The Nigel Balchin Newsletter
Issue 18: December 2015
In the Aftermath of Publication
Thanks to all those of you who have bought a copy of my biography of Balchin. I’m sorry that some of you may have waited quite a while for your book to arrive owing to some distribution problems that occurred soon after publication but I’m pleased to say that those glitches have long since been sorted out. If you have yet to buy a copy of the book then it can still be obtained via a wide range of internet outlets or, in the UK, it’s very easy to place an order via any bookshop.
I have been working very hard throughout the autumn to promote the book but have met with mixed results. I’ve certainly had some successes, particularly at local level, but national coverage has so far proved elusive. I think that one or two favourable reviews in national publications would do wonders for raising the profile of the book but I’m not aware of any as yet. The books industry is of course a highly competitive marketplace, especially for a self-published author like myself, and many of the people I’ve been pitching ideas to have never heard of Balchin, which doesn’t make my life any easier! However, I’m certainly not giving up yet and will continue to spread the word about both Balchin and my biography in 2016. Hopefully the day will finally dawn when all the boxes of books in my spare room are empty!
Do please get in touch if you have any promotional ideas for me to consider as I’m always looking to exploit interesting new angles. And if any of you would care to post a review of my book on Amazon (whether complimentary or not!) then that would also be greatly appreciated.
The Future of This Newsletter
This newsletter was of course set up originally with the aim of generating interest in my biography ahead of publication and can therefore be said to have done its job. Although I don’t intend to stop producing the newsletter, I do intend making a couple of changes to it. From now on, I will be publishing it twice a year (in June and December) rather than quarterly as at present. The long articles on Balchin which have been the cornerstones of past issues will I think have to be phased out for two reasons: (i) because they are very time-consuming to write and (ii) because I’ve run out of ideas for them! So from now on the newsletter will be shorter than it has been in the past and is likely to primarily comprise a round-up of the latest Balchin-related activity (it will be interesting to see what, if anything, transpires in the wake of the publication of my biography). I hope that nobody will be too disappointed by these developments: please feel free to pitch in with new ideas for content if you have any.
See you next time, when summer will be upon us.
With best wishes,
By way of a new feature, I thought I would offer the first in a series of reading recommendations, all of which have at least a tangential relationship with the works of Balchin.
Recommended to me earlier this year by the landlord of my local pub (!), First Light by Geoffrey Wellum is an absorbing memoir by the youngest Spitfire pilot in the RAF’s 92 Squadron during World War Two. While Bill Sarratt was fighting against ministerial bureaucracy in Darkness Falls from the Air and Sammy Rice was tinkering with experimental fuses in The Small Back Room, young Wellum (17 when he joined the RAF) was busily shooting down Messerschmitts over the English Channel! So this book is really a sort of true-life front-line counterpoint to Balchin’s home-front stories.
Exhilaratingly written and highly memorable, First Light is one of the best books I’ve read all year.
Orion Books kindly sent me copies of their new versions of Darkness Falls from the Air and The Small Back Room for review purposes.
As I’ve said before, I think the covers of the two books are excellent: contemporary, atmospheric and a vast improvement on the very dull images that adorned the covers of the Cassell reissues of about 15 years ago. In other respects though, these books fall well short of my expectations. The paper is rather thin, the print is simply a photoreproduction of that used in earlier versions and there are no ‘extras’ of any sort that would help persuade existing Balchin fans to part with £8.99 for each of these new artefacts. I still believe that well-written introductions explaining who Balchin was, why he matters and how he came to write these two books would have been a considerable asset. I spotted three factual mistakes in the 13-line biographical sketch that appears in the preliminary pages and was miffed to note that the ‘Praise for Nigel Balchin’ section that appears in the same part of the book has been lifted almost wholesale from my Nigel Balchin Website without any acknowledgement whatsoever!
In my opinion, Orion are testing the water here by releasing new editions of these books that are very cheap for them to produce. I just hope that, if sales prove to be disappointing, the company will not conclude that “there is no longer any market for the novels of Nigel Balchin”. If anyone is in any doubt regarding what Orion can achieve when they feel like it then have a look at their recent series of Geoffrey Household reissues, particularly the superlative Rogue Male. Those books have bright, striking covers, are printed on thick, creamy paper, deploy a large, clear, modern typeface and, certainly in the case of Rogue Male, include an informative introduction to the author and his novel. I feel that Orion have missed a trick by not doing something similar with Balchin and therefore have also missed a real opportunity to reintroduce his two finest novels to a whole new readership. However, I must give at least two cheers to Orion for bothering to reissue Balchin’s work in the first place: anything is substantially better than nothing in this regard and it has been very good to see examples of Balchin’s work reappearing in bookshops around the country this autumn.
In conclusion then, my ratings are as follows:
¬¬¬¬¬ for the stories themselves
¬¬ for these reissued versions
Bright idea: fans of Geoffrey Household have been well served by these colourful Orion reissues.
Every Picture Tells a Story
This is a photo (or rather photos) that I have been using in some of the lectures I have given this autumn to promote my biography. They show Balchin photographed in 1952 (on the left) and again about 15 years later. Quite a transformation I think you’ll agree: to my mind, it is almost as if one is looking at two completely different people. I think this demonstrates some of the damage that alcoholism can wreak on a person’s appearance because the later photo was taken at the time when Balchin’s drinking was at its very worst and it was only really in the mid-1960s that he started to look so different from his earlier publicity shots. The full story of Balchin’s alcoholism is told in Chapter 24 of my biography.