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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Approaching Fifty part 2: The Doll's Bad News

More random ramblings inspired by my upcoming fiftieth birthday.

I used to keep a list of all the books I'd read. I don't know what happened to the list but it would have looked a bit odd to anyone who read it. I read whatever I found around me, mostly the paperbacks that my Dad had just read, which were for the most part crime and thrillers. He also read westerns but they never really caught my imagination; my sister, on the other hand, became a fan of Louis L'Amour and other western writers. My Nan was devoted to historical novels by the likes of Jean Plaidy but could never persuade me that they were worthy of my attention, not when she also had Agatha Christie novels on her shelves, which were much more to my taste.

At the same time, I was working my way through the shelves of our local library. Thanks to my only having a children's library ticket, this meant I only had access to the children's section and only two books at a time, which meant I was slowly but steadily working my way through the works of Enid Blyton, Capt. W. E. Johns, Anthony Buckeridge and Malcolm Saville. And American authors like Wilbur Price, Franklin W. Dixon, Carolyn Keene and multi-author series like the Three Investigators books, introduced by Alfred Hitchcock.

All I can remember about the list was that, at some point, my top two authors were Franklin W. Dixon and John Creasey. Not my favourite authors... I'd simply read more books by those two than any other writer. If you'd asked me to name my favourite author, I would probably have said the name of whoever's book I happened to be reading at the time. I was rather caught out this way during my interview for the local grammar school as the book I was reading was Twelve Chinks and a Woman by James Hadley Chase. Actually, it those more PC times — 1973 — it had been retitled The Doll's Bad News and that was the book I had tucked in my pocket at the interview.

In 1974 IPC launched Speed & Power and I began picking up the new fortnightly magazine alongside my weekly Valiant. Eventually I dropped the latter in 1975 as most of my favourite strips (including "The Steel Claw" and "The Wild Wonders") had disappeared. Not that I dropped comics entirely... Top Secret Picture Library had launched in July 1974; then, in September 1975 I started picking up Vulcan, which had loads of my favourite characters in stories I'd never seen. Speed & Power folded in November '75, so I read Look & Learn for a while; then a new comic called Action appeared in February '76, two months before Vulcan was merged into Valiant and I found myself reading my old favourite again!

What really interested me about Speed & Power was the science fiction stories. The magazine reprinted 27 stories by Arthur C. Clarke and 4 by Isaac Asimov, serialised over the 87 issues. The majority were illustrated by Mike Whittlesea and to this eleven-year-old they were an inspiration. Science fiction wasn't new to me as I'd watched Star Trek, read some of the James Blish adaptations and even one or two novels — a couple by Edgar Rice Burroughs, including A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars, and some of John Creasey's Doctor Palfrey global catastrophe stories, for instance.

Reading the Arthur C. Clarke stories coincided with a growing interest in reading about astronomy and rocketry. I had seen various moon missions and even moon landings over the previous few years and, according to Speed & Power, it was surely only a matter of a few years before we were sending spaceships to Mars. Mankind was about to visit Barsoom! I was this close to living in a science fiction world!


  1. Steve - really enjoying your Memories of Reaching 50. You really have to read The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveller's Wife). I thoroughly recommend it - it is a graphic novel and is about a 20ish year old woman who after arguing with her boyfriend goes for a night-time walk (as one does!) and comes across what in England we call a mobile library. In it is every piece of written material that she has ever read - books, magazines, journals, newspapers, maps,seminar notes, notices, shopping lists, till receipts, certificates, love letters, Dear John messages, post-ieenne idt notes. It is absolutely mesmerising and the finale in particular stays with the reader for a very long time afterwards.

  2. I meant "Post-it" notes of course but the cursor jumped while I was trying to decipher the anti-spam 'words'. I really must wear glasses when I am on the computer!

  3. These mistakes happean.

    I've not read the Niffenger book. The last graphic novel I read was Raymond Briggs' Ethel and Ernest, Briggs' comic strip biography of his parents, which I only picked up a couple of weeks ago. Sad, compelling and utterly charming.

  4. Having turned 50 myself last month it is no great surprise that I too was a keen Speed & Power reader. However, I was anything but the prolific reader you were so the Arthur C Clarke serialisations were some of the first "books" I read without being told to by a teacher.

    That artwork image in your blog brought back a flood of memories as that story had a big impact on me. How about a Bear Alley Books edition collecting together the Speed & power stories and artwork? I'd buy it!

  5. Hi Scott,

    The problem with the Arthur C. Clarke stories was the way the text was laid over the images. None of the artwork has survived (as far as I'm aware) so it would have to be reproduced off the page, which would mean securing the rights to all the stories as well as the artwork.

    That said, I should be able to get away with reprinting some of the artwork here on Bear Alley as I have the copyright holder's permission and it's certainly something I'm considering.