James Havers was a reluctant convert to the ebook. His collection of well over three thousand ink-on-paper books is housed in a room lined with custom-built bookshelves and, out of either deference or sheer cussedness, he refuses to take his e-reader into the room, keeping the room sacred to books that can be held, felt and, all too often with the older volumes, smelt. (Most have been bought second-hand.) He owns copies of all the books mentioned in Please Buy This Book! and has at least one example of all the paperbacks described in the book he is currently working on, When A Paperback Cost Sixpence, which will be published by Prospero in 2017.
He was chairman of the Crime Writers Association, yet in not one of his crime novels and short stories does a detective solve the crime – and soon after Ian Rankin labelled Russell “The Godfather of British Noir” he changed tack to write a caper novel, the darkly comic Pick Any Title (“A brilliant page-turner” said The Times). His bang up to the minute crime novels have run alongside other books with historical themes, from the Spanish Armada to the Victorian art world, from the Edwardian era through the First World War and, in perhaps his finest novel, Painting In The Dark, the meeting of British Fascists with real-life Nazi leaders in World War Two (“His masterpiece to date” said the Guardian and “A terrific, cultured tale of crime for the sake of art”, agreed The Times). A recent book was created by dictation into an iPhone!
His non-fiction books have included picture-packed guides to Victorian artists and models, to Victorian writers and poets, and to both fictional detectives and fictional villains. Under different names he has written a book of Victorian romances, a guide to (mainly Edwardian) gift books for good causes, and an outrageous take on the celebrity biography – this last based on a conversation Russell claims to have had with the celebrated stage star Maggie King in August 1939 (though, even on a bad day, no one would think he’d been a journalist as far back as 1939). Russell James: you never know where he’ll take you next.
Russell’s website is at: Russell James Books – and as there are now several writers called Russell James (how dare they?) you might like to know that the relevant Author’s Page on Amazon is at Russell James though it’s less confusing to check his books at: GoodReads.
Maggie King was a well-known actress and an even more well-known singer in the Twenties and Thirties, although her career began as early as the 1890s (not that she always admitted that). Her parents, too, spent their whole life on the stage (the Music Hall stage) and, in the best tradition of that profession, brought their daughter on with them as a babe in arms. She was a child performer, pierrot and touring actress before making her first records and having her first ‘hit’ around 1920. In the Thirties, after the professional scandal described in Stories I Can’t Tell, her career took a dip but recovered in the Dance Band Days before the war.
Paul Kristal began his career as a doctor in the early Fifties and published nothing in his lifetime. His only known diaries are the ones now published exclusively by Prospero. They uncover his astonishingly uncaring activities in the period 1963 to 64, and it is hoped that if more of his diaries exist they may eventually be released by the family or be otherwise brought to light.
Nicola Nickleby (1870-1956) wrote much of her work anonymously, contributing short stories and articles to Victorian magazines such as The Quiver, Leisure Hour, The Windsor and Tit-Bits, as well as to Edwardian journals like The Strand. She had a parallel career on the stage and during the First World War became active in the Suffragist movement, to which she remained committed at a time when many of her companions abandoned campaigning for war-work. You can read her delightful Victorian Romances right now. In 2016 we shall publish her novel We Never Shall Marry.