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Alasdair Gray – 1934-2019

The upper and lower boards of Something Leather.

Anyone who cares about books – for their content, but also as beautiful objects – will have been saddened to hear of Alasdair Gray’s death last December. Described by Anthony Burgess as ‘the first major Scottish novelist since Walter Scott’ and by Ali Smith as ‘a latter-day William Blake’, Gray, like Blake, was unpindownable, challenging boundaries – whether of medium, genre, or ideas of good taste. Prolific as a both writer and artist, his death allows us to take stock of a body of work at once hugely varied and all of a piece.
Although Gray was already known as an artist and occasional playwright in his native Glasgow (with James Kelman, Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead and others he attended Philip Hobsbaum’s now legendary writing group during the 1970s, [see The Comedy of the White Dog, 1979]), it was Lanark (1981) that brought him to the attention of a much wider public. Hugely ambitious (and huge), joyfully flouting generic convention, Lanark combines a recognisable (and autobiographical) account of the author’s Glasgow with an equally vivid science-fictional city named Unthank.


Lanark, title page and frontispiece.

1982, Janine (1984), his second (and the author’s own favourite) novel, was recently described by an admirer (the critic, Sarah Ditum) as ‘unambiguous filth, chronicling the compulsive, unruly fantasies of a middle-aged man called Jock’; in the same article she refers to Something Leather (1990), the fifth novel, as ‘straight-up lechery’. Those books are clearly much else besides, but as Ditum is quick to point out, ‘Gray’s writing is not the tyrannical kind that can only be enjoyed if you agree with him. He makes easy company with disagreement’. A lifelong socialist and Scottish nationalist, the salient quality of the work, however dark and angry (and, of course, funny), is that of generosity.


Janine, jacket and binding.

One of the many things that set Lanark apart from anything else being done at the time was the author’s control of every aspect of the book’s design and production. A feat (a feast) of graphic and typographic invention, everything from the elaborately illustrated jacket to the choice of font-type(s), expresses a singular vision.

When, in 1888, William Morris set up his Kelmscott Press, it was a response to the poor quality of mass-produced books, and of their drab, ugly appearance. Morris aimed to produce books at once beautiful, functional and affordable. It was a laudable ideal, and the books that emerged were indeed beautiful and finely crafted but – perhaps inevitably – turned out to be expensive and limited. A century later, with mass-produced, disposable publishing as pervasive as ever, an equally idealistic Alasdair Gray was able to carve an unexpected niche within the publishing world. Working closely with Canongate in Edinburgh and (through Liz Calder) Jonathan Cape and Bloomsbury (his books were published more or less alternately in Edinburgh and London) Gray was given relatively free rein, not only over content, but also the look, feel and weight of the books: their presence as objects/artefacts. It was an idealism redolent of Blake and Morris, but the books were affordable. This was partly owing to the publishers passing some of the cost of such idealism to the author himself. Gray was never financially secure, describing himself as ‘a well-known writer who cannot make a living from his writing’.


Pages from Unlikely Stories, Mostly, and Janine.

For his second Canongate volume, Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983), Gray ‘wanted the cloth boards of the book as richly decorated as the paper jacket, as many boards had been before publishers started using paper jackets in the early 20th century’. When he asked Stephanie Wolfe-Murray at Canongate to look into this, she unexpectedly discovered that the cost of ‘metalling the whole front and back’ of the book’s boards was, in fact, ‘very little’. So, as Gray explains, ‘my hardback first edition had golden thistles on the dark blue boards with words by the Canadian poet, Dennis Lee’ and the legend ‘SCOTLAND 1983’ (see A Life in Pictures (2010), p. 219). Nearly all of Gray’s subsequent books have strikingly decorated boards.

Unlikely Stories, Mostly, jacket and binding.


As with all the paratextual elements of Gray’s books, the text printed to boards and dustwrappers is treated with the same care as words on the page. The jacket copy of 1982, Janine, tells us that ‘This already dated novel is set inside the head of an ageing, divorced, alcoholic, insomniac supervisor of security installations […] Every stylistic excess and moral defect which critics conspired to ignore in the author’s first books is to be found here in concentrated form’; the magisterial Book of Prefaces (2000) prints blurbs ‘by’, among others, Samuel Johnson – ‘never has penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment been so happily disguised’ – and Mark Twain; while the front flap of A Life in Pictures cites one Sidney Workman of the Times Literary Implement , who informs us that ‘in Glasgow pubs it is now common gossip that bibliophiles will esteem it as highly as Hypnoerotomachia Poliphili and similar incunabula’.

Gray’s concern with the technology (the medium) of the book is of a piece with his work as a visual artist, whether on paper, canvas, or in the magnificent series of murals scattered around Glasgow. He saw little distinction between his work across these various media (describing each as a holiday from the other): a platform at Hillhead underground station or the ceiling of the auditorium at the Oran Moor centre are treated with the same imaginative energy as the books.

The ceiling mural in The Auditorium, one of the largest pieces of public art in Scotland, commissioned for Òran Mór by Colin Beattie.

