Sunday, October 11, 2015

Watch Repair - Sea Shanty Town Ship

The work of Watch Repair involves music as delicate and intricate as their name suggests. Their compositions involve subtle, almost diffident, movements which seek (and reward) attentive listening. The opening track, 'Far Asleep', of their new recording Sea Shanty Town Ship involves glowing clock chimes, mechanical abrasions and shimmering bell peals. The overall effect suggests an Edwardian music box made by an eccentric recluse, or the revolving of an orrery in some lost observatory. It is wistful and haunting.

The second, title track is more austere, with brittle and slithering guitar notes proceeding slowly as if the player or even the instrument itself were on a restless quest for the precise expression of fragile truths. There are rising, yearning surges of other sounds shifting in and out of the restrained guitar explorations, like the wind in our hair or rain at the window, and at intervals we hear unearthly echoes.

It is an exquisite, gentle, timeless piece, the aural equivalent of the enigmatic stories of Walter de la Mare. The listener emerges with the feeling that they have brushed against the experience of another, elusive way of knowing.

Sea Shanty Town Ship is in a limited edition possibly available from Manchester outlets Boomkat or Piccadilly Records. This is the fourth Watch Repair release: the three previous titles are Stopped Clock Chimes, Watch Repair (self-titled) and The Tidal Path: details of those are at Watch Repair's Bandcamp page.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reliquiae 3 - Journal of Landscape and Literature

Corbel Stone Press are now taking orders for the third issue of Reliquiae, the journal of landscape and literature edited by Autumn Richardson & Richard Skelton.

This finely designed and produced journal publishes prose, essays and adventurous poetic forms on the themes of myth, place, nature, fauna and folklore.

The forthcoming issue includes a meditation on yellow by Scottish poet Thomas A Clark, an account of making field recordings of ravens by Chris Watson, a fragment from the Norse epic the Edda, on the world-tree Yggdrasil, by Olive Bray, Richard Skelton's elegy for the badger, esoteric poems by the Irish mystic 'AE', and much more.

It will also include my previously unpublished piece 'Properties', an imagined auction list of stones, driftwood and windfalls, and lost things: and a reprint of the story 'Baltersan's Third Edition' (from Secret Europe).

Reliquiae Volume Three will be published in November 2015, but is available to pre-order now. All customers who pre-order before October 1st will receive their name printed in the journal's 'thank you' section.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Colonial Edition of A Study in Scarlet

Another colonial edition purchase, this time a copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet found at the Lifeline Book Fair on the weekend for $20.  Green and Gibson's A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle mention two colonial editions of A Study in Scarlet published by Ward, Lock & Bowden. The first, in blue cloth and black lettering, was published in 1892 and probably forms part of Ward, Lock's first attempt at a colonial library, which began in about 1890, with a pseudo Australian coat of arms on the back cover and 'Australian Edition' or 'Colonial Edition' stamped on the front cover.  The second and more successful series, of which this copy is a part, started in 1895 and continued with the rust-coloured uniform covers and black lettering until about 1899, when the covers changed.  It has 1895 printed on the title page and 'Colonial Edition' in gothic writing with a stamp on the back cover that it is for circulation in the colonies.

Both colonial editions seem fairly scarce and I can't find any images online.  This 1895 edition (more accurately, issue) is the 1894 sixth impression of the second edition (if I'm reading Green & Gibson correctly) with new prelims.

Thanks to John Loder for the detailed bibliographic information.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Mallaig Line/The Kyle Line

These two railway guides are from 1971 or thereabouts. Because that’s in my lifetime, it seems to me contemporary: but it’s over forty years ago and I have to recognise that to others it is history, just as the Thirties would have seemed to me then.

They describe two of the most remote railway lines in Britain, in the far North of Scotland, giving a short history of their construction, then evoking each landmark and station. The author, Tom Weir, also took the trouble to talk to people who worked or travelled on the lines, and records their memories. They are a delight for the armchair traveller.

Some landowners only permitted the railways to go over their land if a private station was built for their own estate, and some of these wayside halts continue to exist, far from any significant settlement, bare platforms in the middle of nowhere. Quite a few supernatural stories start with a character alighting at a lonely station like these.

By the time Tom Weir is writing, increased motor car ownership and travel is beginning to threaten the existence of the railways (it was less than ten years since the major Beeching programme of closures). So he also takes care to explain their importance to local communities.

One of the charming aspects of the guides is that they were evidently funded in part by advertisements from local tradespeople: hotels, cafes, shops. The design and wording of these has a quaint air even to me today: they are notable for simplicity and civility.

But I particularly like the one for ‘The Record Rendezvous and Musicassette Centre”, Inverness. This could actually be of a shop today, except that now it would be tongue-in-cheek and be for a retro or vintage emporium.

Meanwhile, the “Loch Ness” Butter Shortbread has a faintly macabre offer:

Fingers and Petticoat Tails
in attractively wrapped tins
posted to all parts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Late Mr Early - Joan Hewett

Found in the £1 barrow outside Saltaire bookshop, The Late Mr Early by Joan Hewett (1943), though not with the dustwrapper illustrated here. It’s a ghost story, if marginally. The first lines are: “Silently, effortlessly, without even pausing to open the door, the late Jonathan Early entered his library. That, he reflected, was one of the few advantages of being a spirit. . .”.

There is a family tree on a preliminary page, showing his nephews and nieces. These will soon be gathered to hear the reading of his will, which contains some surprises. Complications and treacheries and a twist or two follow, and his bequests influence the lives of all the legatees, while he observes things from afar. The writing is lively, crisp, with nice descriptive touches, and the characters are well differentiated and developed. It is unashamedly commercial fiction, but done with brio and verve.

