Christine Campbell Thomson: "I Am A Literary Agent"

The place to post anything DW-related
Post Reply
User avatar
gloomysundae
Level4
Level4
Posts: 57
Joined: Fri 30 Dec, 2005 20:58:46
Location: Whitechapel, various cemeteries
Contact:

Christine Campbell Thomson: "I Am A Literary Agent"

Post by gloomysundae » Fri 31 Mar, 2006 21:27:29

Does anybody know anything about Christine Campbell Thomson's autobiography, I Am A Literary Agent, (1951: I think the publisher was Sampson Low)

I'm quoting Richard Dalby from the small press magazine Out Of The Woodwork#1, 1986.

" ... well worth reading, especially for the anecdotes about Dermot Spence, Dennis Wheatley, Jessie Douglas Kerruish and other fantasy writers."

Ms. Thomson was the editor of the famous - some would say infamous - Not At Night series which ran from 1925-1936, although Wheatley never contributed to it and I'm wondering what the connection might be. All I can think of is that Arrow reproduced a number of paperback editions of Not At Night selections in the early sixties, but CCT's book was published a decade earlier, so presumably, she'd had some dealings with him long before?

User avatar
Bob Rothwell
Webmaster
Webmaster
Posts: 173
Joined: Thu 16 Jun, 2005 20:28:00
Location: Peterborough, UK
Contact:

Post by Bob Rothwell » Sun 9 Apr, 2006 21:58:14

Only a small inclusion:
pp.122-124
[font=Times New Roman]. . .

But even for a brilliant successful novelist there can be moments when "literature" is put in its proper place and shown that it matters very little against the real things of life.

Denise Robins herself told me that one day she, Berta Ruck and Dennis Wheatley were invited to go to a south-country town to open the library and book department of a large store. Determined to do the thing properly, the directors had considered that these three would give the new departure the proper standing and draw the crowd.

As Denise said, she could not imagine why she and Berta Ruck were both asked, since they both represented romantic fiction, but she supposed that they were intended to "set off" Dennis Wheatley who was of course representing thriller and drama books.

As they approached their destination Dennis Wheatley, who had not had quite so much experience in this particular line of country, said that he supposed there would be a good crowd. Denise, more at home with provincial outlook, said that in these country towns an audience of twenty or thirty was considered quite reasonable. Imagine therefore the pride of Mr. Wheatley when they found the whole street blocked and the shop itself packed to the doors.

Denise admitted to me that she was both surprised and flattered. They all got out of the car and fought their way into the shop in spite of a harassed assistant who kept repeating, "You can't come in . . . can't you see we've no more room?" To this Denise replied crisply that as the library could not be opened without them it was obvious that they must go in and that the crowd must make way.

The assistant's eyes nearly popped out of her head as she said dumbwittedly, "The liberry. . . . Oh, but this crowd's nothing to do with the liberry. . . .Miss Evelyn Laye's speaking in the Stockings."

The library attendance was approximately two dozen.

Sitting next to Mr. Wheatley at a PEN Club dinner once, he told me a delightful story of his then small son. The boy's governess had been trying to explain the meaning of the commandments and had had some difficulty in coping with "Thou shalt not covet". She explained it at last as wanting very badly something which belonged to someone else. Small Wheatley, having assimilated it, heaved a deep sigh and said wistfully, "I understand now. . . . I covet Anne Burnaby"—Davy Burnaby's daughter with whom he played in Kensington Gardens.

In return I told him the story of a small boy I knew who went to kindergarten. His headmistress told me one day that she had been trying to explain Heaven to these under-sevens and had told them that it was a lovely place where we met all our friends and loved ones. One small boy who had recently lost his father exclaimed, "My daddy's there," to which she assented, whereupon small boy number two, not to be outdone if anything good was going, cried out, "So's mine!" The headmistress knew his father and said she really thought this was hardly so, whereupon he announced firmly, "Well, if he isn't there he will be going soon. I know God's been wanting him for a very long time!" God is still waiting!

After that I kept in touch with Mr. Wheatley for a number of years. I was reviewing books then for the Kensington News, and he always saw that I had an autographed copy of each new novel as it came out. And I remember being present at one glorious cocktail party given to celebrate one of them which took place at Selfridge's (which seems an odd place but turned out to be highly successful). As far as I can remember, we went up in the lift and were ushered through a forest of pianos, which had become deep impenetrable woods by the time we tried to find our way back!

