In the best publisher/author relationships both work together as a team, towards the shared goal of making the book as good as it can be, and introducing it to as wide a readership as possible. This collaborative process is certainly something I appreciate as a publisher. But in the case of reissuing the novels of authors who are no longer with us, I have to find a different approach to connect readers with the work. Obviously (and sadly), I can’t liaise with my authors over the content of blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, or set up interviews and guest posts. Instead, I do my own research into the writers’ lives and careers, and find ways to share my knowledge, and enthusiasm, with the reading public. This has been my recent experience while publishing reissues of two novels, The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin, and Lily’s Daughter by Diana Raymond.
Catherine Gaskin became a bestselling novelist at the age of just seventeen. She was known as the ‘Queen of Storytellers’ and sold more than 40 million copies of her novels during her lifetime. I was introduced to her books in my teenage years; their covers were a familiar sight in my family home, and those of my grandmothers. When the author died in 2009, she left the copyright in her novels to the UK’s Society of Authors, and happily Corazon Books has a license to publish the first eBook version of her work. The Property of a Gentleman is the story of Jo Roswell, a young antiques expert, who uncovers long-held family secrets while staying at the remote ancestral home of the Earl of Askew, in England’s wild Lake District.
Although many people remember Catherine Gaskin’s books, I also wished to introduce her great storytelling to a new generation of readers. To this end, I decided to create a dedicated website for the author. I also wanted to write articles and blog posts, and give talks, about her. But in order to do this properly, I needed to find out more about Catherine Gaskin’s life myself.
My first step in researching the author was to listen to a lengthy interview she gave on a BBC radio programme in 1980. Each week on Desert Island Discs (broadcast since 1942), the interviewee selects which eight pieces of music they would take with them if stranded on a desert island. In between the music they talk about their lives and careers. Many archival recordings are available on the BBC website, and this was a wonderful opportunity to hear Catherine Gaskin in her own words. It also meant that I could verify certain facts ‒ such as that she really had met her future husband on a blind date!
My next stop was Westminster Reference Library in central London. Because Catherine Gaskin’s career spanned five decades, there is a lot of information available about her in newspaper and magazine archives. I spent many afternoons tracing the author’s progress from her early literary success in 1946; reading articles, interviews and reviews. I also followed (online, at least) the well-traveled author’s journey through all of the places she called home during her life; from Ireland to Australia, then England, followed by the USA, the British Virgin Islands, Ireland again, the Isle of Man and finally a return to Sydney, Australia.
Diana Raymond, who coincidentally also died in 2009, was the author of 24 novels. My discovery of her writing came about quite differently. The author’s daughter-in-law lent a copy of Lily’s Daughter to my mother, who then recommended it to me. I loved it, and immediately began to make inquiries about gaining the rights to bring the work back to public attention. Lily’s Daughter tells the coming-of-age story of seventeen-year-old Jessica Mayne, in 1930s England. The novel is essentially a reflection on love and loss; throughout this poignant tale, the Great War echoes as the threat of the Second World War approaches.
Having direct contact with Diana Raymond’s family means I can ask questions of people who knew her, and double-check facts about her life. I was very fortunate, and honored, to read a copy of Diana Raymond’s unpublished private memoir, Are We Nearly There? This gave me a deeper insight into the author, and also revealed many similarities between her and the character of Jessica Mayne.
Diana Raymond was born during the First World War, and like many children of her generation (and Jessica Mayne), she lost her father to the fighting. This loss was felt throughout the life of both the author and protagonist of Lily’s Daughter. I was compelled to research these unique experiences further. Back at Westminster Reference Library, I read newspaper articles about the plight of orphans in the aftermath of the Great War, and about the charities that were established to help them.
Before and during the Second World War, Diana Raymond worked for the British Government. She was married in 1940 (to the acclaimed novelist Ernest Raymond), and their young son was evacuated when the enemy bombing of London began. Ernest volunteered for the Home Guard, the civil defense force, and the couple witnessed air raids from their home. All of these fascinating details led me to do further research for articles about Diana. I learned more about the British home front and civilians’ experiences of the war.
Researching both authors has been an engrossing and rewarding experience. Not only have I improved my own general knowledge, I am more passionate than ever about the writing of these two talented authors, and about spreading the word to other readers.
Read more at www.catherinegaskin.com and www.lilysdaughter.com