Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Cecil Roberts #NottsWriters

To celebrate the May 5th launch of Follow the Moon and Stars here's a new series on #NottsWriters:  

Cecil Roberts (1892-1976)

“At 15, with a mother and myself to keep, I began writing,” said Roberts after his father died suddenly. Working as a weights and measures inspector he learned to operate a typewriter, using it to type out poems and articles. In 1912, after winning the annual Henry Kirke White prize with his long poem The Trent, Roberts had five books of verse published in five years, then, “I had a living to earn with my pen, and turned to more remunerative work,” he said.

Reflecting in later life, he wrote: “The beginning was tough but I was never a beatnik nor saw any merit in the kitchen sink” (he hated Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning). “In this marvellous world all my writing has been an expression of joy in the journey.”

After work as a war correspondent, and alongside work as a journalist and editor at the Nottingham Journal (he welcomed Graham Greene to Nottingham), it was the success of his first novel Scissors (1923) that launched his career as a novelist.

“Scissors is the nicest boy in English fiction,” wrote Israel Zangwill.

Spears Against Us (1932), the story of the downfall of an old Austrian family, is one of his most famous novels.

The other huge seller being Victoria Four-Thirty (1937) about a world-famous composer, a honeymooning couple, a novelist in search of a plot, a German film star and a young crown prince, who are among the disparate group of travellers on a journey to Europe.

John Betjeman wrote: “Many a more pretentious author could take a lesson from Mr Cecil Roberts. He writes with a trained journalist’s gift of readability…he can tell a story.”

Don't be put off by the cover, this is a Nottingham novel.

A Terrace in the Sun (1951) is about a small boy, a miner’s son, who became a famous artist. The book was a success but Roberts regretted not calling it A Nottingham Lad as there was so much of his early life in its pages. 

He always referred to the book as his 'Nottingham novel' despite the book’s opening and narrator being on the once swanky Mediterranean coast. If you’re interested in Nottingham (of course you are) then this is well worth a read.

David and Diana (1929) also features Nottingham and Goose Fair (the book's US title).

His three “Rustic” nonfiction books, an odyssey of the countryside, include
Gone Rustic (1935) about Roberts beloved Pilgrim Cottage, Gone Rambling, and Gone Afield, which tells of the common events and local legends and history around the Cottage. 

Other non-fiction books are
And So to Bath (1940) and And So to Rome (1950), they city he made his home.

There are three “Pilgrim Cottage” novels too:
Pilgrim Cottage (1933), The Guests Arrive (1934) and Volcano (1935).

Pilgrim Cottage presents a picture of Russia in the first enthusiasm of the revolution, contrasted with traditional England.

Cecil Roberts was a snob and a proper name-dropper, but it’s for good reason that he had a room named after him at Angel Row’s Central Library and he was the first Nottingham novelist to become a Freeman of the City. His novels often skillfully blend history, information and romance. If we ever enter another lockdown, try his five volume autobiography, too, when Roberts' incredible memory comes into its own.

J C Snaith #NottsWriters

To celebrate the May 5th launch of Follow the Moon and Stars here's a new series on #NottsWriters: 

J C Snaith (1876–1936) 

John Collis Snaith grew up in West Bridgford where he’d been born. He was educated at High Pavement School and University College, and played first class cricket for Nottinghamshire.

Snaith wrote over forty books including works of historical romance, fantasy, sci-fi, whimsical comedy, crime thrillers, poignant satire, psychological and visionary works. His varied output made him impossible for readers or critics to label.

Snaith wrote Willow the King: The Story of a Cricket Match (1899), described as ‘the best cricket story ever written.’ This humorous novel, with a romance at its heart, is about the annual two-day cricket match between Little Clumpton and Hickory. Snaith dedicated the book to his colleagues back at the Nottingham Forest Cricket Club who played on The Forest.

Patricia at the Inn (1901)

'For a time the landlord and the mariner sat watching one another. On one side was a contemptuous carelessness; on the other a measure of suspicion amounting to hatred.'

