Discovering More So Bad It’s Good Writing

Alice Askew
A wonderfully dramatic cover for a book. I love the way that the ghost is waving…

I never get much in the way of writing done in the summer and early autumn; family matters always take precedence. I feel guilty about not getting down to that editing of my latest, but there seems to be no time…

I have been doing some reading. I am Beta reading a fellow author’s fantasy book, which has a darkly comic twist that appeals, and still reading the background material on the Peterloo Massacre. But there are so many distractions, and coming across So Bad It’s Good writing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is one of them.

I have written in posts before of how my mother filled the bookshelves in the rambling old houses in which my family used to live when I was growing up by buying job lots at auctions.

These included much late Regency and Victorian writing, including books on farming, the care of poultry, guide books of the North Wales coastline, collections of sermons, classic works and much else. There was,  for instance, a massive book with the ambitious title ‘Everything Within’ which could surely only have been written by a British Victorian. In it you could find advice on supposedly all the subjects under the sun – geography, mathematics, astronomy (written, of course, from that oddly static pre Einstein perspective) a solemn exposition of phrenology,  advice on how to write letters on delicate topics, such as breaking off an engagement, and a massive amount of other varied information.

There were also, besides much twentieth century popular fiction, many  Victorian and Edwardian novels of the sort lent out by circulating libraries and deplored by the serious minded as a bad influence on maidservants.

My older half brother still lives in the Clwyd Valley in the area where my family lived for six years (the area where I set ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ and my latest – which still needs editing). He still has some of that stock which I investigated on snowy and rainy days long ago.

I came on a book which seemed likely to rival Jefferey Farnol for melodrama. It is called ‘Eve and the Law’, written by ‘Alice and Claude Askew’, published in 1905. It is a cheap hardback of the sort mass produced before paperbacks were invented, and I recognised it at once as one of the romantic melodramas of the sort churned out by Charles Garvice.

I glanced at the frontispiece. This depicted a man obviously intended to be a villain, as he sported a moustache and a conniving, suave expression – standing by the side of the tall heroine, whose upright bearing is obviously intended to illustrate a noble soul – and knew I had to read it.

I have never heard of these writers, but Wickipedia says of them that they were a married couple of British authors who wrote over ninety novels together between 1904 and their deaths when their boat was  sunk by a torpedo attack by a German submarine in 1917.

That tragic end did make me stop laughing at the sheer melodramatic absurdity of the plot of ‘Eve and the Law’ and of the list of titles generally, which includes such gems as ‘Bess of Bentley’s: A True Shop-Girl Story’ and ‘Fate- And Drusilla’.  There is something particularly horrible about a couple who depicted life in terms of romance and happy ever afters coming to a violent end.

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Sadly, I don’t think this one is in print. I’ll have to go in for sour grapes and say maybe it wasn’t about a real vampire, but a suspected one…

Oh dear.  And oh dear, for purely selfish reasons. What with ‘Martin Coninsby’s Revenge’ and this, my background reading on the Peterloo Massacre for my planned novella will be slower than it ought to be…

 

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