A Note says: “With grateful acknowledgement to Mr A V Fraer, Barrister, of Auckland, New Zealand, who gave me my first lessons in the gentle art of Will making.” The book makes a clever appeal to the perennial fascination with wills and inheritances, a staple in mystery fiction since Victorian times, but here in a pacier modern guise.

There is a discussion of the author on a genealogy site, which pieces together the following information. Joan Hewett was born in Middlesex in 1904 (sometimes later given as 1905). She moved to New Zealand at an early age. She married in 1923: her son was born in January of the following year; her husband died that same year. She was thus left a widow and a lone parent at the age of 20. The Late Mr Early is dedicated to “Philip and Punch”. Philip was her son, then nineteen.

She remarried in 1930 and divorced in 1942. In 1947 she travelled to England and the USA to try to promote her books. She was interviewed by the Amarillo Globe and described as one of New Zealand’s leading novelists: she was trying to sell her books as films in Hollywood.

She is last known of in 1956 travelling from Southampton to Quebec, when she is described as a stenographer. She gave her address then as Western Gales, Cummersdale, Carlisle. This was also the address at about this time of Osbert Wyndham Hewett, the author of Strawberry Fair, a biography of Frances, Countess Waldegrave (1956).

He later went on to edit And Mr Fortescue: A Selection from the Diaries from 1851 to 1862 of Chichester Fortescue Lord Carlingford K.P. (1958), politician, the husband of Countess Waldegrave, and believed to be the model for Trollope’s Phineas Phinn. A copy of this book was offered for sale with a typed, signed letter from the author dated August 1958 about the success of this book, noting that his sister has promised to promote it in South Africa. He must evidently have been some relation of Joan Hewett and this may be an allusion to her, since as we have seen she was no stranger to publicising her own books.

Her books are: A Divorce Has Been Arranged (Duckworth, 1937); Week-End Rhapsody (Duckworth, 1939); The Late Mr Early (Macdonald, 1943); Dare to Trespass (Macdonald, 1944); Frost in September (Macdonald, 1946); Nymph With A Broomstick (Macdonald, 1949); Women Are Dynamite (Herbert Jenkins, 1951). Some sound as though they may also have a fantastical element.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New A N L Munby Publication

A N L Munby is known by ghost story enthusiasts for his volume of Jamesian tributes collected in The Alabaster Hand (1949, recently reprinted by The Sundial Press). They are amongst the best of the stories in the antiquarian tradition, and were written when Munby was a prisoner-of-war during World War Two. He later went on to become the Librarian of King's College, Cambridge, and a literary scholar and essayist who always writes with a fine mingling of learning and levity.

However, the Jamesian tales were not all that he wrote while he was interned. The Jericho Press has just published a new edition of Lyra Catenata: Verses, a very rare collection of poems also composed in the camp. Here is their description:

"The verses, always cheerful and clever, were partly written for camp dramatic productions, and they must have helped keep up his own and others' spirits. Tim published nine of his poems privately in 1948 under the title Lyra catenata, 'a chained song', in an edition of 35 copies. The present edition reprints these nine and adds two more: one from a 1947 anthology, and another ('Augustus Stokes: a cautionary tale') by kind permission of the author's son Giles Munby from among the unpublished verses in his notebooks."

There is an introduction by Liam Sims and the printing and production quality of the book looks admirable. Alas, this edition itself is only of eighty copies, and it is apparently already out of print at the Press: but copies may possibly be obtainable from the bookseller James Fergusson. Enquire at: jamesfergusson[at]btinternet[dot]com.

The Hotspur - Hidden

Amongst the barely considered literature of Britain is the parish magazine. These little periodicals, now perhaps largely superseded by online equivalents, typically gave the dates and times of church services, notices of forthcoming events such as fetes, homilies and other messages from the parson, appeals for funds, and other miscellaneous matter such as recipes, funny things overheard, and gardening tips, designed to season the publication with lighter reading.

As a (largely) amiable record of local news and interests they present a slice of social history that ought to be preserved at least in a representative form, and I wonder whether any diligent library has undertaken this task. Moreover, it is not at all impossible that amongst them there are some unnoticed minor delights, literary, antiquarian, topographical, botanical.

We know, for example, that Arthur Machen wrote the church guide for the Parish of Amersham, where he lived in semi-retirement: it is now a rare item in his bibliography. It is quite likely that other literary figures made similar contributions, signed or unsigned. By their ephemeral nature, few of these little publications will have survived, but those that do are certainly worth scrutiny.

A rather unusual contemporary example is the The Hotspur, which began modestly as the parish magazine for Healey, Northumberland, a remote settlement of slightly less than two hundred souls. It has since evolved into a periodical of art, history, myth, landscape and the arcane, edited with flair by Jamie Warde-Aldam. Each (un-numbered) issue is identified and infused by a theme.

In the latest, that theme is ‘Hidden’, inspired by a disused Cold War bunker in the vicinity. Contributors explore the history of Cold War installations, the legend of St Cuthbert's Mist, a Victorian stage magic illusion, the Tiepolo frescoes in the Villa Valmarana, and a journal of local living in rural Ireland. There is also an art plate, 'The Secret Underground Bunkers Do Exist' by Michael Mulvhill, and one of the finest errata slips ever, 'and'.

Enquiries to: thehotspur[at]googlemail[dot]com.
'Like distant cousins,there's a limited supply.'

Mark Valentine