The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler was published by Riverrun/Quercus in hardback and for kindle on 5 October 2017 – and I so want to be able to find time to read it. I’ve seen some wonderful reviews already as part of this blog tour, and as for the book’s endorsements… well, here are some of them.
‘A real gem, filled with old favourites and new discoveries, and written in a light, snappy, erudite tone, as satisfying as a full English breakfast at your local art-house cafe.’ – JOANNE HARRIS
‘A joyous saunter through the lives and words of yesterday’s big names. Readers will love this fascinating book. Writers, too, though it reminds us of our likely fate.’ – CATHY RENTZENBRINK
‘Christopher Fowler’s cherishable book is as quirky and mesmerising as one of his novels; his detailed, loving excavation of a slew of unjustly neglected writers will have the inevitable effect of sending readers in search of these intriguing lost names.’ – BARRY FORSHAW
This book has a particular resonance for me. Many of you will know that my mother has pronounced memory problems, but she still really enjoys reading, and vividly remembers the books of her youth – I remember them too, in their book club bindings on the shelves of my childhood home. But as for the names of authors she remembers – I vaguely recognise some, but there are so many who are totally unknown to me. And that’s a real sadness – I look forward to reading this book, and maybe rediscovering some of those forgotten authors myself …
Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you’re dead.
So begins Christopher Fowler’s foray into the back catalogues and backstories of 99 authors who, once hugely popular, have all but disappeared from our shelves.
Whether male or female, domestic or international, flash-in-the-pan or prolific, mega-seller or prize-winner – no author, it seems, can ever be fully immune from the fate of being forgotten. And Fowler, as well as remembering their careers, lifts the lid on their lives, and why they often stopped writing or disappeared from the public eye.
These 99 journeys are punctuated by 12 short essays about faded once-favourites: including the now-vanished novels Walt Disney brought to the screen, the contemporary rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie who did not stand the test of time, and the women who introduced us to psychological suspense many decades before it conquered the world.
This is a book about books and their authors. It is for book lovers, and is written by one who could not be a more enthusiastic, enlightening and entertaining guide.
I’m delighted to welcome Christopher Fowler to Being Anne, with a guest post on calamitous authors…
Films never entirely go away; after they leave cinemas they can be found again elsewhere. Plays enter repertoires, circling back into theatres over and over. But a great many books simply disappeared for good. If you found a copy in a charity shop it was akin to unearthing buried treasure. I remember finding a copy of an out-of-print novel by JG Ballard under a wicker chair in a junk shop in Sri Lanka and being thrilled to have its existence proven. That’s how my search for forgotten authors started, I suppose. I wanted others to experience the sensation of discovery.
When I was young I had foolishly assumed that once an author was popular (and ‘popular’ to me meant that I could find the book on my parents’ shelves) they would be around forever. Then I found that a great many of the writers who had given me so much pleasure had simply evaporated, and as houses were cleared and shelves were emptied those writers who had poured their hearts into their pages were now as invisible as their words had become.
So the question to me was, why? How could someone who was once a household name be forgotten so quickly? How could you write a hundred books in your lifetime (not an unrealistic number at all, it turned out) and leave no trace behind?
Research proved inconclusive and evidence was hard to come by. I appealed to friends and fellow authors. Strangers wrote in with clues, and eventually the families of writers started to get in touch.
Authors were often infamous drinkers; many had become alcoholics and died penniless. Others had simply become unfashionable. One author I looked for had become so mortified by poor reviews for a book that she never wrote again. Another was so shy that when she had a successful book, she became terrified of publicising it. Hans Fallada wrote Berlin novels subtly criticizing the Nazis and the success of one nearly ended his life. It was made into a Hollywood film that came to the attention of Goebbels.
Many authors had not thought through what success might do to them. Popularity destroyed their marriages and broke up families. It’s said that most writers fall into two camps; the untalented ones who try too hard and those with talent who don’t try hard enough. Some writers squandered their gifts, drifting about until their readers drifted away. Others simply did not make any money. Ronald Firbank personally paid for the publication of all but one of his books, yet his work – had it been popular – might have changed the way we read today.
When I finally came to put the results of my reading into a single volume, The Book of Forgotten Authors, I was pleased to find that there were also authors for whom popular success brought lasting happiness and long lives lived well. But how much more interesting are the others!
Totally fascinating…my thanks to Christopher for the post, and to Anne Cater at Random Things Through My Letterbox for including me in the tour. Do follow the other stops – here is the schedule:
About the author
A typical example of the late 20th century midlist author, Christopher Fowler was born in the less attractive part of Greenwich in 1953, the son of a scientist and a legal secretary. He went to a London Guild school, Colfe’s, where, avoiding rugby by hiding in the school library, he was able to begin plagiarising in earnest. He published his first novel, Roofworld, described as ‘unclassifiable’, while working as an advertising copywriter. He left to form The Creative Partnership, a company that changed the face of film marketing, and spent many years working in film, creating movie posters, tag lines, trailers and documentaries, using his friendship with Jude Law to get into nightclubs.
During this time Fowler achieved several pathetic schoolboy fantasies, releasing an appalling Christmas pop single, becoming a male model, posing as the villain in a Batman comic, creating a stage show, writing rubbish in Hollywood, running a night club, appearing in the Pan Books of Horror and standing in for James Bond.
Now the author of over forty novels and short story collections, including his award-winning memoir Paperboy and its sequel Film Freak, he writes the Bryant & May mystery novels, recording the adventures of two Golden Age detectives in modern-day London. In 2015 he won the CWA Dagger In The Library award for his detective series, once described by his former publisher as ‘unsaleable’.
Fowler is still alive and one day plans to realise his ambition to become a Forgotten Author himself.
Follow Christopher on twitter using @Peculiar.