Some Authors Are Dead But Still Writing

London

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Remember Virginia Andrews? Her ‘Flowers In The Attic’ novels began appearing in 1979 and became surprise bestsellers. They were airless, claustrophobic works about four siblings locked in an attic in order to gain an inheritance. The incestuous melodramas appealed to teenaged girls, so when Andrews died she was replaced by another writer called Andrew Neiderman, who penned over 40 further volumes in her name. They did so well that her estate kept her alive and earning, the Inland Revenue Service cannily arguing that her name was still a taxable asset.

The Andrews case opened the floodgates; authors who were deceased started writing again. Robert Ludlum continues to have a healthy writing career despite the minor inconvenience of being dead. Authors are sometimes trademarked so that new books are merely ‘in the style of’ the earlier works that made their names. An entire necrophilic industry has sprung up wherein Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet continue their amorous affairs, Poirot still investigates, Jeeves still bails out Wooster.

Anthony Horowitz is going to do another ‘official’ Sherlock Holmes, which means the Conan Doyle estate has agreed to milk yet more cash out of the creation. His last one wasn’t very good, and hung on a premise that Conan Doyle would have found in extremely poor taste – but of course the four novels were never that great, and the real strength of Holmes always lay in short stories.

One of the most interesting and worthy cases is that of Kyril Bonfiglioli. His novels aren’t ordinary enough to be simple crime capers; they’re scabrous, witty, packed with demanding intelligent jokes, rude in the very best sense. His hero is the snobbish dandy art thief Charlie Mortdecai, a delicious creation who outrages art world dullards as he heads towards come-uppance and a disgraceful cliffhanger of an ending in ‘Don’t Point That Thing At Me’. Mortdecai returned (with no explanation whatsoever for the precipitous season-end interim) in ‘After You With The Pistol’ and ‘Something Nasty In The Woodshed’.

Everyone agrees that Bonfigioli should have become world famous. The sad truth was that although his joyous books would have you believe otherwise, he lived in various states of poverty and alcoholism, and died of cirrhosis. His wife Margaret told me that her husband was adept at knife throwing, fencing and frying peas in Worcestershire sauce. She also pointed out that he could shoot a sixpence from the bravely held-out thumb and forefinger of a visiting French art dealer, standing at the far end of a large room. So he was rather like his main character.

Bonfiglioli died three-quarters of the way through ‘The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery’, which was published posthumously, having been finished by the literary mimic Craig Brown, a forgery act Bonfiglioli would surely have adored. This time it was a labour of love, not about flogging a dead brand.

9 comments on “Some Authors Are Dead But Still Writing”

  1. Diogenes says:

    The Mortdecai books are one of a kind; I’ve never found anything quite like them. Charlie’s picture should be in the dictionary next to the word “louche”.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    A “new’ author to seek out.

  3. John says:

    Sorry to be a nitpicky proofreader but…. V. C. Andrews was American and so is Niederman. You meant to type Internal Revenue Service not Inland Revenue, the UK tax authority.

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    Very understandable on April 11th.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    April thoughts. Revenue Canada gives us till April 30th and this year probably a couple more days because the e-filing site is shut down until they can more nearly guarantee its security and we’ll have the extra days. I wonder if we still have to have paper filings postmarked “no later than midnight the 30th of April”. Some people used to make an event of getting those grey envelopes into the main post office just before twelve.

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    Hello Admin,

    I’ve been lurking for sometime so I thought I should pop up and say hello.

    There is a film of Mortdecai being made, David Koepp with Johnny Depp in the starring role. Well at least the books should get a higher profile.

    Wayne.

  7. Allan Lloyd says:

    Just to remind you that Bonfiglioni took over as editor of Science Fantasy magazine at the same time that Mike Moorcock took over New Worlds. He published some excellent stories by Keith Roberts (who was his assistant editor) including the “Pavane” stories when the name changed to “Impulse”.

    Roberts was notoriously difficult to work with. Harry Harrison was also involved as was J G Ballard for a very short time. With Bon’s drink problems and all the character clashes of various writers and editors, I would love to hear the real story of what happened in the editorial rooms.

  8. Rich says:

    I rather enjoyed the ‘Flowers in the Attic’ series. For all their faults, you get the sense that Andrews had a story to tell. It’s a shame that since then her name was turned into a brand and exploited. I think she deserved better.

    I was disappointed by ‘The House of Silk’ Having read a few Sherlock Holmes pastiches, I had no problem with Holmes Vs. Dracula. The revelations of ‘The House of Silk’ however, felt completely wrong.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Became a Laurie King fan and don’t read any more set in the original time frame. Any book written “in the style of” or “using the characters of” should say so along with the new author’s name. To do an effective sequel to another’s writing is a skill and should be credited. The use of new writers happens even in children’s books. A girls’ favourite set in 1906 or so, Anne of Green Gables, has a prequel that was commissioned by the copyright holders. It is a book many wished LM Montgomery had written, but the version that came was not completely satisfactory and I don’t see people insisting that it take its place “Before Green Gables”. As I said, using another’s work effectively is a skill.

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