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Caerlaverock

If you have any old manuscripts in your GNS collection, chances are that some of them will have the daunting and mysterious word 'Caerlaverock' typed or stamped in the bottom right corner of the front page. When you realise that Guy regularly visited the Solway Firth on wildfowling expeditions, it is hardly surprising that Caerlaverock, the name of the castle on its north bank, became the name of Guy's house in Tamworth before he moved to the Black Hill. But, like the Black Hill, it wasn't content to be just the name of his home and consequently doubled as his first mail order book catalogue.

The Caerlaverock List was issued monthly from January 1973, giving Guy a possible escape route from the world of banking, and dealt mainly with the reading matter that he was reading himself: the boys' papers, early annuals and adventure novels that he described in Book and Magazine Collector as "the finest 'text books' I could have consulted." Early issues are not particularly interesting, even to GNS afficionados, but in and amongst the long lists of novels by Edgar Wallace or Frank Richards and issue numbers of Adventure, Champion or Hotspur, there are still fascinating items to be found, like these:

Apart from selling, Guy was also replacing the boyhood collection that his mother had given to a local church sale, making the venture less financially rewarding perhaps than it should have been. But though Guy was not averse to a little extra cash, his main objective was to get enjoyment out of his project in a way that he certainly was not doing as a member of the banking profession. In issue 18, he wrote that it 'is not intended as a profit-making magazine. Indeed it is rather like the official organ of an exclusive fan-club. My own reward is the handling of many of the old papers, and a chance to add to my own collection.' Therefore in some ways it seems to have become something of a prototype Graveyard Rendezvous.

But we're jumping the gun - our story really begins with the issue numbered 13, when The Caerlaverock List became simply Caerlaverock, and Guy 'tried to make a more interesting publication than just a sales list.' He did this by adding short stories, editorial comment and a small ad section - at a penny a word!

The first piece of fiction featured, perhaps inevitably for Guy, was a horror story. The Sculptor is an unusual tale of 'the loneliest man in town', tombstone inscriber Rowland Jocelyn, and the strange method he uses to get close to the object of his heart's desire: Rosemary Chard, the new girl at his local cigarette kiosk. It contains a vicious twist in the tale and ranks high up the list of Guy's short genre fiction.

Guy doesn't recall The Sculptor or his other Caerlaverock stories, but thinks they may have been reprints from The Tettenhall Observer. There is a very real possibility of this given some awkward uses of language; but if so, it isn't surprising that he was published so often at a young age.

Easily the worst story featured in Caerlaverock was issue 14's Bront, a technically nonsensical but still interesting science fiction yarn of a future man who finds a baby brontosaurus; and SF featured again in the next issue with The Parallel. Far better than Bront, this is a politically-tinged story about an idealistic man who creates his own dream England on a distant planet. By this time, Guy's ideas of 'the fore-runner of a magazine' were gradually being achieved, and the same issue featured a second story, a gentle ghost story called Dreamboat that carries a ring of authenticity.

In that issue's editorial, Guy points out that with his stories, he was trying 'over the months, to cater for each type of reader and collector.' As an avid collector of old boys' papers, it was inevitable that he wrote 'something which will appeal to the many OBB's fans' and this duly appeared in issue 16.

Easily the longest tale to grace the pages of Caerlaverock until the 21 part serial of The Secret of Roman Valley, World Cup Valley is an extremely unlikely but fun yarn mixing war, football and, of course, plenty of action. Our hero is Buster Bryan, a sports detective, who has been called in to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a number of international football players. Naturally he soon discovers them in a remote Welsh valley competing in a pseudo-World Cup competition for the benefit of a raving mad ex-president of the Football Association!

And if that level of escapist fiction wasn't enough, the burgeoning small ads section at the back contained a wants list from one David Baddiel. As issue 16 can be dated at about Autumn 1975, could 'the young collector of ten' now be the major media star of thirty-five?

Issue 17 marked a couple of milestones for Caerlaverock. For one, the inside cover carried an advert for a landmark book: Werewolf by Moonlight, Guy's first horror novel. It also began carrying an annual subscription instead of being distributed free of charge. And it was the first issue to carry fiction by other hands, a policy which Guy had intended to last much longer than the eventual three issues that it managed.

Mimi Pearson and Ronald Deacon were honoured first; Pearson's poetry has its moments and Deacon's science fiction is deeply pessimistic with an obvious twist. Issue 18 is a great improvement, especially with the presence of David H Taylor. Taylor, who also advertised his Nebula 5 magazine, took his turn with a superb story of black humour, A Matter of Policy; and Andrew Darlington's Jet Setting with Mr J is a decent poem, though with a strange title that suggests an unexplained in joke.

Andy Darlington is a well-known writer of articles and fiction for small press publications, and he even interviewed Guy for the second issue of SF Spectrum Extra. He remembers Caerlaverock, 'with a certain affection,' and, in typically lyrical style, says that it 'brought back all manner of bizarre memories in flashes from the archives of oblivion.' He also admires Guy's work in general, especially 'his ability to identify a niche in the market and write strong plot-centred fiction exactly tailored to its requirements. That's a singular ability and not one to underestimate.' I would agree heartily.

Looking ever forward, Guy expanded his contents again with the inclusion of letters, often dealing with collectors' problems. A letter in issue 20 points out that Ronald Deacon, writer of Visit to a Strange Planet, was published in Operation Fantast in the 1940s and early '50s, so Guy was working with published authors as well as newcomers.

Andy Darlington appeared again in the Christmas issue with yet another science fiction story. For a magazine that mainly sold old boys' papers, it is surprising to find SF appearing more frequently than any other genre. Though Andy says that 'my pieces were early efforts. I've done much better since', his logical story of first contact that holds a savage twist is easily the best SF story to feature in Caerlaverock. In a subtle way, it says far more about humanity than Deacon's obvious tirade.

Only three issues after the 'big change' of issue 17, Caerlaverock underwent another. Out went the contributions from other authors, and in came Raymond Odell and The Secret of Roman Valley. Odell was Guy's answer to Sexton Blake and Roman Valley was the only collaborative work he has yet put his name to: a long serial written with his mother.

Raymond Odell was a character with a history. Back in the 1920s, Scots publishers DC Thomson created Dixon Hawke, a detective to rival the successful Fleetway copyright Sexton Blake. Guy naturally read both and ended up writing a few Dixon Hawke stories for publication. Then Thomson's chief fiction editor invited him to afternoon tea to persuade him to keep writing Hawke. Thinking that he would be their only writer, Guy was surprised to have only a mere third of his work accepted. He later found out that there were plenty of writers at work giving them a broad base to choose from.

With only one in three stories published, Guy was building up quite a slush pile; but with typical inventiveness, he soon found a way round the problem. Noticing from correspondence that Thomson's fiction editors changed frequently and that stories were rejected for little or no reason, he assumed that he was dealing with a training job within the company. So whenever he noticed a change, he resubmitted rejected stories under a different title; often selling them at the second or third attempt! Over the years, he worked his way down the pile until there were just a few stories left.

So, Hawke became Raymond Odell and his assistant Tommy Burke became Tommy Bourne. Odell, with Guy's trademark pipe, first appeared in Thing and the Danish publication Sejd, but soon filled space in Caerlaverock too. Issue 20 carried an introductory story, The Making of a Detective, and at least another five stories appeared. Guy proves he is at home with the format and injects a good sense of humour; in The Making of a Detective, Bourne's employer tears a strip off him: 'All you can think about is reading those penny dreadfuls - Sexton Blake, Dixon Hawke, bah! What a load of rubbish you waste your time on!'

Smugglers, poisoners, stranglers,


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