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Author Archive: "Wesley Stace"

Patrick Hamilton and Nothing But

I'll finish my week's bookish blog work with a word about Patrick Hamilton.

He's a writer you grow up knowing about without really knowing his writing: his two greatest successes were the play Gaslight, which became, more than once, a famous movie, and another play, Rope, which Hitchcock turned into the memorable "you-think-it's-one-continuous-shot" movie.

For years, Hamilton's novels were out of print. Then, a few years ago, the rock band Marah recorded an album called 20,000 Streets Under The Sky, named for one of Hamilton's two trilogies (consisting of the novels The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure and The Plains of Cement, recently made into a stellar three part British TV series): it seemed like this was the first anyone had heard of Patrick Hamilton for years. I remember being asked if I'd read him, and I said I had, later realising I was muddling him with a writer from Rye called Patric Dickinson, who has nothing to


Exceptionally Beautiful Books: Sterne, Onions, Lear

Some books are so beautiful, you have to buy them. But who wants a book that merely looks nice? You might as well get something you can hang on a wall. The ideal is a book that looks wonderful and is also great. For example, my friend Rob's wonderful edition of Byron with a fore-edge illustration that reveals itself to you only gradually: step one, step two.

At the very top of this select list is Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, published in nine volumes from 1760-1767.

During the very dawn of the internet, when it was a wild cowboy frontier, I saw advertised a first edition of Tristram Shandy for, I think, $500. It could have been more than that, but not much more. I bought it (and now feel slightly guilty about owning it.) This particular edition came housed in a lovely bespoke case, in which the books sit horizontally.

Vol 9 is slightly larger than the others, and the boxmaker went to the trouble of sculpting


The Day My Bookshelf Turned Green (& Tulip): Jameson, Comyns, Taylor, Coe, Ackerley

The book I should have bought but didn't was a Storm Jameson novel — I can't remember which — that contained the awesome authorial dedication: "To Tommy — Another unnecessary novel! Storm Jameson." On my next trip to the bookshop, my mind made up, I returned full of hope but there was a book-sized space where it once had been.

Jameson wrote many, many novels, but the one I enjoyed most was Company Parade, a third of The Mirror in Darkness trilogy, the continuing story of Mary Hervey Russell, who seems to be more or less Jameson herself. My discovery of Jameson, whose novels are harsh, plainly written and psychologically acute, dates to a random email sent to me by an English professor who had read my second novel. He suggested I might enjoy Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim and The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns.

I did, a lot. It was at this point that my bookshelves gradually started to turn green
as though ivy was creeping over them.

There are about fifty more, but these ones actually happen to sit next to each ...

Concerning Non-Existent Composers and Actual Critics: Ross, Mann, Hesse, Gray & Heseltine, Davison &c

I've just written a novel in which the main character is a classical composer, by necessity a fictional one, called Charles Jessold.

Jessold finds himself — not, you understand, due to the astounding quality of my novel, but purely because he now fictionally exists — in a noble tradition of fictive composers. Alex Ross, author of the much-praised The Rest Is Noise (a study of the history of 20th Century music), has written brilliantly about the lineage of similarly non-existent composers. [You might need to become a member, but the original New Yorker article, and its sequel, are here and
). There are deadly boring fictional composers (Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland) and profoundly interesting ones (Mann's Adrian Leverkuhn in Doctor Faustus): all seem to follow in the footsteps of Proust's Vinteuil.

I set myself the task of trying to work out why these various composers succeeded or failed as fictional creations — sometimes they fail because they are clearly a stand-in for the Writer/Artist, an idea more than an actual composing composer; some fail because their work is not believably described. My first favourite fictional ...

Four Favourites (with a u): Wyndham, Hartley, Johnson, Conrad

Since this is a book blog, or at least a blog for a bookstore, I thought I'd actually blog about books, rather than my book tour, world news, or the writer's lot. Why not? And not even just books I like, but books I own.

I assume that most people reading this like second-hand bookstores. I'm sure there's a good reason for new bookstores to exist — and thank God that they do — but, really, new books just don't seem quite second-hand enough most of the time. Besides, this blog is a nice opportunity to enthuse about some books I love, perhaps even to exhibit their beautiful covers.

On my last trip to Powell's — you're not really trying unless you leave with a book you weren't expecting to leave with — I bought a very nice two-in-one paperback of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate that kept me happy for the rest of the week, but what I'd been hoping to find was anything (and there isn't much) by Francis Wyndham, a not-terribly-well-known English writer, whose ...

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