Motifs, verbal and visual, reappear across the books, murals, paintings: whether of particular faces (James Kelman makes regular cameo appearances), decorative patterns, the figure of Prometheus, self-portraits, or phrases like the one from Dennis Lee (which was carved into the front of the Scottish Parliament building in 2004), not forgetting the myriad roundels, manicules, thistles and gremlins that pop up everywhere. It is a generous and labyrinthine universe of emblems that clearly calls for a scholarly concordance of some kind.

The mural at Hillhead station, Glasgow.

Collecting first editions published over the last few decades is a mixed blessing. A first printing of a Hilary Mantel or J. K. Rowling novel may be the relic of a moment, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that most hardback fiction these days is printed, bound and designed with little more care (or concern for durability) than the paperback edition that follows a few months later, and at half the price. Gray’s first editions, however, were always (and remain) desirable and special: the paperback editions really do entail a diminishment of the many pleasures that these works offer the reader – the holder – when in their original, their intended, form.

Lucius Books has recently acquired a once-in-a-lifetime collection of Gray’s work; everything from exhibition catalogues, pamphlets, poetry, drama, and, of course, the novels and stories. Mostly immaculate, nearly everything is signed/inscribed in Gray’s inimitable hand.

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The Endurance of Tolkien

Smaug, the archetypal fantasy dragon, illustrated by Tolkien.

“The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make”

Our amazing Tolkien manuscript – a hand-writted word game created by the author himself, perfectly exemplifying his ever-present love for language. Find out more here.

J.R.R. Tolkien is undoubtedly amongst the most popular authors of the last hundred years, with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings never failing to find a new, captive audience in every emerging generation of readers. Furthermore, the literary and increasingly multimedia genre of modern fantasy that he unwittingly created continues to flourish, only becoming more intricately woven into our cultural landscape as time goes on.

But why is this? To some, the key to the singular appeal of his writing lies in his primary passion for philology: the study, particularly through literary texts, of the history and creation of language and how words relate to history and culture. This passion became an unprecedentedly deep grounding and framework for the stories he created. To Tolkien, he was revealing the mythology that the roots and paths of the words of real, modern languages imply once existed, if only in the collective imagination. Simultaneously, he was creating a world and a history for the languages that he loved to create to inhabit (exemplified particularly in The Silmarillion); a necessity, since it was the relationship between culture and language, rather than language in isolation, which so enthralled him.

Tree and Leaf, which includes Tolkien’s wonderful ‘On Fairy Stories’ essay.

This foundation, so complex, rooted in reality, and essentially unreliant on plot, surely serves as one of the most unusual and painstakingly detailed bases for an imaginary world that is rarely seen elsewhere, and must surely contributes to Tolkien’s success. After all, as Tolkien said himself in his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’, “The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make”.

In some ways, Tolkien did not create a genre (fantasy, or, more specifically, heroic or high fantasy), he opened the door to a world – one that was not limited to the pages of his own books. Though they vary in tone, innovation, and quality, the myriad books (as well as films and television series) published every year that owe even the smallest debt to Tolkien invite the reader into a world that she or he already knows the lay of – one of dragons, watchful trees, heroic underdogs, and relics of ancient power. And if Tolkien is to be believed, it is the hidden mythology that can be read between the lines of our own language that makes this world so irresistibly familiar to us, even before we open The Hobbit for the very first time.

To me, the appeal of Tolkien also lies in the purity of fantasy and moral clarity in his world building and writing. This is something Tolkien touches on himself, again in his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’, arguing that, since fantasy lies separately from the ‘primary world’ and must be entirely created, it is “a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent”. He goes on to describe the heroic overcoming of evils and hardships in fantasy as moments of “joy” and “consolation”, which offer comfort and escape amidst the realities of the primary world. Indeed, many scholars have proposed that Tolkien’s work reveals the processing of his experiences in WWI, and he himself argued against the derision of escapism, asking “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”.

And so, in the extraordinarily well developed and language-anchored world of Arda and the land of Middle-Earth, readers may find both an example of a Very Bad Situation which is eventually, through the hard work of good people, solved logically and fairly; and a much needed escape from reality. It is no wonder then, that every generation, each facing its own Very Bad Situation (be it the wars Tolkien lived through or the political upheaval and instability of the present day), keeps reaching, again and again, for that solution and escape.

Discover our rare Tolkien books and manuscripts here.


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The Irrepresible Nancy Cunard


Nancy Cunard photographed by Man Ray in 1925

We are lucky enough at Lucius Books to currently be in possession of a handful of books once belonging to Nancy Cunard, a rebellious poet, socialite, publisher, and political activist who worked hard to promote pacifism while fighting fascism and prejudice, though she is now mostly remembered, perhaps unfairly, for becoming muse and lover to a host of early 20th century writers and artists. None of the books are in exceptional condition and most have been annotated and personalised by Cunard, which only serves to render them somehow closer to her – she was certainly not the sort to carefully collect and preserve objects, but rather to thoroughly and blithely immerse herself in them in a bid to extract the messages and sentiments held within.

