on Machen's interest in the Grail and Celtic mysteries.

Ron Weighell's 'The Chapel of Infernal Devotion' is inspired by Machen's interest in magic and hermeticism, and his insight into the survivals of pagan worship.

Each author also provides an afterword reflecting on their interest in Machen. The full colour dust jacket art and B&W signature page art is by Paul Lowe. There is a tipped-in signature page on fine parchment paper signed by all three authors.

The book is available from Sarob Press. There are about a dozen copies of the edition of 300 left.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

FANFARONADE - Ivo Pakenham


Fanfaronade (1934) is a well-written and distinctive timeslip novel, the only published book of Ivo Pakenham. Although there seems to have been just one edition, at least two bindings are known, in scarlet and black. It starts in contemporary times as a brother and sister are driven through a forest road in Autumn to a 14th century chateau. The young man is deeply interested in medieval history, the editor or author of a number of acclaimed works on the period, and is gently ribbed for living in the past (there is probably much of the author himself in this). He contemplates a book one day on the strange history and symbolism of playing cards.

While exploring the castle he misses his step in a stone passage and awakes to find he has entered a medieval world where he is the young Duke of an independent domain embroiled in wars, plots and feuds, forever fighting to remain free from greater powers. The period is vividly evoked, with an eye for telling detail. In the gorgeousness of the scenes and the intricacies of the court there is some affinity with such works as E R Eddison’s Zimiamvia fantasies, Baron Corvo’s Don Tarquinio, or Leslie Barringer’s Burgundian novels.

The dustjacket description says:

“In Fanfaronade Mr. Ivo Pakenham has written a first novel which is almost startlingly different. Not content with this, he has also succeeded in combining an amazingly intimate knowledge of medieval history with a rare ability to clothe its dry bones in a richly-woven mantle of romance.

The chief thread of the tale is a mystical throwback which links our days with those of the fifteenth century. The hero himself is unconscious of his metamorphosis, for it is only at the last that he is vouchsafed the vision of his past which is unknown to all those around him. This intriguing standpoint should be welcomed by the large public which is interested in such problems.

The author has painted for us a magnificent picture with a wealth of colour which should entrance even the non-historical reader. On his canvas courtiers, priests and lovers, banquets, tournaments and pageantry glow against a dark background of treachery and witchcraft, politics and war. The dramatic interest of the plot is so great that unless the reader simply cannot bear the suspense and looks at the end, it will keep him anxious for " what is coming next " until the last page is turned.

There is about Mr. Pakenham's writing a beauty and fineness that mark him out as being destined for big things.”

Alas, no other work of fiction by Ivo Pakenham is known. The book is co-dedicated to the author’s mother (“who did not live to see it published”) and to Maurice Lincoln (“fellow author”) with thanks for their “kindly sympathy and helpful criticism” which helped ensure the book was finished. Lincoln was the author of four novels in the Twenties and Thirties, including the fantasy The Man from Up There (1928).

There is an epigraph, giving the source of the book’s title: “So much by way of fanfaronade before the showman pulls the strings”, from Paul Foster’s Daughter, vol 1, by Dutton Cook, the largely forgotten Victorian journalist and author of about a dozen novels, and books about the theatre. This is followed by the author’s foreword, signed London, July 1934, which explains that “many months of intensive preliminary reading were necessary before this book could be started at all”, and lists the history books he used as sources.

The author admits: “I have quite frankly, for the purposes of my story, emphasised the colour and splendour of the Middle Ages, but I hope that I have not shown myself altogether unaware of the other side of the tapestry – of those loose threads of squalor, discomfort and superstition which were such an integral part of a brilliant period.”

He also explains the approach he has taken to the difficult question of dialogue in historical fiction, too often marred by “godwottery”: “To use modern language seems to me to be a slovenly way of working, while that of the “cloak and sword” school is unquestionably worse…All I have tried to do, therefore is to endeavour to catch the cadence and intonation of fifteenth-century speech…”. In this he is quite nicely successful, achieving a fine compromise.

The reference to the recent passing of his mother enables us to identify the author from amongst a number of a similar name in his family. He was Ivo Robert Raymond Lygon Pakenham, born 4 December 1903, the son of Capt Robert Edward Michael Pakenham, born 28 July 1874, Royal Munster Fusiliers, who served in the Boer War and the Great War, and died of wounds 17 January 1915, and his wife Nancye Fowler, died 19 March 1934. His book was published in September 1934, just six months after his mother had died.

I was helped in this identification by a relation of the author, Katherine Pakenham, who kindly gave me a few further details. As in the protagonist in the novel, the author had a sister, Emilie Estelle Rosemary Pakenham (1907-1932). He never spoke of his book, which was unknown to his wider family, and this seemed unusual because Ivo was “a flamboyant character”: “we're still baffled why he should have kept the book's existence so quiet, or indeed why there were no successors,” she told me. However, he devoted a lot of time to the genealogy of his family and emblazoned an elaborate family tree: Fanfaronade demonstrates a lively interest in medieval heraldry.

Ivo Pakenham lived in Kensington and was an antiques dealer, described as “very knowledgeable”. He died in the 1980s in a nursing home on the south coast. His one work of literature certainly deserves to find a discerning readership.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

SOLILOQUY FOR PAN


Egaeus Press have announced the publication of their ambitious and beautifully designed anthology devoted to the Great God Pan. The book is a cornucopia of work about the goatfoot god, including essays, new stories, reprints of rare fiction, poems and artwork.

It's particularly pleasing to see the revival of a story by Ivar Campbell, the last piece he was working on before he was killed in World War I. Campbell's prose poems, influenced by the Nineties decadents and Edwardian neo-pagans, were featured in Aklo no 5, Autumn 1992, the journal of the fantastic I co-edited with Roger Dobson. Also included, as a very fitting end-piece, is 'Summer Enchantment', an exquisite poem by Harry Fitzgerald, who died young of consumption, chosen from his one posthumous collection, Thanksgiving (1938): I provide a short note about him.

Update, 20 June 2015: sold out.

Mark Valentine

Friday, June 12, 2015

Issue and contents checklists for Wormwood, Aklo, The Green Book, Faunus, etc

The newest update of the FictionMags Index brings current the checklists for many magazines of interest to Wormwood readers.

Current journals:

Wormwood #1 (2003 through #24 (2015), all  issues to date

The Green Book #1 (2013) through #5 (2015), all issues to date

Faunus, #1 (1998) through #31 (2015), all issues to date
[successor to Avalaunius, below]

Sacrum Regnum #1 (2011) through # 2 (2013), all issues to date

Defunct journals:

Aklo #1 (1988) through #5 (1992) plus the hardcover volume (1998), all issues

Avalaunius #1 (1987) through #17 (1997), all issues

The Lost Club Journal #1 (2000) through #3 (2004), all issues
[reworked online, with some differences, as The Lost Club website]

There is a lot of interest at the FictionMags Index and other associated Homeville bibliographical websites.  Check them out.