We encounter an unusual father and son in his novel William Jordan, Junior (1907). The peculiar story follows the father, a scholar and bookseller, and son, a highly-strung poet and dreamer, as they struggle to negotiate contemporary life. Both characters are visionaries and neither is equipped for the real world. AE Russell was ‘moved’ by the novel, and The New York Times quoted its ‘peculiar charm and rare quality’ and ‘psychological loveliness, half mystic, half human.’

Fortune (1910):

from Fortune

Lady Barbarity (1912), a romantic comedy.

To deny that I am an absurdly handsome being would be an affectation. Besides, if I did deny it, my face and shape are always present to reprove me.

Snaith’s sci-fi novel, An Affair of State (1913) was set in a near-future England under a cloud of social unrest.

Broke of Covenden (1923)

An odd little man waddled in. his legs were so crooked with addiction to the saddle that he looked as painfully out of his element in a pedestrian mode as a mariner on dry land.

Mistress Dorothy Marvin (1896). Being Excerpta From the Memoirs of Sir Edward Armstrong, Baronet, Of Copeland Hall, In the County of Somerset.

There’s local interest in his acclaimed The Sailor (1916)

'A large woman in a torn dress stood at the gate of a rag and bone dealer’s yard. The season was November, the hour midnight, the place a slum in a Midland textile town.'

In Thus Far (1925), Snaith questions whether science has gone too far, in a story that features a powerful, amoral, telepathic superman, created with rays, chemicals and elements from the “missing link” in our evolution.

Snaith turned to fantasy in 1917, writing The Coming, about the second coming of Christ, and, in 1921, came his dystopian The Council of Seven, a novel about a totalitarian system of government that imposes a strict regime on anyone who challenges its vision for world peace.

Snaith's other books include books as diverse as Surrender and Love Lane.

From sentimental romance to satire and works of great imagination, Snaith was a true all-rounder.

Muriel Hine #NottsWriters

To celebrate the May 5th launch of Follow the Moon and Stars here's a new series on #NottsWriters: 

Muriel Hine (1874-1949)

"[Muriel] Hine has won fame and made friends wherever the English language is spoken, through the truth of her characterisations, her ability to see the comedy of life – as well as its tragedy – and her genuine humanity.”

Want an example this ‘comedy of life’? How about this, from A Different Woman (1936):

Mrs Jeremy Waldo had been told that after the operation she would be a “different woman,” but this morning the surgeon had said kindly: “You will soon be feeling yourself.”

After Muriel’s grandfather - the great Nottingham architect TC Hine - retired in 1890, her father George started his own practice in Westminster moving the family to London. But Muriel’s time in Nottingham, where she was born and raised, shaped much of her writing. Several of her novels are set in 1880s Nottingham – or, as she calls it, Lacingham – and they provide insight into life here at that time.

Hine’s semi-autobiographical A Great Adventure (1939) covers the period up to her family’s move to the capital. In the author’s Nottingham, The Park is named The Chase. On The Park/Chase she writes:

All the roads and circles were lined with trees, and the houses backed by irregular gardens that gave the illusion of the country, the result so different from the normal dull rows of the period that Lacingham had cause to be proud of “The Chase”.

The Hine’s Regent Street house, on the corner of Oxford Street near the Playhouse, is also described accurately in the book.

In the novel, Frances is the ruling passion of George Henty’s life, and for her sake he embarks on a get rich scheme. How can a man, handicapped as a junior partner in his grudging old father’s firm and forbidden any initiative, satisfy his wife’s ambition?

Their fine home also features in Hine’s Wild Rye (1931), in which a young woman breaks with expectations.

And in its sequel Jenny Rorke (1932).

Hine had a “gift of infusing life into the characters and an equally striking gift for description.” The Times.

