Recently I joked to someone (perhaps unfunnily; my sense of humor leaves much to be desired) that Valancourt Books was looking to add a little diversity to its catalogue: by including some living authors. Here are some of the titles by contemporary authors that we've recently added to our forthcoming list and which I think are really interesting:
The Fourth of June (1962)
by David Benedictus
Introduction by the Author
David Benedictus (b. 1938) published this novel at age 24 and it was an immediate bestseller and succès de scandale. Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming) wrote for the Sunday Times that it was 'one of the most brilliant first novels since the war'; Kenneth Allsop for the Daily Mail called it 'brilliantly clever' and 'mercilessly funny'; Penelope Mortimer gave it 'almost unqualified praise', and in general the reviews were terrific. The entire print run sold out and it was also published in paperback and in an American edition.
In The Fourth of June, Benedictus set out to savage one of the most august institutions in England -- Eton College, founded in 1440, and responsible for educating the sons of the noble and wealthy, including numerous prime ministers and other top British figures, for generations. Scarfe, a 'guinea-pig', the son of a Norwich farmer, doesn't fit in among the sons of the gentry, and when he transgresses their code of conduct, they set out to teach him a lesson -- by beating him with a cane, resulting in paralysis and a great deal of consternation. But don't let that fool you: the book is indeed terribly funny. Benedictus is still writing; in 2009, he published the first Winnie the Pooh sequel in more than 80 years, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.
The Cormorant (1986)
by Stephen Gregory
With a new introduction by the Author
Another quite different but also hugely successful first novel was Stephen Gregory's (b. 1952) The Cormorant, which the New York Times said was 'a first-class terror story with a relentless focus that would have made Edgar Allan Poe proud'; Publishers Weekly recognised its 'nightmarish horror reminiscent of the tales of Poe, in a tale that could become a classic'. It won the highly prestigious Somerset Maugham Award for 1987 and now returns to print in this new edition featuring an all-new introduction by the author.
In The Cormorant, a young husband and wife toil away in the city at jobs they despise in order to support themselves and their newborn baby, when they receive a bit of unexpected news. An eccentric old uncle has died and left them a sum of money and a remote cottage in Wales. There's only one small catch: the uncle had rescued a cormorant from an oil spill and kept it as a pet, and the family can only keep their bequest as long as they care for the cormorant. They figure it's merely a minor inconvenience and might perhaps even be somewhat amusing. Until the cormorant reveals its malevolent side. The novel was adapted by the BBC as a motion picture starring a young Ralph Fiennes.
The Young Director (1961)
by Martyn Goff
With a new introduction by Dr Martin Dines
Martyn Goff (b. 1923) has made an immeasurable impact on modern British literature, but, curiously enough, not through his fiction writing. Instead, he is best known as the man responsible for the Man Booker Prize, which has probably replaced the Nobel Prize as the most-watched literary award in the world; he oversaw the formation of the award and supervised the process from 1969 until his retirement in 2002. But before this, he had a career as a novelist, publishing several very daring gay-themed novels in the 1950s and 1960s.
When he wrote his first novel, The Plaster Fabric (1957), his straight publisher told him, 'You know, this book could land both of us in the Old Bailey. You're not worried?' He had reason to be: at the time, homosexuality was a criminal offence and was also potentially ruinous for a young writer starting out, and publishers and authors could be hailed into court on indecency charges for publishing books dealing frankly with it. Goff published the book anyway, and when John Betjeman reviewed it favourably, 'the authorities could hardly condemn it', as Goff later remarked.
The Youngest Director followed in 1961 (and probably holds a special place in Goff's heart, since in 1968, a young man in Finland read the book and wrote a fan letter to Goff; the two have been partners ever since). It's a fascinating book, in which Leonard Bissel seems to have everything going for him: he's 32, owns a house in Chelsea, drives a sporty new MG, has just met the love of his life, and has just been named the youngest director of the Colorado Trading Corporation. There's just one problem. The chairman of the corporation keeps up with all the latest efficiency research from America and the data clearly show that married executives are more productive and reliable employees than unmarried ones, and pressure is brought to bear on Leonard: either he marries, or he'll find himself demoted or out of a job. The problem is, Leonard wants to live in a committed, monogamous relationship with John, a hotel porter; his family and employer do not know he is gay, and of course gay marriage is quite impossible. The novel is extremely well written and remains a fascinating read over 50 years later.
Body Charge (1971)
by Hunter Davies
With a new introduction by the author
This one's a little lesser known, but I really enjoyed it. Hunter Davies has been a prominent figure in British popular culture for half a century now, first with his novel Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968), which became a major Hollywood film, and with his book on the Beatles, the only authorized biography of the band. More recently, he's been known for his writing on football and his journalism. In 1971, he published a curious book called Body Charge, which features a rather immature 30-year-old protagonist (rather in denial about being gay) who drives for a shady unlicensed cab company because he enjoys the flexible hours, which allow him plenty of free time for his favourite pastime: playing football, usually with teens about half his age. In the course of his work, he picks up three different interesting fares, an egocentric bisexual TV producer, an aspiring young football star, and a closeted gay married man with a couple of kids. As he becomes mixed up with these different individuals, he also finds himself involved in the midst of a murder investigation. An unusual book, but compulsively readable and oddly compelling.
It unfortunately appeared in the early 1970s, one of the lowest points ever in the history of British book design, as evidenced by one of the least appealing covers we have ever seen.