Wednesday, October 31, 2012

John Blackburn (1923-1993)

I get the distinct feeling that John Blackburn, whose name I first discovered the other day, is going to join Francis Lathom, Richard Marsh, and others as one of my reclamation projects.  Blackburn is evidence that you don't need to go back 100 or 200 years to find an example of an unfortunately forgotten novelist.  Indeed, although he was still publishing even in my lifetime, I'd never heard of him, and many of his books command several hundred dollars on the secondhand market.

Blackburn seems to be a writer that publishers had some difficulty classifying.  His books are thrilling, mysterious, and horrifying, but they're not exactly "thrillers," "mysteries," or "horror"; rather, they're a combination of the three. Blackburn himself was well-educated and an antiquarian bookseller and thus very literate.  What's interesting about Blackburn's books, though, is that unlike most mysteries, thrillers, and horror novels of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, which are only remembered if they were adapted for films and otherwise have been discarded as semi-literate trash, his books are highly intelligent.  

I was lucky enough to find a couple of his books at the Kansas City public library.  On the back jacket flap of Blow the House Down (1970) appear the following quotes (check out his book titles!) -- and note how he even gets rave reviews from the highbrow Times Literary Supplement:

'He is bang on curdling form with this tale of a sealed tomb in a cathedral city and the Destroyer  that lurks. Not for the timid.' -- Evening Standard.

'A real creepy-crawly... Recommended to those who like their thrills chilled.' -- Evening Standard
'Absurdly enjoyable.' -- Times Literary Supplement

'John Blackburn is today's master of horror, and this latest novel about a village gripped by the culmination of ancient vileness, induces proper shivers.' -- Times Literary Supplement

I tracked down Bury Him Darkly (1968) on eBay for 99 cents and requested some of the others through interlibrary loan, including Our Lady of Pain (1974), a vampire novel about Countess Elizabeth Bathory, dedicated to actor Christopher Lee and suggested by him to Blackburn.

What do you think?  Does he sound great or what?

Happy Halloween!

We hope everyone has a merry, scary Halloween!  

A word or two on what we're working on at the moment: Although we continue to love fiction of the Romantic and Victorian periods and will keep on releasing our editions of lost Gothic, penny dreadful, and sensation fiction of long ago, we're presently working hard to build up our 20th century list as well.

Two new 20th century titles, John Trevena's Sleeping Waters (1913) and Stephen Gilbert's The Burnaby Experiments (1952) will be published very shortly.  We are in negotiations with the estates of numerous 20th century authors, some whose names you've never heard and some you will certainly recognize, to bring into print a number of lost classics.  We hope to be able to announce some of these soon, although for the moment we can disclose that we'll be bringing out in the U.S. new editions of Francis King's Never Again (1947) and The Dark Glasses (1954), two of King's own favorites from among his novels, and which he and I discussed reissuing while we were working on our 2008 edition of his An Air that Kills.  Expect to see both of these in 2013.  We've also secured permission to reissue Hugh Walpole's posthumous 'macabre' novel, The Killer and the Slain (1942).  Walpole, a distant cousin of Horace Walpole, was a hugely popular and prolific novelist whose reputation has declined immeasurably since his death in 1941.  He wrote many different types of novels, but particularly enjoyed what he called 'macabre' novels, like The Killer and the Slain, which was dedicated to Henry James and inspired in part by his The Turn of the Screw.

Follow us here and on Twitter and Facebook for more announcements soon!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stephen Gilbert's The Burnaby Experiments (1952)

Forrest Reid (1875-1947) is a writer who I've long found fascinating.  In a lot of ways, he's similar to John Trevena, the subject of my previous blog post.  Both wrote in relative isolation from the London literary scene -- Reid in Belfast, Trevena in Dartmoor -- and neither really belonged to any recognizable contemporary literary movement.  Both had their admirers, and both enjoyed widespread critical success, but neither ever made it big commercially, and both fell into total obscurity after their deaths.  Reid won the James Tait Black prize and counted among his friends and admirers such notables as Walter de la Mare and E.M. Forster.  We might have added Henry James to this list, but after his horror at finding Reid's The Garden God dedicated to him, he never spoke to Reid again; who knows if he still read his books.

It's already been written about often enough elsewhere not to need repeating here, but whether merely platonic or whether something more, Reid was fascinated by boys and boyhood, and nearly all his works deal with that topic.  Like J. M. Barrie, Reid had some of his most important friendships with young people, and in Reid's case, perhaps the most significant was Stephen Gilbert.  Reid and Gilbert met in 1931, when Reid would have been about 56 and Gilbert about 19; Reid acted as Gilbert's mentor and ended up idealizing their relationship in Brian Westby (1934), which Gilbert apparently wasn't entirely comfortable with.  In The Burnaby Experiments (1952), Gilbert turns the tables, telling the story of their relationship from his point of view, and casting Reid as the fussy, parasitic, and ultimately sinister Mr. Burnaby.  