. . .
[/font]

User avatar
gloomysundae
Level4
Level4
Posts: 57
Joined: Fri 30 Dec, 2005 20:58:46
Location: Whitechapel, various cemeteries
Contact:

Wheatley And Birkin?

Post by gloomysundae » Mon 10 Apr, 2006 09:49:56

Thanks very much for that, Bob. More of a postal, business relationship then, by the looks of it and Wheatley comes out of it well.

The other person I'm interested in is Sir Charles Birkin. He'd edited the Creeps series in the 'thirties, had a collection of his own stories, Devil Spawn, published in 1936 and then ... vanished. I gather that Wheatley was instrumental in persuading him to pick up and continue his literary efforts when he included new Birkin stories in both Shafts Of Fear and Quiver Of Horror in 1964.

Birkin went on to author a number of horror collections, the first two introduced by DW, albeit after a fashion. Wheatley at least contributes a page to The Kiss Of Death. For The Smell Of Evil he begins:

"In my introduction to Charles Birkin's first collection of horror stories The Kiss Of Death I maintained that ..."

... and then he repeats the first foreword verbatim without adding a single word by way of praise or damnation for The Smell Of Evil! :rofl

Anyway, do you know how Wheatley came to know Birkin?

Jim
Level5
Level5
Posts: 357
Joined: Wed 22 Jun, 2005 03:25:05
Location: NYC

Post by Jim » Mon 10 Apr, 2006 13:01:52

Well, another interesting tidbit !

I'd always thought that QUIVER and SHAFT were simply compiled from the earlier CENTURY OF HORROR STORIES (then long out of print), with no new material.

I shall have to investigate Sir Charles, who had quite an active second career...

User avatar
gloomysundae
Level4
Level4
Posts: 57
Joined: Fri 30 Dec, 2005 20:58:46
Location: Whitechapel, various cemeteries
Contact:

Post by gloomysundae » Mon 10 Apr, 2006 13:21:10

Everything else is from Century ..., but Wheatley wanted to introduce a "new" author to bring the collection up to date. If you haven't already done so, try Birkin's A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts from Shafts Of Fear. Too many stories get hyped as the most horrific of all time, but in this case, it may well be justified ...

An extraordinary talent, but definitely not to everybody's taste.

User avatar
Bob Rothwell
Webmaster
Webmaster
Posts: 173
Joined: Thu 16 Jun, 2005 20:28:00
Location: Peterborough, UK
Contact:

Post by Bob Rothwell » Mon 10 Apr, 2006 16:20:07

It would appear from the following extracts from 'Drink and Ink' that they kept meeting on the same 'party circuit':
p.143
It was about this time (1936) we met Sir Charles Birkin. He was London's most eligible bachelor, rich, good-looking, generous with a caustic wit, and he later wrote gripping short horror stories. His sight was so poor that he could have evaded conscription on those grounds, but he had contact lenses fitted, served for a time in the ranks and later became an officer in the Tank Corps.
The first party of his we went to was at a flat in Hallam Street. The place was packed with lovely, but mostly brainless, young debutantes. Their conversation was solely about clothes, dances they were going to and their boy friends; so Joan and I were fish out of water. However, there was one other guest who was in the same situation, a tall, beak-nosed man in his late thirties, whose name was Maxwell Knight. The three of us settled down in a corner to talk and it transpired that, like myself, he had been a Cadet in HMS Worcester, although after I had left. We liked him and asked him to drinks at No. 8. From this beginning a friendship grew which subsequently completely altered the lives of Bill, Joan, Diana and me. How strange are the decrees of Fate, that of all places, one should have met this man at a party given for debutantes.
p.157
(re the party for 'Herewith the Clues' in 1939) Ruby Miller, with whom I had attended dancing classes when we were both children, came and played the piano for us. Photographs of a number of our guests were taken to represent the suspects in the story. Among them were Lord Poulett, Doris Zinkeisen, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Christabel, Lady Ampthill, Sir Charles Birkin, the Marquis of Donegall, Gilbert Frankau, Lady Stanley of Alderley, Peter Cheyney, Sir Harry Brittain and Val Gielgud of BBC fame, flat on his back in the hall, as the Body. It was a great party.
(Charles Birkin 'starred' as Karl Finigan, an IRA terrorist, who had living with him Pauline Vidor, otherwise known as Mrs Dennis Wheatley)
p.170
(1940, concerning DW's task for MI5 to 'keep an eye on' two Hungarian women)
Soon afterwards, I was myself given a very minor part to play in the war. At one of Charlie Birkin’s cocktail parties Joan and I met a peer's wife, later known to us all as Vicki. A few days later 'Uncle', having learned by his own mysterious means that we had met her, came along and told me what MI5 believed about this very attractive little brunette.
p.171
To assist us in keeping an eye of these two beauties 'Uncle' agreed that we might rope in Charlie Birkin and Captain Bunny Tattersall, DSO, as both went to many parties at which Vicki and the Baroness were likely to be present.
p.173
But the really great fun of Vicki's party was its composition. Among the thirty guests who were swilling her Champagne and happily devouring her foie-gras were Joan, Diana and me, Bill and Fritzi, Bill's colleague Grierson Dickson, Charlie Birkin, Bunny Tattersall, 'Uncle' himself and, as he told me with a finger to his big nose, several of his other aides; so cuddlesome little Vicki was more or less throwing her party for MI5.

