Friday, February 09, 2024

Comic Cuts - 9 February 2024

I have been cracking on with the Forgotten Authors book, having now completed the last essay... I hope it's the last essay, anyway. I then spent a day double-checking information in another one and attempting to cut it down. I snipped out about 400 words that I thought were wandering off-topic, and then added about 600 as I checked sources that expanded on some of the story I was trying to tell.

I find it very difficult to keep these essays lean; in truth, they're an indulgence. I write them and publish them with no other editorial hand involved, so I not only throw in the kitchen sink, but a few utensils as well. I don't want any of the research I do to go to waste. It was one of the reasons I started Bear Alley in the first place.

I'm also an obsessive hoarder of odds and ends. I'm trying to sort out some stuff so that I can move my desk and one tiny pile that I moved this morning had three random issues of Fortean Times, some old Christmas cards, flyers for comedy gigs, a book by Ronnie Barker about postcards, some blank sheets of A4, two folders, random issues of film mags Premiere and Empire, some comics, a local newsletter from three years ago, a John Bolton vampire trading card, and more. Much more.

I hope I'm not quite as obsessive as Sid Birchby. He was a long-time science fiction fan and with an interest in Fortean phenomena. The story goes that Birchby's home was destroyed when a bomb made a direct hit on his house iand he spent three days scouring the neighbourhood for the fragments of his Weird Tales collection. An example of the fannish lore about the incident can be found here, where the author notes: "A powerful sense of the fans priorities comes from the fact that the possibility of Birchby’s mother dying in the attack was an aside. (I don’t know if she was killed or not; one source mentions it.)"

The "aside" possibly references J. Michael Rosenblum in Futurian War Digest, who offered the sympathy of all fans both home and abroad to Birchby over the death of his mother when a direct hit was sustained during a day raid. The house was reduced to rubble, and Rosenblum then quotes Birchby as saying...

Imagine my horror! The land’s premier collection of Weird Tales scattered over the entire neighbourhood! A Brundage cover in every back garden! Can you wonder that I was forced to flee the vicinity when my dreadful secret became known? Three days of frantic grubbing under the ruins led to the salvage of about 30% of the collection. Much of it was the worst 30%; stuff by the cheapjacks of s-f; while Lo! and the best Astoundings went to feed the earthworms.
I think Birchby has been hard done by; after all, who knows what else he had written in his letter to Rosenblum. People grieve in different ways and it was mentioned in passing, he may simply have been trying to work through the death of his mother in his own way and he kept his letters to his friends on topic while he was processing his loss.

There was also a question mark about the truth of the story...

A little digging later, I discovered that Sidney Leonard Birchby was born on 4 May 1919, the son of Leonard Birchby and his wife Ethel Emily (nee Goode), who were married a few months earlier (registered in 1Q 1919). Now, sadly, Ethel died in 1922, aged only 24. So it looked like the story was not true.

However, Leonard married again, to Christabel Beatrice Beeston in 1929 and in 1939 the family, including Sidney, who was working at a local chemist's shop, was living at 38 Nightingale Avenue, Waltham Forest. Waltham Forest was peppered with high explosive bombs during and after the Blitz (see here for some statistics). Christabel, a BRCS (British Red Cross Society) nurse, was killed in the bombing raid of 16 December 1940, aged 43.

Writing in Futurian War Digest, Birchby said:

It was only a little one. Just about the smallest H.E. that is made, no doubt. But of its efficacy one could not doubt.
    It arrived at a most inopportune time, at 12 a.m. on a Monday morning before I had completed my ARP for stf. The plan was grand. Everything in one room and in that room, everything into drawers and trunks with the most valued possessions in the safest containers.
    Unfortunately, I had only got as far as having everything in one room, and the bomb had to choose that room to fall in. Result: some valuables survived but much more basically useful stuff perished – instead of lots of relative rubbish that remained intact.

What a sad tale. I don't want to get all maudlin, but I'd hate to see my collection go up in smoke, and I'm of an age where I do need to start thinking about what will become of my library of books. A lot of it is second hand paperbacks of questionable worth; but there's some stuff I have that I think I need to offer to our local university... as long as I can still have access to it!

Something to think about.

In the meantime, I'm reading through the last few of the essays for the book and I'll hopefully see the back of them by next week. Then I can think seriously about Beyond the Void and how best to get some publicity for it. So, something else to think about.

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