In A Man’s Way (1933) Hine has an author and his unsuitable wife spend most of the year, over which the book’s drama takes place, in Lincolnshire, giving the writer the chance to take us on journeys to Lincoln Cathedral, Tattershall Castle and various other places.

In many of her thirty-five novels, Muriel Hine explored the challenges faced by women, including the fight for the vote.

One of her books, The Best in Life (1918), was made into the silent film Fifth Avenue Models, produced by Universal Pictures in 1924. She also wrote plays and song lyrics.

A Different Woman (1936) is a romance novel about a woman married to an older man ("a rounder and extremely selfish"), who finds herself falling in love with a scientist.

Muriel Hine’s architect father and grandfather worked together on many projects in Nottingham, such as the renovations of the burnt-out Nottingham Castle, which they turned into the first municipal museum of art outside of London.

James Prior #NottsWriters

 To celebrate the May 5th launch of Follow the Moon and Stars here's a new series on #NottsWriters: 

James Prior (1851–1922)

It was on Mapperley Road near the centre of Nottingham that Prior was born. By the age of twenty-seven he had little to show for his literary efforts so he took a teaching position at a boarding school.

After his father died, he became involved with his uncle in a farming business but the money dried up. As it turned out, this would not be a wasted five years, as the experience would inform Prior’s novel Forest Folk (1901). By this time Prior was fifty years old.

After marrying his cousin Lily Kirk, Prior returned to Nottingham, living in Radcliffe-on-Trent before heading to Bingham, and it was here that all of his best work was written. He lived in Bingham from 1891 to 1922, first at 19 Fisher Lane, a home called Lushai Cottage (previously named Brusty Cottage), then at the neighbouring Banks, at Banks Cottage.

Prior would go for a ramble and bring home a quaint saying or even a new chapter, though much of his time in Bingham was spent as a social recluse.

James Prior has been called the ‘Thomas Hardy of Nottinghamshire’ and comparisons can even be made to DH Lawrence, who shared a publisher with Prior and rated, if pitied, the author. Lawrence wrote, ‘What a curious man James Prior is!’ and wondered why Prior was a ‘failure.’

His first published novel, Renie, was followed in 1897 by Ripple and Flood.

Ripple and Flood, is a story of his beloved river, the “smug and silver Trent”.

‘My prime consolation was neither book nor friend, but what entered my eye. What has once entered thereby remains, I am convinced, locked in my memory but the key hangs out of my reach.’

Then came Forest Folk, set during an eventful period of history that covers the Napoleonic Wars and Luddite riots. It’s about the farming community near Sherwood Forest.

Forest Folk was republished in 2017 by Nottingham’s Spokesman Books.

The all-important follow-up to this success was the disappointing Hyssop

Arguably his best book, A Walking Gentleman, arrived three years later. It’s the story of a gentleman who decamped on the eve of his wedding, making escape from the “madding crowd” and encountering many strange adventures on the way.

“Do yer want to faight or don’t yer?”

“I leave the choice to you.”

“Damn yer mealy mouth! Do yer or don’t yer?”

“Well, I don’t.”

“Then I’ll faight yer for not wantin’.”

From A Walking Gentemen

Prior’s last published work was Fortuna Chance (1910), set in the 1720s. 

The author was granted a small pension in recognition of his services to literature.

Writing of Fortuna Chance, the great John Buchan said, 

“I do not think there is such a master of the English countryside. His peasants seem to me quite as good as Mr Hardy’s and he has the astonishing power of producing impressions of scene and weather. Further he is a true artist in the construction of his stories and they provide moments of finer drama than almost any modern novelist.”

Don Pedro the Cruel was his other published work. He left unpublished manuscripts, November, Loose-Strife and Ware Aegir (a play).

His collected poetry did make a slim volume, published in 1925, and Bromley House Library has a copy. The collection includes two beautifully tender poems written when his wife Lily died.

