The past is a foreign country

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The past is a foreign country
Dennis Wheatley (1897 – 1977) Photo credit: Wikimedia

I ENJOYED reaching a milestone birthday; many don’t make it this far. My family was gathered around me, which was good as I would otherwise have had much to reflect upon. My classmates lived a life that later generations can only read about. Our generation was born to parents born before the House of Windsor (1917).

It is a sobering thought that for all the 1920s class division and the endemic poverty people were far better educated and self-sufficient than they are today. I recall a Daily Telegraph study that revealed that adolescents of Edwardian England were far better educated than were 1980s university students and it is far worse today.

We change too: As an eight-year old I was totally absorbed by Jack London’s novel, White Fang. Years later I picked up a copy and I was taken aback at the profound scholarship of the story. My working class mother was born in 1911. Before adolescence and highly numerate she could recite a wealth of English poetry and narrate from heart entire passages from the great English classics.

My youthful appetite for Dennis Wheatley (1897 – 1977) novels was insatiable. The novelist’s spy and occult mysteries inspired Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.

Wheatley’s novels offered detailed descriptions of the world’s grandest hotels and their clients in such a way that he must surely have stayed as a guest. His millions of fans couldn’t understand was how he could possibly have such detailed knowledge of such places and know world personalities.

Wheatley prepared his novels by first using pen and post to solicit brochures and information, which would arrive weeks or months later. Drawing on this information he penned many of the greatest spies, occult and conspiracy novels ever written.

As an author and ghost-writer I stand in awe of the efforts of those who scratched with their pens great classics that 200 years later continue to inspire. It must have taken the authors many years to progress from blank page to publishing.

Today, in a few minutes spent at the keyboard, I can avail myself of much more detailed information from many sources. Last year, I had it in mind to write a book about the European mercenaries drawn into a score of African conflicts as result of Premier Harold MacMillan’s ‘Winds of Change’.

Making a start on The Last Gladiators the book was selling worldwide within 10 days. On another occasion, but never to be repeated, I wrote and published from scratch two books in one month. Yes, it was good going but I now enjoy internet aids and online publishing well beyond the wildest dreams of past writers.

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