An Ancient Horror Returns – Richard Middleton

Back in another era, another age[i] I bought a book in one of the charity shops along the local high street. This is something I’ve been known to do from time to time.  Sometimes I find a book by an author I like, or someone I’ve been meaning to read, or some interesting piece of non-fiction.

This one was a bit different,. It was old, it was a little scruffy, the pages were yellowed, and it was horror. I don’t read a lot of horror, but this one somehow, called to me.  Maybe I remembered the glorious description from the second-hand trade for books a little (but not too much) the worse for wear ­– slightly foxed but still desirable.  Some days I aspire to that description.

It also included a couple of stories by Arthur Machen, and that persuaded me. I bought it, took it home, and read it like horror should be read – in bed, late at night by the light of the table lamp.

Published by Hutchinson, New Tales of Horror by Eminent Authors had no publication date, and no editor credited. Maybe that information was on the long-gone dust jacket, maybe they didn’t do things like that in those days. Some simple Google-fu reveals it was published eighty six years ago, in 1934. With 17 of the thirty stories previously unpublished, I’m guessing this would have been a desirable book for horror fans between the world wars.

In the main I was a little disappointed, even by the Machen and the Hugh MacDiarmid. These are stories of their era, written in that era’s style. Some are more vignettes than tales, and too many relied in the shocking twist, the ghastly revelation on the last page. Except…

Except there was one story, by one of the many writers in the anthology  that I’d never heard of.  Love at First Sight, by Richard Middleton, was short, strange, shocking, and very clever. A story that brought me to a dead stop after reading it. I read it again. Clever, strange, and a little mad. That last line.

Middleton had a short and unhappy life. Suffering from depression he took his own life aged 29. By then he had real reputation. Machen and others rated him, and Raymond Chandler seemed a little in awe.[ii]  His  short novel, The Ghost Ship, is a book I would like to track down.

It’s hard not to wonder what unwritten stories Middleton had, and to regret their non-existence.  I also wonder at the names of the other Eminent Authors such E.H. Visiak, Sir Ronald Ross, Nugent Barker,and  R.L Mégroz and realise that almost inevitably given another eighty four years, someone finding one of my stories in an anthology will  think, ‘David Gullen? Never heard of him.’


[i] In other words, last year.

[ii] “Middleton struck me as having far more talent than I was ever likely to possess; and if he couldn’t make a go of it, it wasn’t very likely that I could.” (Raymond Chandler Speaking, Dorothy Gardiner, Kathrine Sorley Walker (ed.), Houghton Mifflin)

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