Three of the books belonging to Cunard are by George Moore, and their publication and inscription dates range from 1917 to 1955. Moore had a very close, almost certainly romantic and sexual relationship with Cunard’s mother, Lady Maud Cunard, who remained his idealised muse until the end of his life, her likeness finding its way into many of his novels. It was rumoured during Cunard’s lifetime that Moore, rather than Maud’s husband, Sir Bache Cunard, heir to a profitable shipping business, was Cunard’s father. Cunard never discovered whether the rumour was true, and her parentage is still disputed to this day. Her father or not, Moore was a permanent fixture throughout Cunard’s life, and she often spoke of him with more affection than her generally absent or disinterested mother and father. Referencing her visit with Moore at age four, she describes him as her “first friend”.

Alvaro Guevara’s name and address in George Moore’s ‘Lewis Seymour and Some Women’

Guavara’s portrait of Nancy Cunard

Many found Cunard’s eccentric, energetic personality enchanting and magnetic, earning her a wide and dynamic social life; she had links, whether as acquaintances, friends, or lovers, with a staggering amount of famous artists, writers, and other creative or bohemian figures. Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Louis Aragon, Aldous Huxley (who was so taken with Cunard he wrote her into his novels), Wyndham Lewis, John Strachey, and Jean Cocteau are just a few of those we know for certain were her lovers, while among her friends (a few of whom may also have been her lovers) were Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Virginia Woolf, Josephine Baker, and Iris Tree, as well as many more.

One of the books, Moore’s 1917 ‘Lewis Seymour and Some Women’ bears Cunard’s ownership inscription (as Nancy Fairbairn, her married name) on the front pastedown, and a further  inscription of the name and address of her friend and lover, the Chilean artist Guevara Alvaro on the rear free endpaper. Guevara (who was reportedly intensely infatuated with Cunard) painted her portrait in 1919 – the year she separated from her husband – which now hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. It is possible that the book originally belonged to Guevara who then gave it to Cunard, maybe during a period of increased closeness while the painting was being created, or that the book was shared between the two. Whatever the circumstances, which we can sadly only speculate on, this book is a wonderful artefact of the relationship between an artist and sitter, and of a vibrant social circle of creative minds during a period of great cultural and artistic change in early 20th century Britain. As well as this title, we have two other Moores with ownership inscriptions and reading notes by Cunard – ‘Memoirs of my Dead Life’ and ‘Confessions of a Young Man’.

Nancy Cunard photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1956

After relocating to France in the 1920s she opened a small press with which she championed new and boundary-pushing poets, many of which were her friends. In the 1930s, having become aware of and disgusted by racial injustices, she turned her publishing press towards celebrating the work and history of black writers and highlighting everyday and institutional racism, from comments made by her own mother to a defence of the Scottsboro boys, all of which led to her own disinheritance from her wealthy parents.

Cunard’s drive to fight prejudice and injustice was shared by one of her lifelong friends, the American writer Kay Boyle, who wrote another of our books belonging to Cunard. ‘His Human Majesty’ is inscribed by Boyle to Cunard, dated 1949. Boyle’s poignant and insightful 1937 poem about the Scottsboro case (Cunard had passionately put great effort into petitioning for the boys’ release in 1931) is titled ‘A Communication to Nancy Cunard’.

Our final book of Cunard’s is Stephen Vincent Benet’s 1928 ‘John Brown’s Body’, which contains a number of Cunard’s inscriptions: her pencilled reading notes on the front free endpaper state that she read the book three times, the second reading dated Summer 1953, the third reading in August 1964, just six months before her death. Her final years were sadly marred by poor physical and mental health, poverty, and addiction, and it can be noted that her handwriting in the 1964 inscription is markedly stiff and shaky. At the top of the page she boldy states that “this is one of the finest poems ever written”, with further notes highlighting favourite passages. It is certainly humbling to handle a book that such a vibrant woman held so dearly!

On the prelims, marked “today, the 16th of June 1953” (during her second reading of the poem) Cunard tipped in French newspaper clippings covering and denouncing Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s imminent execution for espionage, next to which she writes that “the issue is still uncertain”. Many Europeans, including Albert Einstiein and Pablo Picasso, publicly called for mercy and compassion regarding the Rosenberg Case. The execution went ahead three days later. This clearly beloved book along with our other books belonging to Cunard create a small but wonderful window into the life of one of the early 20th century’s most unusual and fascinating women, as well as into the political and social world of early and mid-century left-leaning minds.



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Horrifying short stories for Halloween

“I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait.”

– Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination

The season for scaring ourselves is almost upon us, and as much as everybody loves to watch horror films at Halloween, I believe there’s nothing as scary as a good old fashioned horror story straight from a book’s pages or read aloud. Because your imagination must do all the work you end up picturing the worst version possible of what is being described; the monsters and ghosts becomes more terrifying than any amount of CGI or puppetry could ever communicate. The more you read the more your mind plays tricks with shadows and sounds, blurring the thin line between fiction and reality that an image on a screen can never truly cross. And what better format than the short story? The simplest ideas are often the purest and most atmospheric, the lack of wider detail and context intensifying the creepiness of the story, as wonderfully demonstrated in Edgar Allen Poe’s stories. Moreover, you can snuggle down with one on a cold, dark evening (preferably with some hot cocoa for comfort) and be safely out the other side by bed time, with only a whisper of the tale’s horrors still playing on your mind.