I won't talk about the book's plot so as not to spoil any surprises -- suffice it to say that the book is impossible to put down.  What I found interesting, though, as we put this 60th anniversary edition together, is how quickly and how utterly the book has become obscure.  Valancourt Books is probably best known for our editions of rare old Gothic novels. The Forest of Valancourt (1813), for example, is 200 years old, and is known to survive in only one copy worldwide, at the Bodleian Library.  And yet, it's not all that hard to get: it's as simple as emailing your credit card information to the Bodleian and paying them $200 or so to photocopy and mail it to you.  

Try getting a copy of The Burnaby Experiments.  We've seen one copy come up for sale in the past five years; it sold the same day it was listed.  It was never published in America, and Worldcat finds only 13 libraries in all of the U.S. that hold copies -- oh, and try getting one of them to lend it to you (they won't copy it for you, of course, since it's in copyright).  Even worse, try finding out anything about the book.  Because things published in 1952 are still in copyright, you won't find any reviews in any electronic databases or anywhere else, and there is scant information online.  (And the few books that might have catalogued those original book reviews have probably been long discarded from your library as presumed useless.)

Stephen Gilbert died in 2010; under current copyright law, The Burnaby Experiments will be under copyright until the end of 2080.  In the rush to get rid of books and add more computers and online resources, one wonders how many of these rare novels of the 1940s-1960s -- not old enough to have been scanned into Google Books nor new enough to proliferate in mass market paperback copies -- will vanish by 2080.  Perhaps unexpectedly, it won't be the 18th or 19th centuries that in future may end up as Dark Ages of British popular fiction, but the mid-twentieth.  The Burnaby Experiments is the latest of a few copyright 20th century novels we've uncovered and brought back, and we hope to rediscover others.  Let us know what you think of Burnaby -- if it's successful, we'd like to look into reprinting Gilbert's Ratman's Notebooks (1968), a wonderful, weird horror novel twice filmed as Willard (1971; 2003).

Friday, October 19, 2012

More on John Trevena

The more work we do on our 100th anniversary edition of John Trevena's Sleeping Waters, the clearer it's becoming what an important rediscovery we've made.  Here are some more comments from 20th century reviewers, dug up by Prof. Gerald Monsman:

"Russia has produced the most powerful novelists. Beside Turgenief and Dostoievsky we know of no American and but one Englishman who is fairly entitled to a place. John Trevena alone writes with the force, the dynamic power of the brooding, Slavic titans. However, there is much else than mere power in a great novel; the gift for tragedy does not solely make for greatness, and Trevena has more than power. . . . There is a touch of mysticism in Mr. Trevena's books . . . . This quailty, combined with his always incisive and sometimes relentless force, and thorough workmanship, enables him to produce novels that are, we believe, to have an honored and permanent classification in literature." -- Los Angeles Times, review of Wintering Hay (1912), Dec. 6, 1914

"The story is magnificently told. . . . The vividness and monstrosity of the characters remind one of the Brontes." -- Chicago Tribune, review of Sleeping Waters, Jan. 23, 1915

How about a contest?  Can you think of any English writer of any time period who was as prolific and as acclaimed by the critics as John Trevena, but who has fallen into total obscurity, with not one book in print (before the Valancourt editions, of course)?  We can't.....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tons of exciting new titles

We can't force you to follow us on Twitter.  But it is probably the best way to keep up on exciting announcements and news, so you might give it a shot.  If you haven't been following us, you've missed all these exciting new titles we've recently announced....

Our 1200-page penny dreadful The Mysteries of London has met with a huge response, so we're going to tackle another infamous penny dreadful, The Wild Boys of London, or, The Children of Night (1866).  This serial ran in 1866, and only one complete copy survives, in the British Library.  In the 1870s, publication of a reprint was attempted, but it was deemed obscene and seized by the police before the book could be finished.  It's never been reprinted since.

Thomas Ruys Smith will edit William Harrison Ainsworth's Gothic triple decker Rookwood (1834), now quite scarce in its original edition.  Andrew Maunder, who previously did a great job with our edition of The Fate of Fenella in 2008, will prepare a scholarly edition of Florence Marryat's classic of Spiritualism, There Is No Death (1891).  If you liked Marryat's The Blood of the Vampire, or if you have even a passing interest in spiritualism, the occult, and the mysteries of death and the afterlife, you'll want to check this out.  It's a fascinating read, and was hugely popular in the 1890s and beyond.

A couple others -- Melissa Purdue, who edited Fugitive Anne for us is back to edit Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan and The Inmost Light (1894), which will include those two works and other stories, and will feature a critical introduction and notes.  Laurence Talairach-Vielmas, editor of Braddon's Thou Art the Man in 2008 will edit Braddon's late novel Dead Love has Chains (1907).

