Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Tower of London

Even though I had looked forward to going to the Tower of London for years, I was also dreading it in some ways. One reason is purely practical: I dreaded the crowds. It seems that millions of other people are fascinated by the place. The other reason is philosophical: the dark history of the Tower. So many people were executed here for crimes they did not commit, because they were political prisoners, or because they were scapegoats. The story of Lady Jane Grey is an especially troubling one for me.

But I'm not going to go into an extended discussion of that here. I just want to show you some photos of the place.

The best way to get there is on the Tube. Once you walk out of the Underground, the Tower is right in front of you. Like many things in England, it's a behemouth of 1000 years of history, surrounded by modern buildings and busy expressways.

I had always thought the Tower was much smaller than it was - probably because in the movies you only see shots of the famous White Tower. It's not until you are there that you realize how massive the place really is.

I had bought my ticket online on the advice of someone, thinking that it would help me avoid some of the lines the Tower is famous for. I was there a few minutes before opening and wandered down to the Tower Bridge and took a few photos.

I didn't need to worry about crowds - at least at the beginning of the day. The place was deserted when it first opened.

The Tower originally was built as a residence for the royal family and as a fortress. An exterior wall (the wall on the right) was the first line of defense. Eventually a second wall was built (on the left) so the fortress had two defensive walls that would have to be penetrated in a battle.

One of the first things you see is the famous Traitor's gate, where prisoners, including Elizabeth I during her imprisonment, entered the Tower from the outside. The original Tower had to be entered by boat from the moat that is now filled.

This is the inside courtyard. I asked one of the yeoman where exactly Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were imprisoned during their stays and I was surprised when he told me that no one really knows. They "think" it was the Tudor Style buildings in the back that are now called the Queen's House.

The White Tower is in the middle of the fortress. This is where the Royal Family lived while it was still a residence, and this is also where Queen Elizabeth (a princess at the time) lived during her imprisonment. She didn't have it too rough, apparently; she had all the amenities of royal life including servants that waited on her while she was here.

Part of the White Tower is under scaffolding right now. I asked why; the yeomen said it was because the entire Tower is being cleaned in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics that are coming to London.

You can still go inside the White Tower, but I'm sure it's nothing even remotely close to it's original interior structure. Each floor is basically a shell now with exhibits. Much of the interior is closed while they construct new exhibits, I'm assuming for the Olympic rush.

I wandered inside the Beauchamp Tower where many were imprisoned.

The walls on this upper floor are covered with "graffiti" if that's what you want to call it - creative writings and drawings of those who were imprisoned there for many many years.

Some of the men who were imprisoned here were supporters of Lady Jane Grey.

Interior window

Here's the famous execution site - Tower Green. Apparently only a handful of people were actually executed here - most were executed outside the Tower grounds at public executions that were spectacles. The glass sculpture was erected here as a tribute to the people that had died here - a nice touch, I thought, but I thought the pillow was a little creepy considering how these people died.

The building in the back stores the crown jewels. No pictures are allowed inside that building, obviously.

By the time I was ready to leave, the crowds were starting to arrive, including several dozen school groups. Time for me to leave.

All in all, a very important place to visit and I'm glad I went. I'm also glad I took the time to reflect a little on the people that languished here, some for many years, some tortured for their religious beliefs, others for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It made going to the Tower a little more meaningful for me and not just another visit to a tourist attraction.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The link is here - Laurie's Wild West's mention in True West Mag

I'm going to be downloading some more photos from London in a little while, but in the meantime I wanted to let you all know that Henry Cabot Beck over at True West Magazine sent me the link to the review he wrote on Laurie's Wild West. So if you want to read it, go here.

I'm in the Derby area now, visiting with my friend Joanne Walpole, who writes Black Horse Westerns under the name Terry James. I reviewed her book Long Shadows a few months back. This is the first time I've met Joanne, and like everyone would be in this type of situation, I was a little nervous about whether we'd get along. On the way to her house we passed this fascinating cemetery in town - there's probably one in every British town just like this - and I said "Call me weird, but I want to go to that cemetery." Jo said she loved to go to cemeteries too, and I knew right then that we'd get along just fine.