Daphne du Maurier

Classics of the Macabre – Illustrated by Michael Foreman

Daphne du Maurier is the 20th century’s queen of gothic fiction, thanks to her often bleak and imposing depiction of the Cornish landscape and her tendency to show reality and sanity as somewhat malleable and unreliable. This gorgeous copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Classics of Macabre, illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully bound in burgundy with gilt edges and signed by both Maurier and Foreman, brings together Maurier’s most chilling tales, two of which have adapted into films. The Birds inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film of the same name, while Nicolas Roeg adapted Don’t Look Now into a film in 1973.

From a Cornish farmer who is inexplicably and viciously attacked by hordes of birds, to a woman whose eye surgery comes with grotesque consequences, a man who is convinced his dead wife is haunting a tree in his garden, and a couple who encounter a doppelgänger of their recently deceased daughter; Maurier’s quietly creepy stories steer clear of garish thrills or overt horror motifs. Instead they center on ordinary people in ordinary settings in which something is simply not quite right, creating a strong sense of the uncanny and suggesting that something deeply unsettling is waiting to happen to someone normal and every day; to someone just like you…


Edgar Allan Poe

Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination – Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Poe has often been named the “arch-priest” of the gothic horror tale,and looking at the intensity of the dark atmosphere and style of his work and the hugely wide reach of his influence, it isn’t hard to see why. He took the beginnings of existing gothic literary tropes and solidified them into what was to become a fully-fledged, modern genre (see doppelgängers in Poe’s William Wilson du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now), with a few of his own additions thrown in along the way.

This copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination brings together Poe’s horror, suspense, and detective stories, their grim mood reflected brilliantly in Rackham’s murky, haunting illustrations for the first time. The most disturbing of the tales tend to employ an unnamed narrator, often in a circumstance the reader is never given the full details of; this has a disorientating, surreal effect, and guides the reader directly into the narrator’s shoes, focusing their attention on the horrors unfurling before them with no distraction from a wider plot or character details, such as the razor sharp pendulum that slowly descends upon the incapacitated narrator in The Pit and the Pendulum, or the burgeoning madness the narrator experiences in The Fall of the House of Usher.

Poe’s tales have inspired many film, television, and screen adaptations, but perhaps more notably have irrevocably altered and entered the general landscape of horror and gothic culture, to the point that almost every modern gothic horror pays its respects to Poe in some way or other.


L. P. Hartley

The Travelling Grave

While best known for his Edwardian-set drama novel The Go Between, L. P. Hartley was also a prolific writer of short macabre stories. The Travelling Grave (with a striking illustrated dustwrapper from Arkham House regular, Frank Utpatel), was his first collection published in the US, and draws from his previous gothic collections published in the UK, comprising of ghost stories and tales of murder. The stories, often set in grand houses or exotic destinations where the protagonist is a guest or outsider of some sort, give the unsettling feeling of being an eternal stranger; a concept distilled further in A Change of Ownership and The Island, where the protagonists are pushed out of their homes and rendered strangers in their own lives.

Podolo and Three, or Four, for Dinner, like du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, join their British protagonists on their holidays in Venice, proving that the historic city with its dream-like structure and architecture is the perfect setting for strange goings-on. The Travelling Grave and The Killing Bottle lend a touch of black comedy to their macabre subjects, while Night Fears explores a very dark, psychological variety of horror.


I hope you find something here to frighten and delight you on a dark and stormy night. Have a scary (and literary) Halloween!


Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Classics of the Macabre, and The Travelling Grave


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The Dawn of Science Fiction

While scholars and critics have long discussed and disputed the actual definition of science fiction as a genre, it is undeniable that if someone says that they read a sci-fi book or watched a sci-fi film, the average person will have a good idea as to what they are talking about. Familiar science fiction tropes, concepts, and story lines have been explored and refined time and time again to the point that they are instantly recognisable, yet their popularity never seems to wane. Each new iteration brings a new perspective to the sci-fi framework, and each generation finds fresh metaphors for contemporary issues within its themes and devices.

It could easily be argued that science fiction’s history goes back hundreds, even thousands of years, a whisper of its conception to be found in the work of Ancient Greek cosmologists and philosophers, but, spurred on by the industrial revolution, science fiction as we recognise it today was largely formed in the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The term science fiction itself, though first appearing in William Wilson’s A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject in 1951, was not widely used until its popularisation in the 1920s by the hugely influential publisher Hugo Gernsback, when it became firmly recognized as its own genre.

I’d like to share with you today some of our early sci-fi titles. As a fan of the genre I find it fascinating to witness its birth through these novels, and to see just how similar some of the storylines are to those in sci-fi that is being created today. Furthermore, our separation from them in time makes it is easy to see how the political, social, and technological landscape of the period influenced these novelists, which in turn helps us to more easily see how our own lives and times influence the content of contemporary science fiction, even without the clear lens of hindsight.


