An Allingham for Christmas

If you are looking for the perfect Christmas Present for a Golden Age Detective Fiction fan, or if you are a fan yourself, then you need look no further than the three publications available from the Margery Allingham Society:

Margery Allingham: 100 Years of a Great Mystery Writer
(hardback)
Price £14.99. Special offer price for members £10

A Bottle Street Miscellany
(early Bottle Street Gazette articles from the ‘first series’ and America)
Price £7.50. Special offer price for members £5.00

Magersfontein Lugg: A Celebration
Price £7.50. Special offer price for members £5.00

Postage and packing in addition to cost stated.

To order your copies, contact Carolyn Caughey at: editor@margeryallingham.org.uk

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Margery Allingham Society Christmas Lunch

CHRISTMAS LUNCH : Saturday November 25

We will be meeting again at The Albany pub at about 12.00 for lunch at 12.30 or so. As before this is not a set lunch (you can order as much or as little as you like) and we pay separately.

Please let the events secretary Susan Cooper know if you want to come so that we can make the right number of reservations using the following email address:

events@margeryallingham.org.uk

Barry Pike talks about Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers

Barry Pike gave a talk at the Bodies From The Library Conference 2015 in which he described the relationship between Margery Allingham and Dorothy L. Sayers and the parallels in their lives and writing careers. You can now, for the first time, see the whole of Barry’s talk online through the Allingham Archive page of the Society’s website. Or you can view it directly through the link below:

Barry Pike at Bodies From The Library 2015

Don’t You Know There’s A War On?

Members of the Margery Allingham Society enjoyed a behind the scenes tour of the City of Westminster archives. The archive, combining the records previously held at the Victoria Library and the Marylebone Library are stored over five floors. The records are computerised but the microfilm records are retained as they are sometimes easier to search than the digitised version on the internet. The oldest record is a charter signed in 1256 by King Henry III.
As a prelude to the talk,  members saw a map of Westmister showing where each bomb that hit the city during World War II as well as photos of how people coped during the blitz. A particularly evocative artefact was the school exercise book used by the local Air Raid volunteers to log all fires spotted from their rooftop vantage point.

Dr Jennifer Palmer then gave a talk on crime writing during  the war years. She explained that all the major writers of crime fiction continued to write throughout the period but there wereidentifiable differences in approach. There continued to be a desire to read detective fiction and production of cheap paperbacks enjoyed success in spite of the paper shortage though it did lead to the use ofthinner paper and denser print typefaces to make the best use of the materials. Lending libraries, public libraries and commercialibraries such as those run by Foyles and Harrods thrived.
Agatha Christie lived in London through the bulk of the war years and wrote nine novels during that period. Only two of these, however, specifically addressed war-related topics: One, Two Buckle My Shoe, which referenced Fascist issues, and N or M? whi h is a Tommy and Tuppence spy thriller. She also published after the war Taken At The Flood which looks backto a death that took place during an air raid.

Patricia Wentworth published ten books during the war years and the only real indication that there is a war on is that Miss Silver struggles to get hold of sufficient wool to feed her prodigious knitting habit.

Indeed, it seems like the upper middle class country set, which was the usual milieu for the detective fiction, was almost immune to the depradations of rationing that affected the lower classes.

Wentworth appears particularly out of touch in The Traveller Returns in which a female protagonist describes being in France during the occupation and being allowed to recover at home from pneumonia before being taken to a concentration camp (in France where there were none) and then being sent home again when she once again falls ill.

Gladys Mitchell also wrote nine books duri g the war but in only two does the,war itself feature. She does, however, include much convincing period detail in these.

Christiana Brand wrote perhaps the most well known of the crime novels with a specific war setting, Green For Danger, set in a military hospital during the height of the V1 onslaught towards the end of the war.

It is keft to G.D.H. and M. Cole to provide the only major novel with a  working class setting, Murder At The Munitions Works. 

Cyril Hare and Nicholas Blake provide insights into the workings of the civil service duri g the,war years, offering a critical outsider’s perspective in each case, for example in the former’s With A Bare Bodkin. 