So that's where we're going today, go to Ilkeston and the market. And tonight we're meeting Steve Myall, owner of the popular blog Western Fiction Review, and his girlfriend Helen for dinner. A full day ahead.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Some London Photos and a Chance Encounter

It's been very cold and rainy here since I arrived on Monday. People have been telling me all week that this is the coldest winter they've had in recent memory and it makes me feel a little better about being such a wimp. It's been raining on and off but it hasn't kept me from spending every spare minute I can outside sightseeing. There have been times when I've been very grateful to get inside a church or a museum, though, not only for the astounding sights they have but for the warmth.

I'm not going to bore you all with a travelogue. But here's some photos from my first few days in London, with a surprise at the end.

The Westminster Abbey is nothing short of astonishing. Besides being an architectural marvel, it's also the site of tombs of the most powerful people in the history of England, including Elizabeth I and her half sister Mary 1, and Mary Queen of Scots. By the time you get to the poet's corner you're in a daze before you realize that you're standing on Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling. Unfortunately they don't allow photos inside, but then it's probably a good thing as I would still be there if they did.

I managed to stumble on the Horse Guards as they were standing at inspection, which they only do at 11 in the morning.

Even though Big Ben has been the icon of London for as long as I can remember, so long that it's almost become a cliche, I was still overjoyed when I first saw it at a distance from Trafalgar Square.

When I get closer, it finally hit me that I was finally back in London after 40 years.

People always say that you get the best photo op of Parliament and Big Ben from across the Thames, but honestly it was so cold that this is as far as I got on the bridge before I turned back.

As I walked on the other end of Saint James Park, Buckingham Palace peeked out from across the way.

But when I looked down the Mall and saw how long it would take me to get to the Palace, I thought...Nah. Not today.

I am SO grateful for these thoughtful little reminders at every cross walk.

My hotel is about 5 blocks away from this place, Kensington Palace, which sits on the west end of Kensington Gardens.

Now here's my chance encounter.

The night before I left for London I got a phone call from my sister Becky.

"I'm calling to confirm your appointment with the Queen," she said when I picked up the phone.

"Very funny. Ha ha." I was very tired and had been trying to get rid of a cold since the day before. I had 24 hours to get ready and wasn't really in the mood to deal with old jokes. We talked for a while about a few things and then hung up. It was nice to hear from her - we don't talk as much as we used to - but I had way too much to do and I promptly forgot about the conversation.

The day before yesterday, I went to the Aldgate area to have lunch with a friend. As I walked up the stairs from the Tube, I noticed there were a lot of policemen standing around on the platform. When I reached the entrance to the station, there were more, and enormous crowds had gathered both on my side of the street and on the other side.

I tried to peek over the crowd and couldn't see what they were looking at.

What's going on, I asked a station employee.

"Oh, the Queen is here!" he said. She was there to inspect the station. (I didn't find out until later the the Aldgate Station had been one of the sites that had been bombed by terrorists in 2005, and seven people had died at the Aldgate Station).

It didn't take me long - about 3 seconds - to get over the shock of the fact that she was there and to go onto paparazzi mode and want to get a photo. Once an opportunist, always an opportunist.

But this is what the crowd looked like from my view.

So I managed to find a spot over on the curb and leaned over as far as I could go. (I didn't push anyone out of the way. Honest). I saw her car...

Then someone opened the door.

And then there she was!

I'd recognize that coat and hat anywhere.

And off she went in her carriage.

Followed by a police Range Rover.

I read the next day that the Queen's Bentley actually broke down shortly after this event and she had to hitch a ride with the Range Rover.

As I left to go meet my friend, I thought of my sister Becky. For once, her joke wasn't far from the truth.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I'm Off

Bon voyage, everyone. I'll be updating when I can with reports and photos.

AIR MAIL, Victory Issue, September 1945

Thanks for all your good wishes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pulps Across the Pond

In celebration of my trip to England tomorrow, here's some history of the pulp fiction magazines sold in the United Kingdom during the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

This post is a joint effort between myself and several members of the PulpMags group, and I have quoted them extensively. I'm not being lazy -- it's because it's 9:00 PM the night before my flight and I'm running out of time.

Many pulps sold in the United Kingdom were reprints from their U.S. counterparts, but the methods in which they were reprinted and the lag time depended on the magazine. They usually appeared about six months after the initial US version was released. They weren't always identical reprints, however. Sometimes a few stories were cut out of the US version, and sometimes a UK version would enclose stories from two different US issues. For example, a UK WEST from December 1942 could enclose several stories from US WEST from May 1942 and maybe one from the April 1942 issue. But some magazines, like BLACK MASK, issued the same stories in both US and UK versions in the same month.

