Friday, 3 October 2014

Forgotten Books - Forgotten No More?



Over the years that I've been writing this blog, many pleasurable things have happened as a result of my posts. The response to my snippets about "forgotten books" has been especially heartening. I've been a fan of Golden Age books - as well as contemporary mysteries, of course - for many years. Before the internet came along, however, I knew relatively few people who shared this fascination to anything like the same extent. Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Tey, and Marsh were consistently popular,but that was about it, in my experence. How things have changed. Now I am in touch with people all around the world who enjoy Golden Age fiction,and I've learned a great deal from them.

There's remarkable enthusiasm for the Golden Age in Britain right now. I know several people whose collections of rare titles make mine seem inconsequential by comparison, and in the past few years I've met scores of men and women whose delight in 'forgotten books' matches my own. Significantly, the 'Forgotten Authors' panel at Crimefest is so popular that it has become a very well attended annual event. Preparations for next year's session are already underway. There is a genuine appetite among readers across the UK, as well as further afield, for older books, including some that until recently were very obscure indeed. A number of publishers - Ostara and James Prichard's Langtail Press are admirable examples that spring to mind - have brought old books back into print at affordable prices. And the British Library has lately been doing absolutely sterling work in this field, with their Crime Classics series.

It's only eight months since I blogged about J. Jefferson Farjeon's Mystery in White, and since then, the BL has not only decided to publish it, but invited me to write an intro for the new edition. Now I've been told (and kindly permitted to share the news) that early sales have been so high that publication has been brought forward to this week. By the time you read this post, about five thousand copies of the book will have been sold in no time. I wonder if the original book sold as many in all the years it was available. (The answer may be yes, as Farjeon was a popular writer in his day, but many perfectly good contemporary novels fail to sell this many copies, let alone with such speed..)


Two highly successful titles in the series have been the first two crime novels written by John Bude. As a result, I was delighted to hear from the author's daughter, who has given me fresh information about her father, and about his involvement with the Crime Writers' Association in its early days. This will all help to bolster the material we have in the CWA archives - and the archives are a topic that I'll write about at greater length in the future. In a month's time copies of Bude's third book, The Sussex Downs Murder, will be available from Waterstones, who, I understand, have exclusive rights to sell it until mid-January. The fact that such a major bookshop is excited about a reissue of a book by John Bude is really pleasing. It wouldn't have happened ten, or even five years ago, I'm sure. Naturally, I was delighted when I was asked to write an intro to that book too.




And there's one more book from the BL that Golden Age fans can start looking forward to right now, again exclusively from Waterstones at first. This is Murder in Piccadily by Charles Kingston. I hadn't heard of either author or book until fairly recently, but plunged into research mode once the BL mooted its publication as a possibility and duly wrote another intro. All the indications at this stage are that this too will be a reissue that sells really well. Next year will see more titles in this series from the BL and I'm confident that the programme for 2015 (and for 2016, come to that) will, when public knowledge, appeal to a great many people, including those who in the past may not have been especially interested in period mysteries.

There are several reasons why these books are enjoying such success. The British Library takes a huge amount of credit, both for its enthusiastic marketing and its terrific cover artwork. But books don't sell unless readers want to buy them, and the excellent sales figures must be an accurate reflection of customer demand, primarily in Britain, but also overseas I'm also really pleased that my US publisher, the splendid Poisoned Pen Press, has recently become involved with distribution of titles in the States. And with The Golden Age of Murder due to be published next May, I'm daring to hope that, for once in my life, I've got my timing right...


7 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fantastic news for all of us GAD fans Martin - and congratulations on your contribution to this.

Les Blatt said...

It really is encouraging to see the number of small presses that have started to reissue some of these mysteries. In the US, there's the venerable (by comparison) Rue Morgue Press; there's Crippen and Landru, which specializes in short stories; there's Coachwhip and the Langtail Press, Ramble House and the Felony & Mayhem Press, oh and University of Chicago Press (which is distributing British Library as well as their own imprint). And the list goes on. This wasn't happening a decade ago, and I'm delighted to see it now.

John said...

This is really one of the finest reprint series of vintage mysteries in many, many years. So glad you've been recruited to help them. Curt Evans wrote about the Farjeon book a while ago and I've been very eager to read it since. Now it will be very easy to do so. Perhaps I may even get a review copy from University of Chicago Press who is their US distributor.

Peggy Ann said...

I too am so pleased all these old books are being reprinted, Martin. And I love the covers!

lyn said...

I've enjoyed the BL classics I've read so far & I'm looking forward to reading the others, especially the John Bude titles. Congratulations on all your efforts to promote forgotten Golden Age writers. After reading the greats, we need someone else to read & these authors are very enjoyable.

Clothes In Books said...

What a heartening and encouraging story Martin. Well done you, and will look out for these. Great covers...

Kelly Robinson said...

Neat to see Farjeon referenced in two FFB posts this week!