Monday, March 12, 2012

A Look Back – In Admiration

I have now been writing mystery novels for – um – fourteen years. Or thereabouts. I started on January 2, 1998, approximately six months after I departed from my day job with the Library of Parliament's Research Branch here in Ottawa. Thus far, I have published three novels in my Inspector Stride Mystery series. Not bad, but not exactly prolific. There was a long, slow learning curve – which continues. Stride #4, tentatively titled Birthright – is still in progress. And still a bit of a muddle. Lots of characters sitting on various keys on my laptop, and lots of situations that plead to be rationalised and interconnected. In other words, lots to do, still.

The term "prolific" having been mentioned, I will move away from Stride-related issues and write some lines about a writer – unhappily, no longer with us – to whom the term applies readily. The name is Paul Winterton. Some of our readers might know his name; some of our regular bloggers might also. It's a name worth knowing. And if "Paul Winterton" doesn't ring a bell, perhaps one of his pseudonyms will. Andrew Garve. Roger Bax. Paul Somers. In other words, Winterton had as many pseudonyms as I have published titles.

A quick bio. Paul Winterton was born in England, in Leicester, in 1908. His father was a journalist who was also a British MP for the riding of Loughborough, from 1929-1931. Difficult years in Britain, as they were almost everywhere else in the world, with the Great Depression settling in. He graduated from the London School of Economics in 1928, and joined the staff of The Economist at age 21. He stayed there for three years before moving on to the London News Chronicle, for whom he wrote for more than a dozen years. One especially notable assignmment for the News Chronicle was as a foreign correspondent reporting the Second World War from Moscow,  in 1942-45, some of the the war's most critical years. His time in the Soviet Union provided him with material for a number of his later books.

Andrew Grave

Paul Winterton - aka Andrew Garve, Roger Bax, Paul Somers

A fairly detailed bio on Winterton/Garve/Bax/Somers, and a list of his books, can be found here:

My interest in Winterton is long-standing; it goes back to about 1970. One thread even goes back to 1959, although I wasn't aware then that it would prove to be a thread. (I will come back to this.) In 1970 I moved, with my wife and two daughters, to a house in what was then the City of Nepean, long since gathered into the warm embrace of greater Ottawa. One of our neighbours in Nepean was a British couple, he Scottish, she English, parents of two young sons. The older son had the given name "Andrew". (Aha, a clue!) She, Bridget by name, was Paul Winterton's daughter. She was a writer herself, with one children's book to her credit. Oddly, in retrospect, do I not recall that Bridget ever said very much about her father's writing career. Perhaps I just wasn't paying attention at the time. (And, if so, shame on me!) Perhaps a natural modesty on her part was at the base of it. I don't know. In her place, I think I would have bragged about my father's prolific writing; he did after all have more than forty – yes, that's 40 – books to his credit.

I do remember that Paul Winterton visited Nepean/Ottawa once, but I have no recollection of having met him. I am pretty sure I would have remembered. I do have a vague memory of seeing father and daughter setting out for a brisk walk on our street, probably heading for the Greenbelt trails nearby, which went for miles into the near-wilderness. I also have a memory of Bridget's husband John saying that he usually declined to walk with them because their walking pace was more like a determined sprint. From which I gathered that the English take their walking very seriously.

Had I known more about Paul Winterton at the time, it is very likely that I would have read at least some of his books. I read a lot of mysteries in those days, Ross Macdonald and John D. MacDonald being among my favourites.

But back now to the nebulous thread from 1959. In that year I was still an undergraduate at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's. One evening I went to see a film, A Touch of Larceny.  The film starred James Mason (famous for playing Field Marshal Rommel in two films, The Desert Fox and The Desert Rats), Vera Miles, and George Sanders. Mason was a brilliant actor, one of my favourites of all time, able to play a villain, a tragic hero (the Rommel part), and he also had a deft touch for light comedy, never better displayed than in A Touch of Larceny.

A Touch of Larceny Poster Movie 11 x 17 In - 28cm x 44cm James Mason George Sanders Vera Miles Oliver Johnston and Robert Flemyng

I saw the film only once, the year it was released, but Mason's performance, and the film itself, stayed with me over the decades. Sometime in the 1980s, I managed to capture the film on VHS tape, probably from a public television screening, either on PBS or the Ontario semi-equivalent, TVO. I still have it somewhere, packed in a box with several dozen other VHS tapes. Ever since I have been waiting for it to appear on DVD, but so far no luck.

Then, about a month ago, I discovered that the entire film, in a very clean copy, is available on YouTube:

The film, of course, was made from one of Winterton's novels, The Megstone Plot, from 1956. Several other of his books have also been made into films. As one writer noted, his books lend themselves very naturally to film scripts.

It was after I found  A Touch of Larceny on YouTube (Oh, happy day!) that I decided to look for Winterton's books. The Ottawa Public Library has only one: Counterstroke, from 1978. A quick search at revealed that only one of his books, No Tears For Hilda, is available new. Many more are listed as available used. Chapters-Indigo does rather better; while none of his books appears to be available in hard copy, a large number are available in eBook format.

The difficulty finding Winterton's books is just a bit sobering, and more than a bit sad. He was prolific, he was very, very good, and he was well-regarded. But it's now hard to find his work in a format – other than used – that Winterton himself would recognise; i.e., the printed page. Perhaps his books are more readily available in Britain. One online source states that he thinks it's overdue that his books should make a comeback. But it hasn't happened yet. One hopes that will change. And soon.


hannah Dennison said...

How interesting! I'm not familiar with this writer at all. So many "old" writers fall by the wayside these days - which makes it even more important that we keep their work alive.

Rebecca said...

Have you tried - - it seems to have The Megstone Plot at least