The Crystal Man

Edward Page Mitchell, edited and introduced by Sam Moskowitz, 1973 [1874-1886]

This is an anthology collection of early science fiction short stories by Edward Page Mitchell originally published in newspapers in the 1870s and 1880s. Mitchell’s stories explored human invisibility and time travel before H.G. Wells’ (undisputedly one of the most influential early sci-fi writers) The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, and it has been postulated by a number of scholars that Mitchell could have been an influence on the legendary author. Also in this collection are extremely early, formative examples of other now-popular science fiction themes such as faster-than-light travel, teleportation, mind transfer, and superhuman mutants. It would be difficult to find a modern sci-fi narrative that didn’t include a concept Mitchell touched on! After his death in 1927 he was largely forgotten until being rediscovered by leading science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz, who collected and published his work together for the first time in this volume, along with his own long and informative introduction which details Mitchell’s personal life and work.




Ceasar’s Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century 

Edmund Boisgilbert, pseudonym of Ignatius Donnelly, 1890

Ceasar’s Column is one of the earliest works of dystopian science fiction in the English language. Compared to Mitchell’s work, Donnelly’s novel revolves less around the futuristic and fantastic technologies and occurrences of science fiction themselves, and instead focuses on the political and social struggles of the world they exist in. That’s not to say it isn’t rich in imagined technology – Donnelly’s portrayal of 1980s New York is filled with advanced tech, much of which, such as television, radio, aeroplanes capable of transatlantic flight, and poison gas really did come to exist, though not quite in the way he imagined them! The plot centres on the city’s ruthless financial oligarchy that rules over a vast, abject working class, and the secret resistance organization that opposes it.

The resemblance to modern works, particularly those created during the dramatic increase in the popularity of dystopian narratives in the late 2000s and early 2010s, is notable. When compared with one of the most popular dystopian novels of recent decades, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, it can be seen that both novels create worlds where the brutality of an oppressive state is matched in barbarity by the violence of the revolutionary resistance, with neither truly earning the moral high ground. The similarity of the climax of both novels, in which the struggle between both sides comes to a less-than-clean-cut conclusion, is particularly staggering.


Last and First Men

Olaf W. Stapledon, 1930

As science fiction matured throughout the early 20th century, more ponderous, philosophical, and cosmically-scaled narratives appeared, including the works of Katherine Burdekin that I discussed in my previous blog post, and exemplified by the groundbreaking works of Olaf Stapledon, all of which helped to form a strain of the genre that still exists today (a favorite example of mine being the 2009 film Mr Nobody, or, more recently, 2016’s Arrival). The recent and anticipated advancements in astronomy and cosmology, which Stapledon followed closely, encouraged a ‘zoomed-out’ view of humanity, and even of the very solar system in which we reside. The First and Last Men, about which Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001: A Space Odyssey acclaim) stated ‘no book before or since has ever had such an impact on my imagination’, takes on the incredible task of imagining the story of the human race all the way up to its demise billions of years in the future. Humanity makes its way through eighteen different forms or species, some of which occur through natural selection, others by human intervention, offering an early example of genetic engineering in science fiction. The narrator, a ‘last man’ residing on Neptune in the last remaining human stronghold, psychically holds the consciousness of a ‘first man’, a stroke of cyclical symmetry which is reminiscent of contemporary and later cosmological and philosophical theories such as the cyclical model, loop quantum cosmology and eternalism. The Last and First Men preceded Star Maker, in which Stapledon took his ideas a step further and traced the birth and death of an entire universe.

Look out for these early works of science fiction among many more like them (so many it was hard for me to choose which to include in this blog post!) in our upcoming catalogue of the legendary Martin Stone’s collection, which is rich in speculative and weird fiction.



Adam Roberts: The History of Science Fiction. Springer, 4 Aug 2016

H.G. Wells: The Invisible Man. Broadview Press, 30 Jun 2018

Ignatius Donnelly: Caesar’s Column, A Story of the Twentieth Century. Wesleyan University Press, 4 Dec 2003

Olaf Stapledon: Last And First Men. Hachette UK, 19 Mar 2012

Robert Crossley: An Olaf Stapledon Reader. Syracuse University Press, 1 Mar 1997 Karina Wilson, accessed 2 September 2019 Gollancz, SFE Ltd., accessed 2 September 2019


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New on the Shelves: Female Writers


While gender inequality still remains in the publishing world today, the challenges that female writers faced in the past, including society’s attitude towards them, were even more severe and impenetrable. Today the majority of classic writers who have become household names are male, but that’s not to say that women weren’t writing in the early 20th century and earlier – we just don’t know about them! That’s why it has been so exciting that while we have been cataloguing the collection of the legendary Martin Stone we have come across quite a few interesting books by female writers, many of which are new to me. I’d like to share a few of their stories, which I have personally found extremely humbling and inspiring.


ANNA KINGSFORD (1846 – 1888)


When I picked up a copy of Dreams and Dream Stories, a beautiful little book (black cloth decorated with silver stars and lettering) containing a collection of Anna Kingsford’s dream diaries, musings, poems, and prose, I was immediately fascinated by her writing and by her story. She was a passionate animal rights activist, anti-vivisectionist, vegetarian, spiritualist, and one of the first women to gain a medical degree (as well as being the only medical student at the time to graduate without experimenting on an animal).