User avatar
gloomysundae
Level4
Level4
Posts: 57
Joined: Fri 30 Dec, 2005 20:58:46
Location: Whitechapel, various cemeteries
Contact:

shameless plug

Post by gloomysundae » Tue 11 Apr, 2006 10:08:16

Thank you kindly for that, Bob. It certainly fills in a few gaps. Actually, by 1936, Birkin had a string of horror stories under his belt and he'd edited 14 books of same, admittedly under the fairly transparent pseudonym of Charles Lloyd. The fact that Wheatley knew him from way back when at least sheds some light on how he came to persuade him back into authorship in the 'sixties.

Incidently, the (entirely benevolent) spectre in Birkin's atypical Zara And Zita ("Tandem Book Of Ghost Stories", 1965) is a dashing young fellow named 'Giles Wheatley'.

I've a small pet-project on the go devoted entirely to Birkin, the Creeps series he edited and Christine Campbell Thomson's Not At Night books. Apparently, Birkin was a deeply private, family man so he's something of a problem for biographers, and, from what I've been led to believe at least, CCT makes no reference to the Not At Nights in I Am A Literary Agent. If anybody's interested or wants to impart any info:

http://gruesomecargoes.proboards52.com/

User avatar
Bob Rothwell
Webmaster
Webmaster
Posts: 173
Joined: Thu 16 Jun, 2005 20:28:00
Location: Peterborough, UK
Contact:

Post by Bob Rothwell » Tue 11 Apr, 2006 12:09:21

Congrats, gs, on the sub-board - a few hours sweat there! And yes, you're right - no mention at all of the Not At Night anthologies in CCT's autobiography. Also noticed that the anthologies span her period with another CB (Curtis Brown) and her own move to being an agent in her own right in 1930.

Jim
Level5
Level5
Posts: 357
Joined: Wed 22 Jun, 2005 03:25:05
Location: NYC

Post by Jim » Fri 14 Apr, 2006 02:38:34

By chance, I was in a bookstore recently that had the hardcover versions of both SHAFT and QUIVER (under still different titles), and checked them out to see if I really needed to add them to my collection. Both have the identical introduction--DW could be pretty lazy, couldn't he? <g>--and only the one new story in each, which I'm sure I can find elsewhere. (The LOCUS index was down the last time I checked, but I have many short story collections, and I wouldn't be surprised if I already own some Birkin...)
Last edited by Jim on Fri 14 Apr, 2006 23:44:12, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
gloomysundae
Level4
Level4
Posts: 57
Joined: Fri 30 Dec, 2005 20:58:46
Location: Whitechapel, various cemeteries
Contact:

Post by gloomysundae » Fri 14 Apr, 2006 09:09:06

Funny enough, the excellent Locus aren't very good on Birkin, Jim. Give me a couple of days and I'll pm you a list of his antho appearances, OK? If you've a copy of the '3rd Pan Book Of Horror Stories' you're off to a good start as he's got four stories in there (three credited to his pseudonym, Charles Lloyd).

Thanks for the kind words and all the info, Bob!

Post Reply

Return to “General Topics”