Prior himself died in his small Bingham cottage in 1922. He was buried in Bingham’s cemetery. His headstone reads:

In loving memory of James Prior Kirk better known as James Prior

Died Dec 19th 1922 aged 71

Also his wife Lily, died Mar 9th 1914 aged 48

Also of their sons, Walter, died of wounds in France,

Aug 17th 1918 aged 26,

and Harold, died Apr 25th 1931 aged 23

Hilda Lewis #NottsWriters

To celebrate the May 5th launch of Follow the Moon and Stars here's a new series on #NottsWriters: 

Hilda Lewis (1896–1974)

After marrying in 1921, London born Hilda Lewis remained in Nottingham for the rest of her life, the city inspiring one of her early novels set in the lace-making industry.

Lewis believed in the importance of authenticity and, based on diligent research into the declining Nottingham lace industry of the late nineteenth century, her Penny Lace (1946) captures the difficulties faced by the Lace Market’s factories. Lewis corresponded with several lace manufacturers before writing Penny Lace, a masterly chronicle of Nottingham life featuring some iconic settings.

Hilda Lewis lived at the edge of Wollaton Park and her novel More Glass than Wall is set in a fictional Wollaton Hall and Park. 

Her interest in social issues was explored in Strange Story (1945) which influenced post-war opinion on capital punishment. Strange Story is a disturbing tale of twins:

Lying there…with her miraculous twins…Emmy Wilder was the happiest woman in the world. It was well that she was not to know that she held in her arms the killer and the slain…

And, in a time when the return of capital punishment was a matter of much debate, Because I Must (1938) made a powerful argument. The book begins “I remember the day they hanged my mother.’

Her husband was Director of Education at Nottingham University, and, as Professor M. Michael Lewis, he specialised in the education of the deaf, work that inspired Lewis’s The Day is Ours (1947).

Via her husband, Hilda Lewis developed an interest in the language of children. He had focused his educational research on deaf children, resulting in her most famous book.

In The Day is Ours filmed as Mandy, also known as Crash of Silence (1952), it takes a mother some time before she realises her perfect child, Tamsie, has been born completely deaf. Facing a life of isolation, Tamsie Garland's spirit to conquer comes through. Read as a serial for Women’s Hour, the story and its realism touched hearts and raised awareness of hearing difficulties. 

In later years she wrote historical novels.

Set in the East Midlands The Witch and the Priest (1956) is a story concerning a notorious witch of exotic appearance.

Enter a Player (1952) is a powerful novel of life in the theatre in the great days of Irving Tree and George Edwardes.

Gone to the Pictures (1946) is a valuable contribution to the literature of the cinema. It offers an unusual and absorbing background of the growth of early cinema, set in London’s East End where her first book had been set in 1930.

In the tragi-comedy Madam Gold (1947), Ester Gold fights through poverty and power.

In Imogen under Glass (1943), Imogen Hutton fears living an adult life whilst also being jealous of her younger sister. Imogen, who literally cannot move, sets her heart on her sister’s lover.

Call Lady Purbeck (1961) is a true and moving story of a young girl’s travail in a world populated with some of the most colourful figures in English history.

“Had Eliza Hatton taken Francis Bacon for her second husband – this tale would not have been written.”

‘This is a novel few women could resist’, wrote The Daily Telegraph of Wife to Great Buckingham (1971). Lewis brings colour, excitement and the vitality of truth into the turbulent story of the charming Catherine Manners and George Villiers.

Excluded by former friends after attending a posh school, Geraldine starts a new life in Pilican Inn (1972).

I, Jacqueline (1957) has its jacket designed by the renowned Nottingham artist Evelyn Gibbs (1905-1991), who created the artwork for several of Lewis’ books.

Gibbs wrote the influential book The Teaching of Art in Schools. Her biography was written by the local writer Pauline Lucas.

Lewis also wrote for children and young adults, her books included The Gentle Falcon about Richard II and his bride Isabella, adapted for television in 1954, and The Ship that Flew, her first famous book (1939).

Hilda Lewis died in January 1974 after complications following a major operation.