Kingsford had a desire to study medicine in order to give herself more authority in her pursuit of the furthering of the animal welfare-based causes that were so close to her heart. British medical schools did not allow women entry, and so in 1874, aged 27, Kingsford began studying medicine in Paris. Although she was allowed to study, it was not easy: Kingsford recounts in a letter to her husband an incident when, in group of around a hundred students (Kingsford being the only woman), a professor refused to speak or even write her name during a roll call, claiming that she was neither a woman nor a man.

Paris was at the time the epicenter of vivisection-based physiology, and Kingsford had to endure the sights and sounds of live animals being subject to horrific experiments. However, despite the distress this caused her, her refusal to conduct any animal experiments, and her writing her thesis on the medical benefits of vegetarianism (which was initially objected to by multiple professors), she graduated with a Doctorate of Medicine in 1880, going on the give prominent lectures and demonstrations promoting vegetarianism (which was controversial even amongst her fellow anti-vivisectionists) and condemning vivisection, just as she had wished.

What she achieved and withstood in her short lifetime is testament to her incredible strength and determination in the face of a society that was pitted strongly against her beliefs and her sex.




Katharine Burdekin was a truly remarkable writer of speculative fiction with an emphasis on the exploration of incredibly advanced and complex feminist and gender-critical concepts, marking her out as undeniably far ahead of her time. Born into an educated, upper-middle-class family, she was highly intelligent and well-read. She wished to attend Oxford like her brothers, but unfortunately her parents forbade it.

Ten of her novels were published during her lifetime, but fell into obscurity until the 1980s when Daphne Patai, a Professor of Women’s Studies, discovered the true identity of “Murray Constantine”, Burdekin’s pseudonym. Many of her novels were subsequently published by The City University of New York’s Feminist Press and are now of great scholarly interest.

We are lucky enough to have on our shelves two Burdekin first editions. The first, Proud Man, is signed and inscribed by Burdekin. In the novel a completely biologically androgynous human from a peaceful, genderless, vegetarian future society travels back in time to 1930s England, and then gives a critique of this comparatively primitive, “sub-human” society. Through this future human’s eyes, Burdekin dissects our adherence to gender roles and the societal and cultural creation of the masculine identity, theorizing that the male sex assumes that all children are inherently effeminate – that girls naturally become women, while boys must be carefully supervised, taught, and tested into becoming men, and that this is borne out of “a great fear of the suppressed power of the female sex”.

Our second Burdekin, The Rebel Passion, is an early work that the author considered to be her first as a mature writer. It is another time travel-based novel, telling the story of a 12th century male monk who is “born with the soul of a woman” and does not fit into society’s ideas of masculinity. In a series of visions shown to him by a spirit, he witnesses events spanning millions of years from the dawn of life to the creation of a utopian, neo-medieval 21st century society where men and women have achieved complete equality.




Scottish writer Catherine Carswell’s life was lived among artistic and literary circles, and, having little care for playing things safely or for giving up in the face of adversity, was often dogged by drama and controversy. In 1908 she won a historic court case, making her the first woman to have her marriage annulled by proving the insanity of her husband at the time of their marriage. Some years later she moved from Glasgow to London, where she hoped to further her budding career as a journalist and critic. However, after publishing a glowing review of The Rainbow, a novel by her close friend D.H. Lawrence (who was then a contentious figure at best) she lost her job.

Carswell and Lawrence’s friendship is notable for the affection shown on both sides, and for the fact that Carswell, unlike many of his friends, was never the subject or recipient of the criticism for which Lawrence was known. The pair exchanged a huge quantity of letters and frequently and actively encouraged and advised one another on their writing, with Carswell having particular involvement in Women in Love. The two novels that Carswell wrote during this period were eventually forgotten, much like Burdekin’s, until their eventual rediscovery and publication by the feminist publisher Virago, and she is now considered a crucial figure in 20th century Scottish women’s writing.

Deciding to turn her hand to biography, Carswell penned an honest yet sympathetic biography of Robert Burns, who had to many become a legendary, untouchable figure. The book was met with uproar, moving one individual to send a bullet to Carswell in the post and advise her to end her life in order to “make the world a cleaner place”.

The Carswell title that we have to offer is a first edition of The Savage Pilgrimage, a fascinating, intimate biography of Lawrence, written soon after his death. It was withdrawn by Chatto and Windus amid fierce accusations of libel from another friend and biographer of Lawrence, John Middleton Murry. Carswell and Murry had developed a strained relationship prior to Lawrence’s death which only intensified in its aftermath, when their biographies conveyed very different ideas about Lawrence’s character and motivations, as well as about each other.

As a final thought, I believe it is worth noting that these women all come from comparatively privileged backgrounds, yet their paths through writing and publication were clearly not easy, not to mention the fact that they were never able to reach the prominence of some of the most acclaimed – overwhelmingly male – writers. It is sobering to imagine how difficult and practically impossible the act and idea of writing would have been for women from less wealthy, more diverse backgrounds – something that we have undoubtedly not yet entirely overcome.