Margery Allingham wrote five books during the war.

Black Plumes, published in 1940, during the so-called phoney war, makes no mention of the,war beyond a passing reference to the use of the black plumes of the title at a funeral when such ostentation had fallen into disuse given the huge increase in the number of interments now taking place. Margery did moan about the difficulties of concentrating on the apparently frivolous task of writing popular fiction when all around her peoe are,spending their spare time combing the neighbourhood in search of German paratroopers infiltrating the country disguised as nuns on bicycles.

The Oaken Heart is a non-fiction account of the impact of the war on the small Essex community where she lived, taking in refugees and coping with the small  everyday inconveniences of being at war.

Traitor’s Purse is an altogether different take on the same period. Campion spends much of the novel suffering from amnesia and his confusion may be read as a metaphor for the state of the country at the time – more bewildered than anything else. The novel plays on the fears of a home grown fifth column that were orevalent at the time. The central plot to de-stabilise sterling was dismissed as far-fetched at the time but, after the,war, it was found that the Germans had in fact drafted plans for just such an economic attack so her work was, in fact, prophetic had anyone in power but known at thetimeof its publication.

Coroner’s Pidgin is set towards the end of the war. Campion reflects on features of the total war that the country had undergon: the random impact of bomb damage, everywhere being boarded up, the huge number of uniforms of all descriptions on the streets. He laments that “My city has been destroyed.” The plot, once again, touches uncannily on fact: in this case the plans by Germans to secure for their own benefit works of fine art from Britain’s public and private collections (much as they looted such treasures on the continent).

The question therefore arises, when considering the detective fiction output during the war years, why did so little make reference to the war?

Was it censorship?  Letters and newspapers were routinely censored. Fiction, apparently was not, though Agatha Christie was once asked about the choice of the name Bletchley (the country’s codebreaking centre) for a character in one novel. Her response: the character was a bore and she had spent a oarticularly boring hour in an unscheduled stop on a train to her nearby home kept waiting at Bletchley station.

Was it lack of knowledge? Again, this seems unlikely since all (with the exception of Wentworth) could and did include accurate background detail and colour for wartime settings but chose to do so for only a handful of their novels.

Does wartime not provide a good fit for a classic detective fiction story? It does appear an added complication..Characters are in danger of being killed off in a random fashion which can interfere with the elegant plotting which is key to the genre. So this may be good reason to set it aside.

Of course, the war provides greater scope for the spy thriller than the whodunnit. So there may be a tendency to go for the easier option.

Certainly in the early years of the war there may well also have been some effect from the use of plots devised prior to the outbreak of hostilities. It would be difficult to shoehorn relevant details of the war into a pre-existing scheme.

The most likely explanation, however, is that then, as now reading detective fiction was a form of escapism. If popular demand is to read about unexplained deaths in the cozy surroundings of an upper middle class country house as a means to forget for a moment the tedium of the ration queues, shortages and blackouts then commercial authors must write to that demand. What soldier serving overseas wants to be confronted with the risks of the random bomb falling on his loved ones at home when he can read how at the end of a story the guilty are found out and get their just deserts and law and order is restored to its proper place?

Mr Campion’s Abdication

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The new Albert Campion novel by Mike Ripley, Mr Campion’s Abdication, is now in the shops (Severn House, ISBN 978 0787 88735 1 £20.99). Also available, of course, is Mike’s recent book about British thriller writers, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (HarperCollins ISBN 978 0008 17223 7 £20.00).

Either (or both) would make excellent Christmas presents (I know, I know, Christmas gets earlier every year it seems) for those who like to plan ahead. You could even get two copies and keep one for yourself!

Westminster Archives Visit

Members of the Society will be visiting the City of Westminster Archives on September 30th at 1:30pm. There will be an introduction to the Centre and an exhibition now being specially put together for us by Archives staff. Jennifer Palmer will be giving a talk: ‘Don’t You Know There’s a War on? Contemporary Crime Fiction of WW2 with Particular Reference to Margery Allingham’s Work’.  For more information, including how to book, check our Events page or email events@margeryallingham.org .

