The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)
Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two
Over a year ago I related in this page how eleven well-known Wellington writers got together and decided to write a composite murder mystery novel. Pending the first real business meeting, each of the eleven was to write his idea of the first chapter. This was done, and the various first chapters read and discussed, the chapter written by Victor Lloyd being selected as the most suitable on which to base the novel. Lots were then drawn as to who would carry on the succeeding chapters, and your humble servant was deputed to preserve order and decorum, or in other words to see that too many murders were not accumulated, to see that each writer did not take too long over his chapter and to be ready to call meetings in the event of any unlooked-for hitch in the pursuit of the gory trail. Victor Lloyd's first chapter indicated sinister political intriguings in New Zealand and finished with as fine a corpse as one could wish for—that of a Prime Minister (no—not the Rt. Hon. M. J. Savage). The second chapter, by Alan Mulgan, was handled in a comparatively peaceful and unbloody manner. Apparently impatient with the pacifism of Mulgan, O. N. Gillespie, in the third chapter, dipped not one, but two hands in blood—he despatched most violently two people. I hurriedly convened a meeting to consider the sanguinary crisis, and it was unanimously decided to call a truce to such carnage. More murders might make the story a burlesque and certainly would pile up much trouble in elucidation for the succeeding chapter writers. Wilson Hogg, therefore, replaced Cane by Cupid in the next two chapters, and by way of appeasing future readers whose appetite for gore had been whetted unduly, introduced some nice little purple patches—an aeroplane crash, an abduction and other little incidents many miles removed from the customary peaceful plodding through life. I took over chapter six and thought it about time an inquest was held. Also I considered that three murders, love interest and a bulging bag of sensations were all very well in their way, but a novel reader must have humour as well. Accordingly I mixed sensation and levity with cheerful abandon in my story of the inquest. I could do this only by selecting as coroner the most absurd man I could imagine. I was just a bit doubtful as to how my co-conspirators would take this chapter, for with the exception of G. G. Stewart, Leo Fanning, and O. N. Gillespie, they were not given to literary levity. After the next few chapters had been handled by Eric Bradwell, C. A. L. Treadwell, G. G. Stewart, and Stuart Perry, Charles Marris reckoned that murder trial was so encompassed with clues, counter clues, secret societies, motor cars and radio sets that the whole scheme was as intelligible as a static-riven broadcast of the laying of the foundation stone of the Tower of Babel. I was in mortal fear of the meeting to discuss Marris's criticisms, for Stuart Perry had already nervously confessed to me that in his chapter he had murdered another Cabinet Minister. We had shared our sanguinary secret in silence up to this. However, the meeting was quite a pleasant affair. It was decided to tighten up all the bolts, mend all the locks, plumber the leaking roof and effect other necessary repairs in the partially complete literary morgue, placing Marris in charge of this necessary reconstructional chapter. These attentions included such minor details as releasing a man who had been lying trussed and gagged from an early chapter, murdering another chappie in place of his suicide and eliminating some annoying and painfully neglected clues. Also, at this meeting Leo Fanning agreed to put an atmospheric pleat in the early part of the yarn.
So it happens that our murder novel has at last been completed and is now undergoing its final overhaul before being sent to the prospective publishers. But, to other writers who may be tempted to embark on a similar scheme of composite novel writing, take my advice—don't!
This is no reflection on the story just completed. After all its revisions, it promises to emerge as one of the most interesting and exciting novels ever penned in this country.
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As announced on this page some months ago Beau Shiel, advertising Manager for Commercial Broadcasting in New Zealand, has had accepted for publication a biography of Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith. The book should arrive from London early this month. The title is “Caesar of the Skies—Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith,” and the publishers are Cassell & Co. The book has been written in collaboration with Colin Simpson. Beau Shiel was the close friend and personal assistant of “Smithy” and tells a thrilling story of his life, including the war years and fourteen years of pioneer flying. The book should have a big sale.
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Judging by press cuttings I have received from London the letter from George Bernard Shaw to a Dunedin resident anent Frank Harris's life of Shaw, has caused considerable interest over there. I published this letter on this page a few months ago. The page 61 letter has been of great assistance to Robert Sherard in supporting his denunciation of Frank Harris's life of Oscar Wilde which was the biography on which G.B.S. placed his imprimatur.
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A recent letter I had from London from Margaret Macpherson stated that she has completed two books. One is a novel and the other is a travel book called “Antipodean Journal.” The latter is due to appear any day now from Hutchinson's.
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A new Idriess book entitled “Over The Range: Sunshine and Shadows in the Kimberleys,” is due from A. & R. in time for Christmas trade. An indication of the popularity of this writer is the total of the first printing—10,000 copies.
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A recent letter I had from Miss Nelle Scanlan from London refers interestingly to war defence measures being carried out in London. She writes:—“On a peaceful Sunday evening in the country, the drone of flights of bombers overhead makes one realise the possibilities that lie behind all this unrest. There is now no safe spot anywhere from an invading army. War is no gentleman's affair, fought out between armed men on a battlefield. We will all be in it, and perhaps that is why the Big Wigs are all so wary of starting a war, as they won't be safe at home, as they used to be, making ‘Would-to-God-that-I-was-twenty years younger’ speeches. We listen on the wireless to air raid precautions; we read posters all over the town, inviting people to join air-raid precaution corps; to learn how to turn their peaceful home into a gas-proof shelter, and how to de-contaminate victims and render first-aid. But we just go on in our usual way, and there is no alarm; no rush of wild rumours such as you brew out there on little information. So perhaps as our Lords and Masters, and their families are just as likely as anybody else to stop one, there may not be any war—not just yet at all events.”
Miss Scanlan stated that she had commenced on another book which she hoped to finish about Easter.
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“Barbara Prospers,” by Mary Scott (A. H. and A. W. Reed, Dunedin and Wellington) is a collection of faithful pictures of back country life in New Zealand. Without any literary affectation there is a nice literary style about these bush sketches. They are so true to life. Take the sketch, “Life Goes On”—just a simple but so true-to-life picture of the small country home on the day the children return to school after the holidays. “That Batch of Scones”—again so simple, so humorous and so truly told. There is sadness with a final note of triumph in “Exit”—the auction day following on the closure by the mortgagees on an unfortunate farmer caught by the slump. Mrs. Scott will add to her many admirers in this latest collection from her artistic pen. An admirable Christmas gift.
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“The Wreck of the Osprey,” by A. W. Reed (A. H. & A. W. Reed, Dunedin and Wellington) is a rendering from the diary of Henry Moon, steward of her Majesty's sloop Osprey, telling of the wreck of the vessel at Herekino in 1846, and the subsequent adventures of the crew. The booklet makes quite an interesting historical document.
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“Jane of Lantern Hill,” by L. M. Montgomery (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) should be assured of a warm welcome from the many admirers of this well-known writer of girlhood stories. Here we have the latest Montgomery heroine, Jane Stuart, who is living a life of repression with her wealthy grandmother. She decides to run away and finds a full measure of the joy and excitement of life in the companionship of her young father. Poor old—or young—dad reader will have a job living up to the conception of Jane's parent as pictured in this book. A good Christmas present for girls, young and old, and the sterner sex won't mind running through the charming story also.