Some United States pulps - printed and meant to be sold originally in the U.S. - WERE sent overseas, but under rather ignomious conditions. They were initially used as ballast in the ships. Once they arrived in the United Kingdom, they were sold in stores like Woolworth's.

Phil Stephenson-Payne gave me the following information:

"The "British editions" were never printed in the US and then shipped over. For a while, in the early days, the US editions were shipped over and then had British prices over-printed, but very rapidly the printing was done in the UK, not least because much of this was happening in the late 1930s and early 1940s when shipping magazines from the US was kinda tricky thanks to this little thing called World War II.

There were several outfits involved in reprinting pulps in the UK, but the most prolific and most important was Atlas Publishing & Distributing who had dozens of pulps from assorted genres. In the Western field this included things like THRILLING WESTERN, and WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE.

For Atlas, at least, the pattern typically ran as follows:

- Direct reprints of the US magazines with the same volume/issue numbering and dates
- Partial reprints of the US magazines with similar dates, but no volume/issue numbering
- Partial reprints of the US magazines with UK-specific volume/issue numbering and dates
- Collections of stories from almost any magazine of the same genre, presented as if part of the same series

The partial reprinting was purely down to paper rationing, which was a serious problem during the War (and for a period afterwards). During WW2 British pulps tended to be 64 pages, while reprinting from US pulps with up to 192 pages at a time.

The sampling from other magazines was for a variety of reasons, not least that many British reprints outlasted the US originals. There were other reasons, though. The BRE (British Reprint Editions) of WEST, for example, was running on a fortnightly schedule at a time when the US version was publishing twice a month, so twice a year there was no issue to reprint from and they tended to print stories from SHORT STORIES or similar."



SHORT STORIES, Summer 1927

G MEN DETECTIVE October 1941


Ted White writes: "What I find fascinating are the covers. At first these appear to be slightly cheap reprints of the original covers, but close and repeated examinations have proven them to be *repainted* covers. That is, a British artist, with the US original magazine in front of him, has painted *a copy* of its cover painting. Often they are very close to the originals, but there are always tell-tale clues. There has been a lot of speculation over why this was done, without a definitive answer."

I managed to find a DETECTIVE STORY from 1941 - this was issued in both countries in December 1941. Take a look at these two covers. Are they the same? (This would be a great example of those puzzles where you're supposed to "Find the 10 things that are different between these two covers.") If you're going by the artist's signature, both have the signature of the artist, Modest Stein (who did a lot of work for LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, by the way). But his signature is a different color on the UK cover. Plus there are other subtle differences. Is this the same cover, or was it redone in the manner Ted is talking about?

BLACK MASK MAGAZINE published many of the same stories in both their US and UK issues in the same month. But that wasn't always the case. This Black Mask from July 1946 consisted of reprints from the February 1946 Black Mask. The U.S. July 1946 version, with a cover by Rafael DeSoto, is below the UK cover.

There were also many titles (often one-shots) that were unique to the UK but were reprints from US pulps, such as AMERICAN WESTERN MAGAZINE below, which consisted of stories that were originally printed in various months of 1948 in MAMMOTH WESTERN.

Some UK pulps, although having identical titles as US pulps, were not related at all. An example is COWBOY STORIES; the top on is the US version, the bottom the UK version.

COWBOY STORIES, November 1933


It appears that science fiction and supernatural magazines, including WEIRD TALES, were quite popular.

WEIRD TALES, January 1954




UNKNOWN December 1940




There were also numerous Western pulps, and in closing I'd like to give you some covers. Happy trails, everyone.


WEST November 1931


RANGER RIDERS March-April 1960

TEXAS RANGERS February 1946


Other Links:
Index to British Popular Fiction Magazines, 1880-1950

British Juvenile Story Papers and Pocket Libraries Index

According to Rob Preston, "there is a legion of original titles that are covered in detail in Mike Ashley, The Age of the Storytellers: British Popular Fiction Magazines, 1880-1950. Just a few of the titles were: The Premier Magazine, The Grand Magazine, The Red Magazine, The New Magazine, and The Story-Teller."

I am indebted to Ted White, Phil Stephenson-Payne, Will Murray, and Rob Preston. If you're interested in pulp fiction magazines and haven't joined PulpMags yet, you don't know what you're missing. Here's an earlier post I did on PulpMags if you want more information.

Many thanks to the Fiction Mags Index for information on the contents of many of these magazines and for the cover scans.