The relationship between writers and their readers is a fascinating subject in itself. Like most authors, I enjoy meeting readers at events and I’m always pleased when people who have enjoyed my books send me an email or come up to say hello at a convention. John J. Walsdorf was a reader who became so enamoured of the writing of Julian Symons that not only did he get to know him well, he went so far as to produce a very impressive bibliography of this prolific writer – based on a massive collection that he compiled.
Since I, too, am a Symons fan, I bought the book some time ago, but because it seemed a bit dry of first inspection, I did not study it closely until the other day. I then discovered that, among all the (to my mind) slightly tedious, though impeccably researched, bibliographic detail, are some nuggets of information about Symons and his work – just as I hoped when I sought out the book.
Symons’ typically intelligent and incisive autobiographical notes are fascinating to read. I didn’t know, for instance, quite how friendly he was with George Orwell. He says, ‘The important thing about a writer is his books, the important thing about a writer’s life is the way in which it has affected his work.’ I tend to agree. Symons also added a few comments to the text concerning many of his publications. He gives an interesting account of the genesis of The Broken Penny, and says of The Narrowing Circle: ‘No critic has remarked on the fact that the central idea of this story owes something to Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock.’ He goes on to describe things he likes about The Narrowing Circle, and things he doesn’t: ‘like the inability to produce a satisfactory climactic scene, which I know to be a failing transcended only in a few stories.’ He also explains why he discarded a series detective, and in characteristically combative style says: ‘I find the fanzine aspect of the series detective repellent…A crutch is useful, no doubt, but it is better to stand on two legs’.
I don’t agree with him about series detectives, and I think he’s too hard on himself in some cases – my verdict on The Plot Against Roger Rider is much more sympathetic than his own, and I really don’t know why he felt it a flop. But never mind. It’s fascinating stuff, and but for John J. Walsdorf’s admirable diligence, it would never have become available. A while ago, incidentally, I saw that Walsdorf’s Symons collection was for sale online. The price was something like $30,000.