Monday, 19 July 2010

Websites for Writers: The Lionel Fanthorpe Appreciation Page

I wrote a 1,000 words today!

Big deal. Even if I had written twice that it would be nothing compared to the average workday of Lionel Fanthorpe.

Never heard of him? Neither had I until a few months ago when I went to a writing convention and picked up the odd little paperback pictured here by "Bron Fane", one of Fanthorpe's numerous pen names. Turns out he's the most prolific science fiction author ever, with more than 180 novels. He's also written dozens of nonfiction books, countless short stories, and God knows what else.

God should know, because he's an Anglican minister too.

The Lionel Fanthorpe Appreciation Page
celebrates the career of a truly dedicated writer. Back in the 1950s, Badger Books flooded the market with cheap novels to tap into the burgeoning paperback market. They only offered writers 25 pounds a pop, and while that bought far more back than than it does today, it was still a crap wage. But that didn't dissuade Mr. Fanthorpe. He calculated that if he wrote a novel a week, he'd make a hundred quid a month--not much but better than the dole.

So that's exactly what he did. He had no time for complex plots, deep characterization, or elaborate ideas, he simply drew from his wide reading in the occult and paranormal to make wild tales of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Badger Books provided him a reel-to-reel recorder, and covering himself with a blanket to help his concentration, he told the machine whatever came into his head. When he thought he was done, he'd send the recording off to a typist who would hammer it out and tell him how close he was to the 158-page target. Sometimes he'd discover he only had a few pages left, and suddenly our heroes would solve all their problems with a brilliant plan, or no plan at all, or sometimes the story would simply stop. If he came up short, his amazing talent for padding would come to the fore and characters would yammer on about random topics for a few pages before the plot would continue. Just check out his agonizingly long description of a character brushing her teeth.

The amazing thing is with this rush to production is that Fanthorpe never fell into cliche. Clunkiness often, incoherence sometimes, but never a tired line. What other writer would describe a hand as a "cluster of leathery bananas"?

Because of this Fanthorpe's novels are never boring. I'm not saying they're good literature, but they are certainly fun. So give him a try, and remember that with enough concentration, you too can write a crazily bad yet entertaining novel in a week.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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