Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Lost Books - John Dougherty

I wonder if everyone has Lost Books? I suspect most writers, at least, do; and I suspect they're not the only ones.

By Lost Books, I mean books which are out-of-print; books on which you can no longer lay your hands, but for which you retain a remembered fondness, and which perhaps at some level have had an effect on you or your writing. I'd like to share a couple of mine with you:

Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson. Anyone remember this one? It's a magical fantasy about two children who find themselves transported to a Britain of the mythical past, where the narrative takes in dragons, faery creatures, viking raiders, mermen... I loved it, and the last sentence has just popped unbidden into my head after all these years: Borrobil! They knew - and they would never forget!

I don't think I'll ever forget, either; yet the book is now unavailable. It had a Wikipedia entry for a couple of days but that was deleted, apparently on the grounds of the book's lack of significance. For me, though, it was hugely significant - and probably a major influence on my latest book, Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy. Like Borrobil's Donald and Jean, my heroine finds herself in another world; like them, she gets there via a ring of standing stones; like them, she meets creatures from faery legend. My story is very different from Dickinson's, I hasten to add, but the influences are clearly there.

My second Lost Book is The Gadfly, by... er... I can't remember. I'd love to know, if anyone can tell me. I'm pretty sure it was published by Puffin, if that helps. It's the story of a young Greek boy who enters the circle of influence of the philosopher Socrates and witnesses the events leading up to his trial and execution (or, at least, State-commanded suicide). I can't recall so much about this book, but one thing that stuck with me was the reason that Socrates was condemned to death: his 'blasphemous' assertion that if there were gods, they would be better than those of Greek legend, who behaved like overgrown children with wonderful powers.

When the idea for my first book, Zeus on the Loose, was slowly awakening in my head, it was the memory of this assertion that suddenly brought it all together. Greek gods are like big kids! That became the conceit on which the book hinged. Without The Gadfly there would be no Zeus on the Loose.

I find this somehow comforting. Maybe in twenty years' time my books will all be out of print. Maybe in forty years no-one will even remember them. But perhaps some child who is now reading one of my books will grow up to write books of their own; and perhaps one day they'll write a book that in some way owes part of its existence to one of mine. And maybe that book will become the ancestor of another; and that one of another. Perhaps some day there will be a great and enduring classic of literature that would never have been written if not for one of my books - and that will perhaps therefore owe its life not just to my book, but to Borrobil or The Gadfly, too.


Lucy Coats said...

John--forgive me if I'm mistaken here, but your Gadfly sounds very like a book called the Crown of Violet, by Geoffrey Treece. It was SO one of my favourites--I absolutely loved it. In it The Gadfly was the title of the play the boy (Alexis) in the book wrote. If it is that one, you will be glad to hear that it is still available--just type it into Google. Obviously, if I'm wrong, just put me down as some crazed woman with a bad memory!

Anonymous said...

I was going to say Geoffrey Trease, who was my favorite authors when I was 13. (Treece's first name was Henry, I think, and while his historicals were fine, they weren't funny, with great female characters, the way Trease's were.)

Sherwood Smith

John Dougherty said...

Lucy, I'm certain that's it! Thank you!

The title The Crown of Violet rings no bells, though. I wonder if it was ever issued with a different title?

Kate said...

Borrobil is available through AbeBooks, in fact I might now have to buy a copy.

One of mine was Linnets and Valerians by Elisabeth Goudge. I read it at primary school but had no luck ever finding it again as I was unable to remember the title or author, just snatches of the story. Then I was in a charity shop one day and saw it, read the first line and knew it was my lost book.
Other lost treasures were The Minnipins by Carol Kendall and Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr - although they don't really count as 'lost' since I've tracked them both down!

Katherine Langrish said...

I loved 'The Crown of Violet', too! One of my lost books was 'The Wicked Enchantment' by Margot Benary-Isbert, and I tracked it down with the help of the Scattered Authors last year. The other was something about the end of the rainbow, a journey though a wood, and hyenas. (?)

Col said...

Mine was The Ghost Garden by Hila Feil. I read a copy from the village library when I was nine, well over 30 years ago; and hunted for a copy ever after.
I found one a couple of years ago -from Abebooks, I think - and it is as magical and moving as I ever found it as a child: about friendship and loss and growing up.

Ms. Yingling said...

The horrible thing about the internet is that I find English books and authors that I would love to read but are not available in the US! As a former Latin teacher, Zeus on the Loose looks like so much fun. Thanks for a few moments of philosophical waxing this morning. It was fun to read through your blog.

madwippitt said...

Someone else has heard of The Minnipins too! And presumably then, the sequel, Whisper of Glocken - I found my old copies which I thought were lost forever during a house move. Definitely lost was The Seventh Swan by Nicholas Stewart Gray - a lovely piece of pure magic that I was happily reunited with recently.