A Book Before Lunchtime
Recently I tried to work out how many words I’d written in the service of Bryant & May. Each time I work it out I get a different figure, but it runs into millions. You can more than double that if you add in my other writings. People are always shocked by this, but if I asked you to add up all the jobs and projects you’d worked on by, say, the age of fifty or sixty, you’ll get a figure that will surprise you.
I’m far from prolific, because for most of that time I had a day job. The Spanish writer Maria Lopez, born 1927, hammered out more than 4,000 execrable novels. She’s followed by Brazilian pulp writer and thoracic surgeon Ryoki Inoue with 1,100 books. He worked under nearly 40 identities and could knock off a chapter in the bathroom. In the time that it took the Guinness Book of Records to confirm his proficiency he had delivered a further 15 titles, so it’s safe to say that writer’s block was never much of a problem. I imagine the one thing that unites these writers is RSI.
After him comes Kathleen Lindsay, born 1903, who wrote 904 books under 11 pseudonyms. Her romances had titles that sounded like perfume brands; ‘Wind of Desire’, and ‘Harvest of Deceit’. Georgette Heyer publicly accused her of plagiarism, something I’m surprised she would have wanted to do at all.
The first name we truly recognize comes in at No.5 – Enid Blyton produced at least 600 books, although JK Rowling may have finally surpassed her in sales. Discounting dime novelists and John Creasey, the first name writer to combine quality adult fiction with high output is Georges Simenon, with more than 500 mystery novels to his credit. The only other immediately recognisable names on the list are trash-queen Barbara Cartland (280) and Alexandre Dumas (277) – this being the only time their names are likely to share a sentence.
There are other inexhaustible authors of passing interest; Kyokutei Bakin was an 18th century Japanese author who wrote one of the longest books in the world, a 106-volume story called ‘Hakkenden’ (‘Chronicle of the Eight Dog Heroes’). It took 28 years to complete and he went blind in the process, but it remains popular and has been adapted many times.
Also making the cut is Nigel Morland, born Carl Van Biene in 1905 (why change that name?) who became the secretary of the almost-as-prolific Edgar Wallace. He began as a ghost writer, or what the French then charmingly called a ‘literary negro’, and set about creating his own detectives, including Mrs Palmyra Pym, who first appeared in ‘The Phantom Gunman’ (1935). As was once the fashion, his heroine was employed by Scotland Yard, who were happy to have a busybody running around their crime scenes, and she starred in her own film.
SF writer Isaac Asimov also joins this exclusive club with well over 450 books to his credit. The list is not definitive, but now that authors are hired by copyright holders, employ their own staff writers and even generate algorithms to file articles, the days of the pulp grafter are over.
Considering John Creasey is largely out of print, the facts about him are staggering. The English thriller writer was one of the most prolific authors of all time, producing 562 books under 28 different pseudonyms. Even he had no recollection of some of his titles, and to date no comprehensive catalogue of his works has ever been completed. Although he received 743 rejection slips for his work, his sales totalled around 2.5 million copies a year and he was awarded an MBE. He created eleven different series, writing longhand, and revised each volume half a dozen times before sending it out. He wrote with a special typewriter that was equipped with three extra keys (if you know what they were, let me know), and it took him around a week to finish a book.
Creasey was married four times and went around the world twice, founded a political movement advocating all-party shared responsibility and fought four by-elections. He also lent his name to John Creasey Mystery Magazine and owned his own literary agency and paperback publishing house. Did I mention that he founded the Crime Writers’ Association, which is still in rude health? Feeling tired yet?
Creasey was born to a working class family in Southfields, Surrey in 1908, the seventh of nine children. His first book was published when he was 22. By his 29th birthday, 29 of his books were in print. He created an array of sleuths and secret service agents from The Toff to Inspector Gideon, Dr Palfrey and The Baron. ‘Gideon’s Way’ was filmed for TV with John Gregson, and was later a John Ford film, while The Baron became a series starring Steve Forrest. Creasey once said in an interview, ‘Occasionally I find that a new plot is becoming a little vague because I am concentrating on too many at once.’
So much for quantity. How was the quality? Well, let’s say that each word was not torn from Creasey’s tortured soul, but given that he produced between seven and ten thousand words a day, the writing is solidly appealing, with unpretentious characters doing a good job of work as they handle exciting situations. Creasey created the pseudonyms because booksellers complained that he dominated the ‘C’ category in bookshops. He also wrote on politics and philosophy, and there is a Creasey museum in Salisbury, Wiltshire. But there’s something that doesn’t quite come into focus about him – biographies trumpet his prolific output but rarely champion a single volume as the archetypal Creasey novel.
Finally, proving that you can write more than once about anything, Eden Philpotts turned out 127 novels with Dartmoor settings, not counting his short fiction, plays, non-fiction and poetry. But that’s not all; he also wrote under a pseudonym. He was an agnostic in Victorian Britain so he presumably had Sundays free. Funnily enough, his work can still be found in the Dartmoor area.
But who is the all-time king of the sales figures? The most successful science fiction story series ever written has sold, with its various spinoffs, over two billion copies so far, and has influenced a generation of writers. ‘Perry Rhodan’ was created in 1961 by KH Scheer and Clark Darlton, and was conceived as a thirty-volume epic with a single story arc, back in the days when you could attempt such a thing.
When it reached the end of its run, such was the appetite for the series, whose main character was space explorer Rhodan, that it has continued to the present day, heading for nearly three thousand instalments – so why have we never heard of it?
For the answer to that, you’ll have to read ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’. See what I did there?