‘One of the finest British novelists of the twentieth century’: Patrick Hamilton by Martyn Waites

Martyn Waites photographed by Charlie Hopkinson © 2009

Now then: a proper treat for you’s dear readers, moreover a pleasurable privilege for the Finds blog to hereby unveil another guest-author contribution – this from the Newcastle upon Tyne-born novelist Martyn Waites, much-acclaimed author of the Tyneside-set Joe Donovan crime novels and also one-half of the bestselling alias that is Tania Carver. Below, on the occasion of our Twopence Coloured reissue, Martyn reflects on the intriguing cult of Patrick Hamilton: the adaptations of his work by which Hamilton is (for better or worse) most widely known, and (rather in contrast) the authentic, unforgettable black stuff for which he is best loved by true aficionados. Over to you, Mr Waites:

I was walking through London recently with the American writer Megan Abbott, author of the wonderful THE END OF EVERYTHING. We were looking for somewhere to eat and, more importantly, drink. I suggested Fitzrovia, not least for its literary heritage, and reeled off a few names that I thought might interest her. Of course, Patrick Hamilton was mentioned.
‘Patrick Hamilton!’ said Megan, visibly excited by his name. ‘I’ve just read HANGOVER SQUARE. Isn’t it fantastic? He’s hardly known back home but I bet he’s huge here.’
Well . . . yes and no. He’s certainly a household name in my house. And probably a selected few other houses as well. But not much beyond that, I reckon. Is that a problem? Well, I rate him as one of the finest British novelists of the twentieth century. And I believe anyone who claims to care about English literature should have read at least one of his novels. Perhaps the peerless psychological Brit noir thriller HANGOVER SQUARE, still in print. Or TWENTY THOUSAND STREETS UNDER THE SKY, his heartbreaking trilogy of obsessive, wrong-hearted love and the harsh erosion of dreams by a brutal reality. Or my favourite, SLAVES OF SOLITUDE, a brilliant, symbolic restaging of the Second World War with a disparate, motley collection of bottom-rung characters set in a seedy lodging house in Henley Upon Thames.
But I doubt many have. Perhaps people may be vaguely aware of Hamilton through film versions of his plays and novels: the awful, narratively disembowelled HANGOVER SQUARE, George Cukor’s enjoyably lurid and melodramatic production of GASLIGHT, starring an Oscar-winning Ingrid Bergman and a vowel-strangling Charles Boyer, or Hitchcock’s gimmicky, tricksy attempt at ROPE. Maybe even the TV series of the Gorse novels, THE CHARMER, starring Nigel Havers.
On the one hand it’s a terrible thing that such a brilliant writer has been so badly neglected. Admittedly there are occasional attempts to remind the general public who he is. A biography every decade or so, a documentary, the BBC’s excellent version of TWENTY THOUSAND STREETS UNDER THE SKY. And now the reissue of TWOPENCE COLOURED, which is a genuine cause for celebration. The Hamilton fan brigade (of which I’m a fully paid up member) are thrilled to bits by all this, but I fear that by and large these events don’t cause much of a ripple with public consciousness.
But is that necessarily a bad thing? I mean, I’m sure it is in terms of sales for Faber or viewing figures for the BBC. But I recall a conversation a few years ago with a friend about another writer – a ‘writer’s writer’, if you will, which usually means they’re read by other writers and nobody else. ‘He’s so good,’ my friend said, ‘that on the one hand I want to tell everyone about him. But on the other I just want to keep him for myself.’
And that’s how I feel about Patrick Hamilton. On the one hand I wish everyone could read him and appreciate his very individual brilliance. But I also freely acknowledge that with his focus on marginalised and often doomed, self-destructing characters, his dark, downbeat style and the pall of human despair that so often permeates his writing… not everyone will get him. Or necessarily want to get him. And, for those of us who genuinely love his work, if we’re honest, that’s fine by us. Because that puts him in the category of ‘special’ or ‘treasured.’ A writer who you have to deliberately seek out, but once you’ve made the effort the rewards are immense.
So who should read him? Well, any reader who appreciates a writer who can understand and illuminate the human condition to the degree Hamilton can, even its darkest aspects – he’s for them. Any reader who appreciates well-drawn characters, strong narratives and emotionally literate storytelling – he’s for them. In fact, any reader who loves good writing.
And to be honest, whom does that leave out?

