Authors Made Visible
When I started my ‘Invisible Ink’ column in the UK’s Independent On Sunday, it seemed that I might be able to direct a few readers who showed an interest toward authors they had missed. When the column began, it seemed an intriguing idea to find out what happened to some of the popular authors whose books we stashed on shelves and forgot about. After all, they helped to shape our imaginations and many became touchstones in our lives. One question haunted me: If they were so beloved, why did they disappear so quickly?
The first column I wrote was dedicated to EM Delafield, the daughter of a Count whose charming diaries became immensely popular. I hadn’t been prepared for the deluge of suggestions that followed. Everyone, it seemed, had a favourite forgotten author. The task of tracking them down became obsessive, exhausting and often immensely rewarding.
Far from disappearing quietly I discovered they had started new careers, adopted false identities, lost fortunes, descended into alcoholism or madness, died young and penniless, switched genders, got censored, reinvented themselves or had become famous in other fields. One dated a porn star, one became the subject of a sex scandal, one was involved with a murderer, and one turned out to be Winston Churchill. Some chose their own fates, some were simply unlucky, some were still living and were thrilled to be remembered and revered by book lovers.
In fact the missing authors had true stories to tell which proved as surprising than anything they invented. Kyril Bonfiglioli’s widow wrote to tell me of her husband’s fencing skills (she must be horrified by the hash they made of the film version, ‘Mortdecai’), Tania Rose described how her writing destroyed her marriage, Polly Hope invited me to tea and revealed her second career as the interior designer of the Globe Theatre.
I soon realised that it was not unusual to discover that an author had produced 150 books in a lifetime before vanishing completely from shops. Thanks to dedicated publishers, collectors and the arrival of new technology, many of the volumes which were lost for so long have now been rediscovered, and I like to think that the columns had a small part to play in this.
I was excited to see Hans Fallada reappear in beautiful new editions (with a film of ‘Alone In Berlin’ coming, from director Vincent Perez, Brendan Gleeson and my old pal Emma Thompson, above), and the return of Alexander Baron, whose King Dido should be on everyone’s list of top London novels.
All kinds of surprising connections began to appear between authors and the backroom promoters who discovered them. Alfred Hitchcock’s name turned up again and again; he was forever championing neglected and overlooked writers, although by filming ‘The Birds’ he denied its true originator, Frank Baker, the accolade he deserved by mistakenly buying the rights to the wrong story, Daphne Du Maurier’s later version.
The puzzles and paradoxes thrown up by these excavations have proven endless. After 300 columns I still have a 30 page list of authors to cover, if I can get around to finding and reading their works. Hopefully there will be a book forthcoming. meanwhile, the first volume of the columns, ‘Invisible Ink’, is still available from Strange Attractor Press.