A collection of short non-fiction pieces peripherally connected with the television series of the same name (exploring similar territory and themes), these first appeared in the later part of the ‘70s. JTS was best known for his Sexton Blake stories and for his comic novels that together in a culture that tends to look down on pulp and comedy has done much to mask the author’s considerable talent.
I have written before, of his fiction, what a superb craftsman he was and this is evident just as much in his non-fiction. Economical, highly literate without once putting this talent before the subject matter, and always accessible without ever making any concessions. You have to engage with his writing – he has put in a lot of work and rightly expects readers to do the same.
And the result is a witty journey through his world. It is sometimes honest, sometimes heartbreaking, and there are times you want to kick his shin, but it is never less than entertaining and thoughtful. You cannot help but think how these things (love, work, family, and the absurdities of modern life) apply to one’s self.
And for writers it is also a journey into the experience of the majority of those who graft away at a keyboard. It is all too easy, if you read the literary pages of the papers, to assume that writers live privileged and refined lives, pulling in the dosh whilst doing an easy job in pleasant surroundings. The parties, the erudite chatter, the big fat royalty cheques.
Read this book and you’ll find out what it is really like. The hard slog writing, the hard slog selling, royalty cheques not worth the paper they are printed, living in cheap, rented accommodation; not to mention the strain on relationships (or the sheer luck of finding a partner who puts up with the depressions, moods, the need to tiptoe quietly when creativity is in full flow). It’s all there. Not exactly a coherent treatise on the writing life, but the writing life is anything but coherent.
Over it all, there is one impression it is difficult not to come away with. No matter how annoying JTS may have been at times, now matter what his faults (to which he readily admits), no matter how surreal the writing and his vision of the world, you cannot help but feel the real warmth of the man.