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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Dinner with an author

These days it’s rare to find an author who writes in several genres. Publishers prefer to pigeonhole their authors so they can better market them. Publishers rarely embrace authors who write a different kind of book every time.  An outstanding exception is Ken Follett, though he hasn’t strayed too much into genres other than suspense and historical saga. Indeed, authors wishing to break out of their genre ghetto often have to resort to one or more pennames.

Dennis Wheatley was prolific but never used another name and wrote in virtually all genres, save westerns, and his millions of readers had no problem adjusting to his choice of story.  Wheatley’s first published book was The Forbidden Territory (1933), a Duke de Richleau tale. Most of these stories began with a similar paragraph, the Duke and his friends going in to dinner! After which the adventures began in earnest. The following year, he introduced another continuing character, Gregory Sallust in Black August. Sallust and de Richleau books were produced regularly, later to be joined by two other series characters, Julian Day and the very popular French Revolution adventures featuring Roger Brook (1947).
Wheatley didn’t restrict himself only to writing about these series characters, however. He wrote many standalone novels, with crime, adventure, historical romance and supernatural themes.

Among his sci-fi books were They Found Atlantis, Star of Ill-Omen, Uncharted Seas, while his supernatural books included The Haunting of Toby Jugg, The Ka of Gifford Hillary, To the Devil – a Daughter and The Satanist.
In the politically correct present, Wheatley's work is frowned upon. Yet he enthralled millions in his day with his detailed fast-paced adventures. I believe they can still be enjoyed for what they are - escapist entertainment; they are of their time.

A friend of mine, Iwan Morelius lived in Campoverde on the Costa Blanca with his charming wife Margareta. Iwan was born in 1931 and, from the age of about eleven, he became fascinated with books, particularly adventure, action, westerns, sci-fi and thriller stories. He began with Swedish translations and then moved on to English originals.

In 1961 Iwan wrote to Dennis Wheatley, to let the author know Iwan and his brother-in-law Jan had built up quite a Wheatley collection, as the books were popular in Sweden. Wheatley graciously replied, complimenting Iwan on his English: ‘I can assure you that I get many letters about my books from British people whose English is nothing like so good as yours.’ In all, Iwan received 63 letters from Wheatley and a good number of signed books to add to his collection in English.

Ten years after writing his first letter to Wheatley, Iwan was visiting London with his wife, who was attending an English conversation course. Iwan wrote to Wheatley, explaining he would be in the neighbourhood and received a pleasant surprise when he and his wife were invited for lunch at the Wheatley home in Cadogan Square.

So at 12.30 Iwan and his wife stood outside the two-storey house and a butler opened the door and showed them into the hall. They were taken into the sitting room where they met Mrs Joan Wheatley. ‘I don’t know how to describe that lady,’ Iwan said afterwards. ‘She was very much upper-class. She wished us welcome rather formally. After only a few minutes Dennis Wheatley entered the room and finally I was to meet my favourite author.’

Iwan with Dennis Wheatley
As soon as Wheatley entered the room, the atmosphere changed. He had a wonderful smile that lit up his face and Iwan felt the man’s genuine warmth as he wished them welcome to London and their home in his rather hoarse voice. He’d been invalided out of the army after suffering a chlorine gas attack at Passchendaele and actually functioned on one lung.
After a short walk Wheatley took Iwan and his wife to an elevator that took them very slowly up to the second floor. Each wall in the elevator was covered with photos from the two world wars; later, the Wheatleys told them stories about these pictures. ‘Holding our breath, we entered the dining room, which was enormous,’ Iwan recalled, ‘and there the table was set with beautiful porcelain and crystal glasses and silver cups. The butler served us a most excellent meal from the first drink till the coffee and liqueur. It didn’t take long to relax and we talked about almost everything.’

Wheatley revealed that he and Joan had been a bit nervous as they didn’t know how much English Iwan and his wife could speak. ‘They also showed us their home,’ Iwan said, ‘and I was of course especially interested to see his big book collection. Most were signed by the authors and he had complete sets of Peter Cheyney, Ian Fleming and many others.’
The butler announced that Rolf Adlercreutz, a Swedish news photographer, had called for permission to take a few pictures of the meeting. Wheatley graciously agreed and even offered the man lunch, but he politely declined, not wishing to intrude.
When it was time to leave, Iwan presented the Wheatleys with a crystal candlestick from Kosta. Dennis Wheatley said, ‘I have a little gift for you too, Iwan.’ It was a proof copy of his latest book, The Ravishing of Lady Mary Ware, due to be published that spring. Inside was a printed dedication to Iwan, and this became one of Iwan’s prized possessions.
Iwan died tragically in June 2012. See my blog here





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