Check out our Forthcoming page for an ever growing list of new titles, and don't forget to check us out on Twitter (@Valancourt_B) and Facebook.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

John Trevena's Sleeping Waters (1913)

It's a question that arises often in the course of republishing neglected old books. How does a text or author go from the heights of popularity to the realm of utter neglect and obscurity? Sometimes it's not hard to see why a particular work falls out of favor because of changing times and fashions, but sometimes an author's fall is so meteoric and so inexplicable as to be utterly baffling.

Take John Trevena (aka Ernest George Henham, 1870-1946), for example.  We're working on a 100th anniversary edition of his Sleeping Waters (1913), to be released in February 2013.  Trevena, of course, was a British novelist, writing primarily on regional subjects pertaining to Dartmoor.  But check out what two of America's major papers had to say about Sleeping Waters on its release in America in late 1914/early 1915:

“It would be difficult to find a novel more unusual or more original. That it is beautifully written, full of poetic passages, and contains many fascinating descriptions [...] will be regarded as a matter of course by those who have read any of [his] preceding books, and therefore know that John Trevena is unquestionably one of the most notable of living writers.” — New York Times, Jan. 10, 1915

“The construction of the book is very artistic and is difficult to accomplish, but apart from its structural merits ‘Sleeping Waters’ has high value. [...] Our admiration for this author has been expressed over and over again. There is grasp and reach and power in [his] books [...] and they are books that place their author among the foremost of the English novelists.” — Los Angeles Times, Feb. 21, 1915

"Unquestionably one of the most notable of living writers," "among the foremost of the English novelists". Big compliments.  And yet Sleeping Waters was never republished, and you will look in vain online for a secondhand copy at any price.  How did John Trevena end up in the dustbin of literary history?  And can our new edition help dig him out of it?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Major new releases!

Our much anticipated werewolf anthology, Terrifying Transformations, featuring 15 werewolf stories written between 1838 and 1896, along with an appendix containing nonfiction Victorian writings on werewolves, together with an introduction, footnotes, and tons of illustrations, is now available, and it's a tremendous value, with nearly 400 pages of Victorian werewolves for only $14.99!  We'll have the link up this evening to order it.

We've finished correcting the proofs for The Mysteries of London and should have that book available for order next week.  How amazing is it?  Let's just say that if you buy a copy, you'll need to clear your schedule for a couple weeks of things like work and sleep, because you won't want to put the book down.

If you haven't checked out our new releases, Tenebrae and The Stranger Knight, don't miss them!  We've been getting really good feedback from people regarding Tenebrae especially.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A new frontier...

Valancourt Books has always focused on British works to the exclusion of American ones, partly because of the longstanding horror of American works inculcated in me by high school and college reading lists filled with the likes of "Thanatopsis," The Red Badge of Courage, Moby-Dick, and the works of Faulkner and Toni Morrison.  But it turns out that if you dig a little bit beneath the surface, there are some great American works awaiting rediscovery.  

We'll inaugurate our new collection of American works with editions of two by George Lippard (1822-1854), close friend of Edgar Allan Poe and author of novels of the Gothic and penny dreadful variety.  Dr. Jonas Prida will edit Lippard's Empire City (1850) and its sequel New York (1853), two works dealing with the Gothic and sensational side of life in mid-19th century New York.  

We're actively looking for other forgotten works of American popular fiction deserving new editions and are seeking proposals, so please contact us if you are a scholar in this area.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Exciting times here at Valancourt!  Following a successful trip to Madison, Wis. for the North American Victorian Studies Ass'n conference, where we debuted proof copies of The Mysteries of London and Terrifying Transformations, our werewolf anthology, to great interest, we've had a flood of wonderful proposals come in this week for editions of works by James Malcolm Rymer, Jules Verne, Wilkie Collins, and several others.  So expect to see a continual stream of great new releases from us throughout the rest of the year and on into 2013.

And if you haven't already, follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up on all our newest releases and happenings!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy October!

October is our favourite month of the year, and we've got some great stuff coming out this month to help make yours fun and scary as well.

This week, look for the second installment in our free serialization of The Banditti of the Forest, or, The Mysterious Dagger (1811-12), as well as links to order our new offerings: our Halloween special, George Soane's The Stranger Knight & The Bond of Blood (1812-14; 1815), and Ernest G. Henham's Tenebrae.  Both will be offered in paperback or Kindle.

We have the bound proof of The Mysteries of London and are poring over it to see if we missed any errors; it should be available by mid-October. We're planning to offer it in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle.  Also, Terrifying Transformations, our anthology of Victorian werewolf fiction, will be headed to the printer this week and will be available for order by Halloween.

We have tons more exciting stuff on the way, so stay tuned and enjoy this wonderful Halloween season!