The Nigel Balchin Newsletter
Issue 20: December 2016
It has been a quiet few months on the Balchin front but there have still been a few things going on that I would like to tell you about.
Firstly, I had four new articles about Balchin published in a diverse range of publications in the summer and early autumn. All four have now been added to the Nigel Balchin Website and can be read here:
I continue to make changes to the website whenever inspiration strikes. One new feature I’m rather proud of is called ‘Contemporaries’ and gives brief pen portraits of a selection of Balchin’s fellow novelists, all of whom were born within ten years of him:
My original selection was limited to fifteen writers but I intend to expand it as time goes on. One of Balchin’s close contemporaries was Julian Maclaren-Ross (1912–1964) and you can read about a very special novel of his on page 2 of this issue.
I have been lecturing about Balchin intermittently ever since His Own Executioner was published last September and recently introduced a film showing of The Small Back Room in London. My most prestigious speaking engagement to date, for which I am actively preparing at the moment, will take place on 16 January next year in Bath (see page 3 for details).
Finally for now, His Own Executioner continues to sell in modest quantities and I now have only about a hundred copies left unsold. I have recently begun selling the book on Amazon Marketplace, at a substantial saving of £1.70 on the regular Amazon price. But for one month only, i.e. this December, I have lowered the price still further to just £6.49. So if you are looking for an affordable Christmas present for a discerning bibliophile, use the link below to purchase a copy at a never-to-be-repeated low price. Thanks and Merry Christmas!
Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last five years. Published in 1947, it’s a semi-autobiographical account of Maclaren-Ross’s pre-war travails as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman on the south coast of England. Straight away then, one can appreciate that we are in Balchin territory here as the novel has a strong connection with the world of work. At first sight, selling vacuum cleaners would appear to be a very different branch of employment to any that Balchin was associated with. However, Balchin knew all about sales techniques from his time as an industrial psychologist, frequently had to ‘sell’ the services of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology to would-be business clients and did in fact include a chapter entitled ‘Salesmen and Salesmanship’ in How to Run a Bassoon Factory. Of Love and Hunger is therefore a greatly accomplished example of the Balchin method of creating great fiction from the raw material of one’s day-to-day working experiences.
Fanshawe, the central character in Of Love and Hunger, sells vacuum cleaners by day and, at night, carries on an affair with the wife of a former colleague, Roper, who has given up being a salesman in order to take a position as a steward on an ocean-going liner. Before setting sail, Roper unwisely asks Fanshawe to ‘keep an eye on’ his wife while he is away, with fairly predictable consequences. Again then, we have a familiar Balchin theme in operation, namely the intersection between the hero’s working and private lives, and this aspect of the book is a little redolent of Darkness Falls from the Air.
Quite aside from these (somewhat tenuous) Balchin connections, I found Of Love and Hunger extremely funny, as well as consistently interesting and surprising. Although the book reminded me at times of Patrick Hamilton, Evelyn Waugh, Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying and The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, which are not bad parents for any book to have, its unusual subject matter confers upon it the virtue of uniqueness. I heartily recommend Of Love and Hunger to anyone who is a fan of 1940s writing or just good writing in general.
Those of you living within striking distance of Bath may be interested to know that I will be addressing the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution on the subject of ‘The World of Nigel Balchin’ on Monday 16 January 2017. You are all very welcome to come along to hear what I have to say. Details below.
Although I’m not party to any sales figures, the three Balchin novels (Darkness Falls from the Air, The Small Back Room and A Way Through the Wood) that Orion have reissued over the last year or so seem to have done pretty well: I’ve spotted copies in a number of high street book stores and also in several public libraries. I’m not aware of any plans that Orion may have for any further reissues but it would certainly be a very welcome development if several other major Balchin novels that have been out of print for several decades, such as Mine Own Executioner and The Fall of the Sparrow, were also to be reissued in the near future.
I mentioned a few years ago in this newsletter that I was hoping to reissue No Sky, Simple Life and Lightbody on Liberty, i.e. Balchin’s first three novels. I still plan to do so but have had no time to put that plan into operation in the light of the vast amount of work required to get His Own Executioner written, published and promoted. Reissuing the novels would be a fairly facile process should I be granted permission to do so by the agents that control Balchin’s estate. For reasons I can’t go into here, obtaining that permission is likely to be a task akin to one of the labours of Hercules but I’ll try to make some progress in that direction next year and then report back via this newsletter.
Every Picture Tells a Story
This is a former pub called The Greyhound, situated in the pretty Suffolk village of Glemsford. Nigel Balchin and his family lived here for about two years towards the end of the 1960s (see Chapter 23 of His Own Executioner for details). I’m pleased to say that The Greyhound has recently been bought by a married couple, Doug and Kay Mitchell, who are very interested in their property’s association with a famous writer and eager to learn more (I’ve been helping them as much as I can in that respect). The Mitchells are now also offering B&B accommodation at The Greyhound so if any of you are planning a tour of eastern England and would like to stay in one of Balchin’s old haunts then let me know and I will pass on the relevant details. I hope to go there myself in 2017 for a visit (to date I have only seen The Greyhound from the outside).
Result of the Competition Run in Issue 19
Congratulations to subscriber Don Miller, a faithful supporter of my work for many years now, who knew that Balchin’s original title for A Way Through the Wood was Nothing That is Mine and therefore won himself a pristine copy of the reissued edition of the novel, which was released in March by Orion Books. Well done Don.
The Future of this Newsletter
Assuming that I can find enough material to fill them, I currently plan to distribute two further issues of this newsletter in June and December of 2017. Thereafter, I think I will probably close it down. I have been living and breathing Nigel Balchin for over twelve years now but at some point I need to move on in my life and do something different. I am currently working on some new writing projects, which I can envisage taking up increasing quantities of my time in the future. I’ll update you all on this subject next year.