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February 2004


Joan Delano Aiken, writer, born 4 September 1924, died 4 January 2004

Joan Aiken was the youngest child of Canadian writer Jessie Macdonald and American father and Pultizer Prize-winning poet Conrad Aiken who had moved from USA to England in 1920. With such a literary background it was hardly surprising that Joan Aiken and her older sister Jane Aiken Hodge should become writers themselves.

With over 60 published works Joan Aiken has written novels, short stories, poetry and plays, for all ages including several adult horror and fantasy stories but it is her novels for children, set in the time of James III and first related in 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' (1962) that she is probably best known. Awards for her work included the Guardian Award for Children's Literature (1969) and the Lewis Carroll Award (1970). A final volume in the James III saga, 'Midwinter Nightingale', is due to be published later this year.

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John Alfred Terraine, historian, born 15 January 1921, died 28 December 2003

Born in London John Terraine was educated at Stamford School, Lincolnshire and Keble College, Oxford. He worked for the BBC 1944-63 and was the moving force behind the 26 part series ' The Great War'. His first book was 'Mons: The Retreat to Victory' (1960).

He left the BBC and became freelance on the publication of his book 'Haig: The Educated Soldier' (1963), in which he was more sympathetic to Haig than was the popular view although many historians have since come round to his way of thinking. From 1966-68 he wrote and presented Thames TV's 'The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten', after which he concentrated on the written word.

In his book 'The Right Of The Line: The Royal Air Force In The European War, 1939-1945' (1985) he surprised many in his criticism of Bomber Command's strategy which appeared to be a logical development of Haig's in WW1.

In 1986 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of Keble College, in 1987 a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and he was the founding president (1980-97) and then patron of the Western Front Association.


Don Paterson wins the TS Eliot Prize for the second time

Scottish poet Don Paterson has won the prestigious TS Eliot Prize for poetry for the second time in six years. Paterson, from Dundee has become the first person to be awarded the Poetry Book Society honour more than once, previously won in 1997.

The 40 year old Paterson, who is a writer, editor and musician, won the £10,000 prize for his book Landing Light. The TS Eliot Prize is the “prize most poets want to win” according to the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. The Chairman of the judges, George Szirtes, said: "Don Paterson offers what Eliot demanded: complexity and intensity of emotion, an intuitive understanding of tradition and what it makes possible, and, at the same time, a freshness that is like clear spring water. His work is superbly authoritative, deeply felt, playful and properly ambitious."

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This new edition of OXDNB will become available in September. It has 60 volumes and will retail at £7,500, or £6,500 for those who order it before 30 September.

It will be the first wholesale update since the original Dictionary of National Biography, a grand Victorian enterprise, since supplemented by extra volumes, decade by decade. However, it will not retain the sublety of its origins, in that it will give candid portraits of its subjects. Gays, adulterers, drunkards will be referred to plainly as such, which will undoubtedly make for shorter essays.

The number of women in the dictionary has risen from 4% to 10% of the total entries and many of the Irish rebels who fought the British in Dublin in 1916 make their debut as Britishers!

Bookbinders Cedric Chivers

The bookbinders Cedric Chivers, once one of Bath's proudest business names, has closed after 120 years of serving the book trade in and around Bath. In its heyday, the company employed 300 but following buyouts and major redundancies over the past 20 years the staff had been reduced to 25 when they were made redundant at their Pucklechurch, near Bristol, location.

The assets, however, have now been acquired by Cromwell Press Ltd. and the business will be combined with that of another firm of bookbinders owned by Cromwell, Period Bookbinders. The combined new firm will be moving to new purpose designed premises in Trowbridge in the next two months.

From Gothic Romance to Gothic Horror
from Catherine Hawley

Whatever your taste in books it is difficult to escape the influence of the Gothic. In literary terms the Gothic style took off in the eighteenth century. The earliest works included Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Matthew Lewis's The Monk, and the works of Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe. Indeed, the latter took the popularity of the Gothic romance to such new heights that it became the subject of satire - most famously in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

From these eighteenth century novels we can see the emergence of key Gothic features: mystery, suspense and illusion. They utilise nature (especially the weather and trees), landscape, foreign climes, historical settings, a mysterious stranger, the supernatural and architecture. It was the easy identification of such features that made the genre ripe for Jane Austen's treatment of it in Northanger Abbey where the heroine looks for danger in the places that the Gothic romance taught her it might lie, but fails to see the real but rather everyday traps being laid for her.

The use of mystery and suspense kept the early forms of the work from being too explicit, most famously in The Mysteries of Udolpho where the heroine faints dead away at the site of something behind a veil. The eventual revelation of what this actually was is much less terrifying than the suspense of wondering what it might be.

The nineteenth century treatment of Gothic elements is much more sophisticated. As well as the satires of Austen and Thomas Love Peacock more serious treatments of Gothic ideas can be found in the works of Mary Shelley and the Bronte sisters. Frankenstein, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are not Gothic novels in the way that many of the eighteenth century versions where. Rather than writing being driven by the need to be Gothic, appropriate Gothic elements are selected and used sparingly in a more conventional narrative that does not try to frighten its readers on every page for the sake of it. So in Jane Eyre we have the incident in the Red Room and the idea of the Mad Woman in the Attic with her night time excursions suggestive of the supernatural; in Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte makes good Gothic use of her landscape, dreams, death and buildings; in Frankenstein, landscape, the weather and fear of what we cannot control are all utilized.

Frankenstein is particularly interesting in the biography of the Gothic genre as the book is actually much less Gothic and much less graphic than anything to appear on our cinema or television screens. Modern media and the liberalisation of taste have moved the Gothic Romance into full horror mode. Yet as well as full blown horror in the writing of popular novelists such as James Herbert and Stephen King, the more elite literary market has also continued its love affair with using elements of Gothic. This can be seen in a wide variety of writers and genres: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Tom Stoppard, Peter Høeg, Margaret Atwood and Peter Ackroyd for example. Elements of Gothic have also become a regular feature of many children’s works including the Harry Potter series and R. L. Steine’s Goosebumps.

The initial use of Gothic novels for early film helped bring its visual side (always stronger than characterisation in the earliest works) to life. As well as spawning a whole industry of Nightmares on Elm Street and Friday 13ths, it has influenced the more high-brow visual and art markets with the works of people like the Chapman brothers being heavily, and often shockingly, Gothic.

Whilst it is true that some aspects of the Gothic predate the eighteenth century (Shakespeare, for example, uses forests and the supernatural) it was in the quick popularity of these works of Ann Radcliffe and others, and the thoroughness of their Gothic style, that large numbers of people were for the first time able to indulge whatever part of our human nature draws us to the Gothic as a means perhaps of rationalising, or safely exhausting, our fears over what we do not understand and cannot control.  

Whitbread winner

The winner for the overall 'Whitbread Book of the Year' £25,000 prize on 27th January was Mark Haddon’s 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time', a tale of a 15-year-old-boy with Asperger's syndrome. Runner up was the Whitbread 1st novel award winner, DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little. The other finalists were:

    Children's book: David Almond, The Fire Eaters
    Biography: DJ Taylor, Orwell - The Life
    Poetry: Don Paterson, Landing Light

Charity Book Fair

Epsom Annual Charity Book Fair, Friday 20th (10am to 8pm) and Saturday 21st February (9am to 3pm). Epsom Methodist Church, Ashley Road, Epsom. Very large charity sale in aid of Epsom Methodist Church Development Appeal and NCH.

Next Month: The feature for March will be on Collecting Books about the Assassination of John F. Kennedy by Les Bolland

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