Monday, 6 February 2017

Gerald and Chris Verner - a fascinating collaboration

Gerald Verner was a prolific writer of crime and thriller stories, sometimes under his own name, sometimes under pseudonyms. I've recently become interested in his work, and luckily enough I was put in touch with his son Chris and his agent Philip. Chris told me about a project that he undertook, concerning The Snark Was a Boojum! I was duly intrigued, and I asked if he'd consider talking about it in a guest post. He was kind enough to agree, and this is his story:

"My father began a trilogy featuring his flamboyant artist-detective Simon Gale with “Noose For A Lady” published by Wright & Brown in 1952, the novel of his BBC eight part Radio Serial Play of the same name. The book was made into a 73 min film in 1953 by Insignia Films Directed by Wolf Rilla which has recently been ‘discovered’ and released on DVD. A second book to feature Simon Gale “Sorcerer’s House” was published by Hutchinson in 1956. A third book “The Snark Was A Boojum!” was announced in the press the following year, begun but due to various personal problems never completed.

The murderer based his crimes on selected verses from Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark”. The book was divided into three parts commencing with The Vanishing. Part two was The Hunting, concluding with part three The Snark! There were two versions of Part One of the book, a third person account and a revised version in the first person, describing events seen through the eyes of Jeff Trueman, a guest at Hunter’s Meadow. I read the revised version and immediately understood why my father had made the changes - the story works much more intimately. In 2015, persuaded by Gavin O’Keefe at Ramble House, I resolved to finish it. I began a process of completely revising the story from the beginning, major additions and rewrites for part two, and adding the final part, the solution: The Snark!

As I typed up Part One, I jotted down Gale’s character traits by looking up passages in Noose for a Lady and Sorcerer’s House. This also helped me to avoid inconsistency in the writing style, enabling me to adapt or borrow elements of the two books when my father’s pages ran out… Of course, eventually they did run out. It was like travelling along on a train and suddenly noticing there were no more rails ahead. I was suddenly on my own! In moving forward, I also had to go backwards and rewrote most of Part Two, cutting quite a lot out and putting different scenes in to make my plot work. The story wouldn’t let me go, and I couldn’t let it go, because I realised I would never be able to pick it up again once it had gone out of my head. Bit by bit I laid down new track, and inched along it, giving chapters to my wife Jenny to read, in order to get the point of view of someone not down in the cake mix. If it didn’t feel right I worked it again until it did. It was an intense process and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Suddenly, the book was finished, and in the surprisingly short time of 35 days.

I sent the completed manuscript to my agent Philip Harbottle with some trepidation on 16th April. The following day Harbottle sent an email to Gavin O’Keefe: “I have some exciting news for you!”  Then all hell broke loose! Four days later Ramble House issued a contract, a proof of the book, and a draft of the cover design by Gavin L. O’Keefe! By the 24th April the paperback was on sale at Amazon. That must be some kind of a record."


J F Norris said...

I was completely confused by this until I had verified what my memory bank was telling me was a book with the same title written by someone completely different. You see, there is a book published in 1941 called THE SNARK WAS A BOOJUM. I know there are many books that share titles out there, but I'd never expect there to be more than one with this title. The one I know of is by Dora Shattuck who wrote as "Richard Shatttuck." She belongs to the screwball mystery school along with Alice Tilton (Phoebe Atwood Taylor), Craig Rice and Margaret Sherf. Not read it and probably won't because I didn't really like the one Shattuck book I did read -- THE WEDDING GUEST SAT ON A STONE.

Martin Edwards said...

Another remarkable title, John! I'm definitely surprised that there are two examples of The Snark Was a Boojum. It's strange enough that there is one!