This is only a very small selection of the many amazing lesser-known women writers I’ve recently come across on our shelves, and I am certain there are so many more out there left for me to discover, which is a very exciting thought! I hope you have enjoyed reading about their lives and works as much as I have.



The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The Conflict Between Animal Research and Animal Protection, Deborah Rudacille, University of California Press. (2001)

Proud Man, Katharine Burdekin, Feminist Press at CUNY (1993)

Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work, Edward Maitland Cambridge University Press. (2011) (2019)

The End of this Day’s Business, Katharine Burdekin, Feminist Press at CUNY. (1989)

Open the Door!, Catherine Carswell, Canongate Books. New Ed edition (2010)

Lying Awake, Catherine Carswell, Canongate Books. 2nd edition (1997)


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Harrogate PBFA Book Fair

Every year in March we exhibit at the P.B.F.A. bookfair in Harrogate, it would be silly not to as it’s only 18 miles away from us in York. A two day affair, actually three if you include the set-up afternoon and (for the last two years) coming the week immediately after the New York Antiquarian Book Fair it makes for a relatively chilled out event and a good opportunity to catch up with the local trade and collectors. This year was no different; we bought a few books, sold a few books, an evening meal and laughs with friends and colleagues. The morning after: an early start, still jet-lagged, a blizzard and weather warnings across the country. A much slower day as only the brave ventured out and then two hours before the end of the bookfair…

Fine gentleman: “How much for the whole stand?”

Grumpy bookseller: “Ummm?”

Fine gentleman: “You have 30 seconds to decide”

Grumpy bookseller: “ok ££££”

Fine gentleman: “done!”

bookseller: “oh! I’ll help you pack”

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Proof and the process

I’ve always loved proof copies, genuine proof copies that is from before the recent publishing phenomena of issuing limited edition “proof copies” as manufactured collectables. To me, manuscript aside (love them too!), the proof is as close as you can get to the author’s warts and all original text in book form. Pre-1970 UK proofs were nearly always in house documents, produced in small numbers purely to edit, polish and finalise a text ready for print and future publication. Despite being a dustwrapper man, in a dustwrapper business, there is something very appealing about the utilitarian drabness of an [often] buff wrapper offering little or no printed clue to the contents, perhaps an ink stamp or manuscript note concerning state (corrected or uncorrected) or proposed publication date and price. Often discarded once they had served their purpose, these ugly ducklings of the publishing trade have long been unappreciated for their importance and comparative rarity.
It is highly likely that fewer than 20 proof copies for the then unknown author John Le Carre’s first book will have been produced by the publisher, and fewer than that will have survived today. We have only ever seen one, and been lucky enough to own it briefly twice. This was the novel that introduced George Smiley and the beginning of a literary career that spans 57 years and 24 novels which have been translated into 36 languages and adapted for film, television and radio.

The author’s best known novel, and first international bestseller, is The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Published in 1963 the book won both the Gold Dagger award (from the Crime Writers’ Association) and the Edgar Award (from the Mystery Writers of America) for best novel, the first work ever to win both titles.

On the 50th anniversary of the Dagger Awards in 2005, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was awarded the “Dagger of Daggers”, a one-time award given to the stand-out novel among all 50 winners over the history of the Crime Writers’ Association. The novel, in 1965 received early film treatment starring Richard Burton.

This is the uncorrected proof of that breakthrough novel and the only one we have ever seen or are aware of. Interestingly though we have seen the proof dustjacket twice, both times without the book, one turned up at a London antiquarian bookfair wrapped around a regular blue cloth first edition (snapped up by a quicker bookseller than I) and the second was contained within in the Victor Gollancz archive of correspondence between the author and publisher (sold by Rick Gekoski). The proof state dustwrapper is immediately identifiable by it’s colour, it is yellow as with the two previous novels whilst for the first edition they actually went with red.

The author has bequeathed his entire literary archive to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The archive which filled the space of a Cornish barn includes drafts, manuscripts, photographs, correspondence and one would imagine (although not noted) proof copies.

The importance of proof copies in the publishing process is well illustrated in this copy of Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Having completed and amended several typescript drafts, his novel was passed to the publisher to produce the uncorrected proof copies. By this time Fleming and James Bond were huge so the print-runs for the proofs and first editions increased massively. In this case Cape issued 500 copies on October 1962 (compared to as few as 20 of Casino Royale, although the exact number is unknown). As with previous novels one copy was sent to Aubrey Forshaw who was head of Pan Books (publisher of the James Bond novels in paperback) but more importantly Ian Fleming’s expert for technical information concerning James Bond’s cars. He was asked by Fleming to read the proof and correct any errors relating to the car.
Aubrey’s corrections appear in pencil to the margins with further corrections, suggestions and typographical errors noted throughout. He then sends the marked up proof back, in this instance to Michael Howard who was head of Jonathan Cape and he sees to it that all of the corrections are adopted into the first edition text of the published book.