Margery Allingham Society updates website

The Society has updated its website. The site now includes a biography of Margery, a full listing of all Margery’s books published in the UK together with information on editions currently available in other countries, and a new Allingham Archive section which offers easy access to information on people and places associated with Margery.

The site also enables you to join the Society on line and receive membership benefits including regular magazine, The Bottle Street Gazette, and the opportunity to attend talks and meetings to find out more about one of the four “Queens of Crime”.

Brief History of the Allingham/CWA Short Story Competition

The CWA Short Story Competition was launched in 2014 under the Chairmanship of Alison Joseph. The Margery Allingham Society sponsored the enterprise, awarding a substantial prize to the winner. Margery Allingham’s celebrated definition of a mystery was adopted as a touchstone and a number of competitors have drawn on it, not least Peter Guttridge, the winner in 2016. Happily we are able to continue to sponsor the competition.

In 2014, three stories stood out from the rest and all three authors generously gave permission for their work to be published in ‘The Bottle Street Gazette’, our Journal. The winner was ‘Acknowledgements’ by Martin Edwards, an object lesson in the art of seeming to tell one story while actually telling another (though not exactly as Gwendoline Butler meant it in so defining the art of detective fiction). The runners-up were ‘Picture Imperfect’ by Ian White, a fantastic tale that brilliantly imposes its own mad logic, and ‘Broken Bracken by David Buckley, a subtle, touching story with, very much, the element of satisfaction that Margery Allingham demanded.

The entry was less impressive in the second year, 2015, and only the clear winner made it into the Gazette. This was ‘Game Over’ by Lesley Mace, a poignant story set in the harsh world where social workers grapple with the grim realities most of us are shielded from.

In 2016 the winner was ‘The Box-shaped Mystery’ by Peter Guttridge, an impressive piece composed meticulously – highly imaginatively – to accommodate every aspect of Margery Allingham’s definition. It duly appeared the Gazette, as did the runner-up, a clever story by Ian Cowmeadow, ramifying from the discovery by a woman plumber of a finger in a waste-pipe.

The winner in 2017 was ‘Box Clever’ by Sam Hepburn, an astonishing performance from the electronic age, narrated by one of those exceptional people whose brains enable them to create an alternative reality

Judges for the competition have included Imogen Robertson, Janet Laurence, Jennifer Palmer and Barry Pike. Thanks are due to Mary Anderson, who has taken over the reins for our involvement, most efficiently; and to the authors who have allowed us to publish their stories. We look forward to next year’s entries.
Barry Pike

Wilfred Owen Centenary

Captain Huw Bell of the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry reads Anthem for Doomed  Youth, written by Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh in 1917 while recuperating from injuries sustained in the fighting in France, at the ceremony held in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle to mark the centenary of his meeting with fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon while both were in the UK prior to returning to the front in the First World War. A poignant occasion to start the annual gathering of the Alliance of Literary Societies attended by representatives of the Margery Allingham Society.

Alliance of Literary Societies Weekend

On joining the ALS recently, The Margery Allingham Society has ousted the Jane Austen Society from the ALS’s proud proclamation that it represents literature lovers from Austen to Zola. We await the updated slogan with eager anticipation.

It is therefore appropriate that a number of representatives of The Margery Allingham Society will be attending the Alliance of Literary Societies Weekend in Edinburgh over the coming days. The event is taking place in Edinburgh at the Craiglockhart Campus of Napier University and is hosted by the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship and the Wilfred Owen Association, to mark the centenary of the meeting of the two poets.

Talks include Professor Alistair McCleery on “The First World War and the Scottish Novel” and Dr Hazel Hutchison on “Whistling Over The Fields: Soundscapes of War”.

Delegates will have a chance to visit the War Poets Collection and meet curator Dr Catherine Walker.

There will also be a visit to the Outlook Tower/Camera Obscura and a reception in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle to which I am looking forward particularly.