Saturday, 8 March 2008

The all-rounder

John Creasey was a legendary figure in the history of British crime fiction. Few writers can have matched him either for determination or the almost infinite capacity to come up with ideas. He is famed for having received 743 rejection slips before his first novel was accepted, but once he became a published author in 1932, there really was no stopping him. He proceeded to turn out, under a bewildering assortment of pen-names, well over 500 novels, and many short stories.

Creasey was a man of amazing energy. Quite apart from his books, he found time to conceive and set up the Crime Writers’ Association, to establish his own mystery magazine and even to found a political party. When I was asked to edit an anthology to mark the CWA’s Golden Jubilee celebration, I wanted to include a story by Creasey, and my researches led to a meeting with one of his children, Richard, who has himself achieved considerable success in the media world. We met at the BBC, where Richard was working at the time, and he told me fascinating stories about his father’s dynamism.

More recently, I’ve been in touch with Val Edwards (no relation), one of the people who used to type the manuscripts that Creasey produced in long hand. Her reminiscences were interesting too. She said that it was Creasey’s speed that impressed her most. He wrote remarkably quickly, and he walked very quickly too – despite the fact that he had a limp.

Creasey was no great stylist, and he felt bruised by the lack of critical acclaim for his work, even though it was commercially very successful. I once heard Julian Symons give a talk in which he described how Creasey wanted Symons removed from the CWA for having the temerity, in his reviews, to be less than ecstatic on occasion about the CWA’s founder’s work. Symons was always a tough judge and Creasey was perhaps an over-sensitive man, but the rift was eventually healed. A good thing, too. Whatever Creasey’s literary shortcomings, he was to my mind an admirable man - and those who have spoken to me about him over thirty years after his death have always done so with affection and respect. He realised that life is short and he filled his life with practical accomplishment. His personal story is one of triumph over adversity, whether in the field of writing – or even the apparently simple matter of walking at a rapid pace.


Jilly said...

John Creasey was that much maligned writer - a good story teller. I can remember reading his books as a teenager because my mother read them. She was always trying to find yet more of his pseudonyms. I alwasy enjoyed the Gideon books and of course they translated well to television.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, I remember the TV series too -with John Gregson very well cast as Gideon.

Shuku said...

Martin, I stumbled across your blog when I was researching some books and this post, I must say, delighted me no end. John Creasey was a staple in my household when I was growing up! Roger West, Gideon, John Mannering and Richard Rollison were names I grew to apperciate when I got a bit older and went off to university. I've still got some of the books my father kept from all those years ago. Hardly anyone knows this remarkable writer now, which is a pity - he was definitely a good storyteller who could make the written world very real.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Shuku; one of the sobering things is that, as you say, Creasey's books were everywhere at one time. Now hardly any of them are in print. But he is definitely worth remembering, and the Gideon books were a significant step in the development of the police procedure novel.

Nan said...

I've just started the first Inspector West book on kindle, and am really enjoying it. It is also my first Creasey. It feels a bit like Nick and Nora - very engaging couple.