So the proof becomes part of the manuscript without which, the book as we know it wouldn’t exist. A grateful author on receipt of his newly published novel sends a copy to his friend and collaborator, inscribing the front endpaper in blue ball point pen “To Aubrey / who wrote some of it! / from Ian”.

There are some instances when a finished book might never make it to publication whether for legal, personal or political reasons. In 1972 London publisher New English Library embarked a book called “Power To The People: The Political Thoughts Of John Lennon” compiled from interviews given by Lennon over 1970 and 1971. The project made it all the way to uncorrected proof stage with original artwork for the dustwrapper and internal illustrations commissioned and print ready and a publication date slated for April 1972. Given John Lennon’s popularity at this time it would have almost certainly been a bestseller but for reasons unknown, publication was pulled at the last minute.

This copy belonged to the NEL editorial director Peter Haining and laid in is a note by him, signed and inscribed “The compiler of this little opportunist book which was never published!”. Of the handful of copies known, this is the only example to have the Tony Lamb proof cover artwork. So there you have it, the best John Lennon book never published!

The proof is a genuine working document, an essential piece of the process in that book’s history and in owning it, to my mind you are infinitely closer to the author and their original text. That’s why I love them.

To see a list of proof copies available on the Lucius Books website click here.

[Gilbert, Jon: IAN FLEMING, The Bibliography]

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Antiques for Everyone Summer Fair At The Birmingham N.E.C.

1920s Children’s Push-Along Toy

It’s Tuesday, and the hottest day of the year so far brings day one of set up at this year’s AFE. We did the fair for the first time last summer in what is usually a quiet time of year for us booksellers, so we are back for another go. Set-up is two days long (including vetting), which makes for a relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to move things around the stand until you find their place (no, it’s not just me!), and to take time out to wander the venue as other stands take shape.

The frenzy of set-up at a bookfairs often means that you don’t get the opportunity to really look around for fear of missing a bargain in the next booth, so to be the only bookseller here means I can saunter rather than sprint and in doing so a number of things catch my eye.

Louis Wain Ceramic Dog

Top of the list are a couple of children’s toy push carts dating from the 1920s, in entirely original condition, with great paintwork and all the nicks and chips you’d expect from nearly a century of service. They are fabulous, to be found on the stand of Chester based Mike Melody Antiques.

Next up on the stand of Andrew Muir is this Louis Wain ceramic. Years ago I used to collect all things Louis Wain and had several of these futurist / deco ceramic characters; cats, dogs… a pig! but never this handsome fella.

On a similar Marmite-ceramics note, our neighbours at Signed and Designed have an impressive selection of Martin Brothers Grotesque Birds. I’ve always liked these, for similar reasons to Louis Wain’s cat paintings; it’s the character the artists manage to put into the faces. Each one is different, but all have a terrific sense of mischief.

Martin Brothers Grotesque Birds

For the wall, my pick would be this proof linocut “Progress, Road In a Mining Town” by lesser known Grosvenor school artist Ursula Fookes. Although she was exhibited during 1929 – 1931, her works were unknown to members of her family until after her death when a cache of prints, paintings and drawings were discovered in a locked room.

Ursula Fookes Linocut

Ursula Fookes Linocut

The selection of furniture on offer is vast and hugely impressive, not least for the logistics and assembly involved- note the fully operational garden fountain and 7ft carved oak corpus Jesus Christ.

The variety of dealers and stock at this fair makes for a very different vibe to the bookfairs we usually exhibit at. The [relatively] high number of potential customers coming through the doors brings an opportunity to take what we do to a new audience, to inspire new collectors. I know that walking around the fair for the last two days I’ve found numerous items I never knew I wanted!

Our stand is now set up, the vetters are vetting and tomorrow morning at 10am the fair opens to members of the public.


Stand G24

Stand G24


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A Week at Lucius by Polly Moss

This year at school the Head of the Careers department encouraged everyone in my year to take part in a week of work experience after finishing our GCSEs. English and books have always been a great passion of mine, so from the beginning I knew something related to that would be ideal. Luckily I did not have to search too far as my Mum said she knew a family from her work at a school nursery who owned a bookshop that specialised in rare and antique books. I got in touch with James and he and Georgina were kind enough to accept me into the shop for a week following my exams.

I learned a lot of things during my week at Lucius Books about the buying and selling of books and how to judge the value based on the condition of the book. It was a job I knew little about before my week, but one I found to be different to anything I have ever heard of as well as being really interesting.

One of my tasks during the week was to research the life of George Orwell, a topic which was fascinating. I always enjoy learning about the inspiration behind novels, and how the author’s lives affect their writing. Reading about Orwell’s life inspired me to read the works I now knew so much about, and I recently finished reading 1984 (which I found to be extremely eye opening if a little depressing!).

Another highlight of the week for me was a Bonhams auction, in which James was brave enough to let me bid for a couple of items, including one amazing item which after a long and tense battle we won (but am not allowed to say anything more about)!

The week allowed me to learn so much about the antiquarian book business and has opened up a career path to me that I may have never even considered otherwise. I would like to thank James and Georgina once again for giving me the opportunity to help out in the shop, and for their and Monica’s kindness, patience and dozens of cups of green tea throughout the week!

Polly Moss

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