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“Music journalism at its best”: The Word on Dave Rimmer’s ‘Like Punk Never Happened’

Connoisseurial pop-culture magazine The Word gets it just right, I feel, about Dave Rimmer’s just-reissued Like Punk Never Happened:

‘This remarkable book, first published in 1986, is an inside-the-machine document of the tabloid-fuelled, business-modelled pop that dominated the early ’80s, not only commercially but also culturally. While much is about the rise and fall of Boy George, it also offers a hindsight-proof helicopter view of the period … full of fascinating insights … its ability to draw together disparate strands of culture, politics, art and money and to present them clearly, entertainingly and without prejudice, is a piece of music journalism at its best.’
James Medd, The Word

In other Like Punk news:
1. A really interesting blogpost here, and by Dave Rimmer’s brother, no less.
2. In a previous post on Dave’s book I was pleased to illustrate the text with a YouTube grab of Culture Club’s I-daresay-epochal first appearance on the BBC’s Top of the Pops, but alas the clip now seems to have been withdrawn for the usual copyright reasons, albeit not by the BBC as far as I can see… So we need something else that’s redolent of the era and the artists then, don’t we? Or two things, even…

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The transition from Horniman’s ‘Israel Rank’ to Ealing’s ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’

Robert Hamer’s classic Ealing comedy of manners Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) has just returned to UK cinema screens in splendour: the Observer‘s rightly legendary critic Philip French hails it as one of ‘the two most perfect British movies’ (can you guess the other?) A fine moment, then, for us to point out that the source novel from which the film was adapted, Roy Horniman’s Israel Rank, is available to order from Faber Finds and is a treat for any aficianado of the Hamer picture. Simon Heffer reviewed Israel Rank for the Spectator at the time of the Finds reissue, and his opening paragraph is a fine evocation of the kind of questing bibliophilia that we seek to gratify by our operations here:

It was the second or third time that I ever saw Kind Hearts and Coronets that I noticed in the opening credits: ‘Based on the novel Israel Rank, by Roy Horniman’. It prompted a ten-year search for the book in secondhand shops that finished in a dusty corner of a Suffolk village more than a quarter-of-a-century ago. I am not given to hyperventilation, but on that occasion came perilously close to it. I have never seen another copy, and a search on the internet returns only pleas by would-be readers to find them a copy. Mine is the 1948 reprint, with an introduction by Hugh Kingsmill. In its tatty but intact dust-wrapper, and with a scribble telling me I paid 60p for it in 1982, it is apparently now worth hundreds. A first edition, by Chatto in 1907, must be akin to the crown jewels. One remained in the Horniman family, and from it Faber Finds have made the book available again by print-on-demand from their website…

Heffer goes on to relate the important changes between film and novel, for the two are notably different beasts; also the controversies attached to the latter in respect of charges of anti-semitism. As Heffer puts it, “the reader must make up his or her own mind about the book: it skirts dangerous territory, and possibly even wades into it. But it is a book of its time, quite faithful to it, and (despite its 400 pages) over all too quickly.”
Meanwhile, a little treat from the archives below: the original trailer for Kind Hearts and Coronets.

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Cathi Unsworth hails Patrick Hamilton and Twopence Coloured in the Guardian

Cathi Unsworth

Well, it seems we did the right thing here at Finds by returning Patrick Hamilton’s early Twopence Coloured to its natural readership. Bloggers and Tweeters have been sounding their approval, and it’s always a bonus when the broadsheet press (as we can still call them for the moment) take note of a Finds endeavour, eminently so in this case as the Guardian last week ran a review of Twopence Coloured by the novelist Cathi Unsworth, in which she writes:

Hamilton’s third novel takes its name from a toy theatre and constructs a between-the-wars stage set of dreary provincial fleapit and transient West End glitter from personal experience of a profession that would dazzle, exhault and thwart him… Still observing from the wings, Hamilton was teetering before the obsessions that would shape his greatest work and sharpen his social satire.

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FaberFinds @FutureBook: A mission statement…

Last week your correspondent contributed a post to the Bookseller’s excellent FutureBook blog, a rolling commentary on digital developments in publishing and one that I consider utterly essential to publishers and authors (and so, by extension, to readers…?) – for all that it occasionally induces alarm/panic over the pace of change we’re witnessing in the business of books. But then the challenge, as always, is not merely to get up on the surfboard but thereafter to stay on the wave… I concede that I am quite possibly the least contentious/controversial poster FutureBook has yet had, attributable perhaps to the Janus face of Faber Finds which looks, yes, forward to the future of production technology but necessarily back into the past of literary endeavour. Still, and as I say in the piece, we’re running to catch up on that score.
The following bits of my post are the ones that would count as News around this parish:

“In the months ahead I hope readers will see an increased thematic coherence to Finds publishing, a sense of different topics and literary flavours being curated. Our August offerings, for instance, include special focuses on the history and aesthetics of the English suburbs, and on the legacy of the Great Exhibition of 1851…
Anniversary publishing has been a function of Finds from the start… Looking ahead to September, we will be pleased to join the wider celebration of Sybille Bedford’s centenary by returning to print her marvellous Faces of Justice
I’m also committed to Finds offering a kind of complement to Faber’s front-list publishing, a means for readers to explore more deeply the subject areas of Faber’s lead titles. On that score I’m especially delighted that in September, alongside Nick Rankin’s Ian Fleming’s Commandos, Finds will offer The Hazard Mesh by J. A. C. Hugill, a veteran of Fleming’s WWII intelligence unit whose 1945 account of same was one of Nick’s key sources, and for which he has now written a splendid new introduction.”

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