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Monday, June 27, 2016

Donald Ryder Stephens (Donald Sinderby)

Donald Ryder Stephens was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, on 11 September 1898, the son of Martin Frank Stephens, a publisher's manager, and his wife Mary Ann (Annie) Beney. Stephens grew up in St Albans and Wimbledon. His parents subsequently moved to 2 Nevill Park, Tonbridge Wells, and, later still, to Bexhill. Stephens was an Old Tonbridgian, having attended Tonbridge School, and was a well-known member of the Tonbridge Rugby F.C.

After attending R. M. C. Sandhurst, he served in the Dorsetshire Regiment during the Great War achieving the rank of Lieutenant and, after the Armistice, is believed to have served in India.

After five years in the Army he began working in the Central Editorial Department of the Amalgamated Press in 1923-26. He also began writing for their children's papers, producing serials and short stories and was a staff writer on the Children's Newspaper.

He also began publishing stories in Hutchinson's Magazine and The Regent Magazine in 1924 using the pen-name Donald Sinderby, derived from a family name which was borne by his great-grandmother, who died in 1861.

His occupation was given as author when, in 1927, he married Audrey Margaret Elmslie (1901-1991), only daughter of Major and Mrs. Stuart Elmslie.

The Jewel of Malbar was described as "An exciting love story of unusual interest" as it portrayed the love, devotion and self-sacrifice of a beautiful native girl and her lover, British officer Sir John Bennville, who is infatuated with her. Its background is the Moplah Rebellion of 1921 in South-West India. The book was well-reviewed as a convincing and vivid account of the fierce fighting with many hair-breadth escapes which characterised the campaign in which the author was personally engaged from first to last.

Protagonists also centred on the passion of an army officer towards a beautiful native girl with an Indian setting. Dogsbody followed the sometimes whimsical adventures of a subaltern, Lieutenant "Dogsbody" Cottram, in an Indian regiment and his pet mongoose, Bertie. "Dogsbody", now married, reappeared in The Vagrant Lover, along with his brother, with whom he shares a pilgrimage to Canterbury, and his pompous parents-in-law. The reviewer for the Aberdeen Journal (4 April 1929) felt that "This is a laughter book and the reader who does not occasionally laugh outright on perusing its pages has no fun in his or her bones."

Mother-in-Law India reflected British apprehension that the Raj was nearing an end, with India cast as the music hall version of the troublesome mother-in-law at a time when great attention was focused on the future of the country. In Sinderby's novel, set twenty years in the future, various states fall under the control of two factions; in the north control is held by the Confederation of Princes and Landowners; and the south is seized by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Trouble develops between north and south threatening the country with a civil war which turns into an inter-caste conflict between Hindus and Mohammedans. The desolate and ravaged country is restored to order by the intervention of America, France and Portugal.

"Behind the explosions of battle runs the refrain cherchez la femme, the woman being Marietta, a beautiful Eurasian, who after dangerous vacillation manages to end up in respectable security on the right side, with the blood of half India on her head," revealed the reviewer for the Yorkshire Post (5 November 1930). "Mr. Sinderby evidently has a wide knowledge of his subject. His writing is full both of grim irony and passionate interest, and the horror of a considerable part of the picture is accentuated by the fact that it is quite within the bounds of possibility."

"In less skilful hands than Mr. Sinderby's such a book would border perilously upon the obscene," warned the Kent and Sussex Courier (28 November 1930), "but at least the author, who has lived most of his life in India, has travelled in every province and made a thorough and extensive study of Indian and Anglo-Indian problems, is a master of his subject. He has set out to portray faithfully and to the limit of his wife knowledge, all the dangers that lurk beneath the apparent guilelessness of the East, all the inborn fanaticisms which to his mind would find an outlet in the mighty revolution which he describes. He does not care to hide any of the revolting horrors from our Western senses. Wirtten as a novel, without a character to commend itself overmuch to our admiration, and with self always foremost in the minds of all whom he introduces into his story, Mr. Sinderby has obviously found little of beauty in his researches. This is indeed a book over which to ponder, and coming at the time when this country's problems are so acutely before us, it is a book which should claim attention."

The publisher for this final novel, Albert E. Marriott, was, in fact, co-owned by con-man Netley Lucas, then enjoying a brief literary career as a writer and publisher; by the time the reviews were appearing, Lucas and his partner had already left the country and the company was forced into bankruptcy by its creditors.

Whether Stephens received any money at all for this final endeavour is unknown, but he suddenly seems to disappear, with no further novels to his name.

Living at Cherry Hay, Hildenborough, Kent, Stephens and his wife had two daughters, Anthea W. M. Stephens (born on 17 November 1930) and Charmian R. L. Stephen (born in 1935, married Edward S. Goldwyn in 1960). Perhaps it was the birth of his daughter coinciding with the collapse of his last novel that persuaded him to find work elsewhere or, if he remained a writer, either anonymously or pseudonymously. His last known work appeared anonymously in Boys' World in the 1960s.

Stephens served for four years in Malta during World War Two.

He died in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on 30 November 1983. Dogsbody and The Vagrant Lover were reprinted by Limited Edition Press of Southport in 1996 and 1999 respectively. A further two of his novels, Mother-in-Law India (2000) and The Jewel of Malabar (2003), were reprinted by Manchester-based Small Print by arrangement with one of Stephens' daughters.


Novels as Donald Sinderby
The Jewel of Malabar. A story of the Moplah rebellion in India, 1921. London, J. Murray, 1927.
The Protagonists. London, John Murray, 1928.
Dogsbody. The story of a romantic subaltern. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1928.
The Vagrant Lover. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1929.
Mother-in-law India. London, Albert E. Marriott, 1930.

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