Invisible Ink Will Live On Here

Books

Never one to leave a good idea alone, now that the column and its paper have gone I’ll be posting an Invisible Ink column each week here. There will be a collection of the columns, much expanded (I’ve written it, we just have to sell it) but in the meantime you can get your fix here…so let’s go right back to the beginning. I’ll rewrite these little biographies as I go to reflect the rediscovered status of the writers, many of whom have returned to print in the decade that I’ve been writing the column.

Readers have sometimes asked me why I don’t make the biographies longer. My reply remains; they’re designed the whet the appetite, not provide comprehensive overviews, which of course can be found in many places online. My main purpose was to suggest authors that readers may not be aware of.

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  1. Robert Aickman

Richard Marsh, the Victorian author of ‘The Beetle’, the book that outsold ‘Dracula’, had a grandson who became regarded by many as the finest and subtlest exponent of the modern ghost story. Although Robert Fordyce Aickman (born 1914) trained to follow in the footsteps of his architect father, he became a conservationist, and is best remembered for co-founding the Inland Waterways Association, set up to restore and preserve the English canal system.

A theatre critic and opera-lover, Aickman turned his hand to writing ‘strange stories’ quite late, and produced 48 of them published in eight volumes that were eventually recognised as masterpieces of the form. He had the ability to invest the daylight world with all the terrors of the night, and specialised in subverting notions of safety and sunshine into something sinister and unforgiving. His work is best summed up by a wonderful German word, unheimlich, meaning ‘uncanny’, which has the deeper connotation of suggesting the unease caused by being away from home, literally un-home-like.

In ‘Ringing the Changes’, Gerald and his new wife head off to the coast on their honeymoon, and this sense of unease is present from the outset. The groom is 24 years older than his bride, the inn they have chosen is inhospitable, a night walk through the coastal town provides no glimpse of the sea and all the time, church bells peal endlessly. When Gerald asks the hard-drinking landlady why all the town’s churches are bell-ringing simultaneously, she tersely replies ‘Practice.’ Gerald and his wife have stumbled into an annual ritual to wake the dead, on a night when even the sea retreats, but the story’s power – like so much of Aickman’s work – derives from a deeper sense of humanity. Gerald and his wife are separated first by age and temperament, then by something more physical, and this acts as an intimation of Gerald’s own mortality. Thus is a simple ghost story transformed into a classic. Accessible, suspenseful and disturbing, it unites atmosphere and plot together with an occasionally surprising vocabulary (‘vaticinations’, ‘sequacity’). Aickman was nostalgic for a lost world of fens and villages, and it’s no surprise that his first collection was produced with Elizabeth Jane Howard, whose marvellously creepy canal tale ‘Three Miles Up’ has a kinship with Aickman’s best work.

Happily, his writing is finally reaching a new audience and is back in print, with paperbacks from Faber & Faber, and some very collectable, elegant hardbacks from Tartarus Press.

8 comments on “Invisible Ink Will Live On Here”

  1. Mike Brough says:

    Excellent. Thanks, Admin.

  2. Vincent C says:

    Magnificent. Magnificent that there will be a weekly column and magnificent that the columns will be published in a collection from time to time (I hope I have that second point right – there is shelf space reserved already). Magnificent news and a magnificent start to the week. Thank you.

  3. Ruth says:

    Wonderful! Thank-you so much for carrying on the column here.

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    Aickman is quite wonderful and those Faber books are quite lovely. There is also a splendid radio version of ‘Ringing the Changes’ by Mark Gatiss.

    look forward to reading more of the lost author.

    Wayne.

  5. Trace Turner says:

    I just came across a couple of his books I bought years ago, still unread, that I purchased because Edward Gorey had done the drawings for the dust jackets. I’ll move those into the Read Soon pile, along with Dickens…

  6. agatha hamilton says:

    Really good news that you are doing this, Admin. Invisible ink comes home.

  7. chazza says:

    Excellent news that Invisible Ink has come home! And how right that it commences with Aickman to whom I return again and again and find something more each time. My major regret is missing the BBC TV production of “Ringing the Changes” in the late 60’s…Anyone know where I can find a copy?.

  8. snowy says:

    ‘Ringing the Changes’ was adapted for the BBC’s ‘Late Night Horror’ series as ‘The Bells of Hell’. One of eight episodes of which five are considered lost. If it is one of the surviving episodes it is probably unlikely to see the light of day unless somebody does an ‘Aickman Collection’. [that last bit is just my feeling.]

    What is ‘floating about’ is the Jeremy Dyson/Mark Gatiss radio adaptation from 2000 for the BBC under the original title. [As mentioned by Wayne.]

    [Bit of a gray area, copyright etc. not sure if providing a direct link would be quite the done thing.]

    [A carefully constructed search: surnames/title/broadcaster/year/audio format will bring up a referring page in a list of seach results.]

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