Category Archives: Carter Brown

Interview: Australian pulp fiction historian Toni Johnson Woods

Dr Toni Johnson Woods is someone I’ve been keen to interview on this blog for a while now.

A Research Fellow at University of Queensland, she is passionate about Australian books. Not just capital ‘L’ literature, but the local mass produced pulp fiction of the forties, fifties and early sixties, the existence of which has all but disappeared from our collective cultural memory.

Her commitment to the cause of local pulp includes having listened to hours of popular radio serials (Carter Brown Mystery Theatre and Larry Kent’s I Hate Crime), scanned thousands of pulp fiction covers and read every nearly all 300 Carter Brown novels.

She very generously agreed to answer the following questions about her work by e-mail.

What attracted you to researching pulp fiction in the first place? 

One very unremarkable day I was chatting with colleagues in the tearoom. As you can imagine our conversations are very lofty – not.  I asked the most basic question: who is Australia’s most popular author.

Well, we batted that around for several minutes arguing about what “popular” means, i.e. best selling, most widely read, most known author.  All of these things are not the same. The discussion then turned to what is an Australian author, i.e. someone who was born in Australia?… Read more

Australia’s other lost literary heritage

There’s been a bit of discussion in literary circles recently about whether enough is being done to maintain the public’s interest in the classics of Australian literature. To my surprise it’s a debate I’ve only been able to drum up half-hearted enthusiasm for.

The catalyst was an article by Text Publisher Michael Heyward in late January, in which he criticised journalists, cultural commentators and university academics for failing to create an enduring tradition for appreciating and teaching Australian literature. He singled out universities in particular for the lack of courses about Australian writing.

Perhaps in response, the latest program put out by the Wheeler Centre includes a series of talks called Literature 101, in which contemporary writers talk about classic Australian texts.

You won’t get an argument from me about the importance of Australian literature in building our individual and collective sense of historical self. I also agree universities are failing to teach Australian literature, although I think the problem lies less in any wilful neglect on the part of academics than in the gradual privatisation of our higher education system. Persistent federal government underfunding has squeezed course diversity in favour of subjects that generate income, particularly full fee income. Australian literature is not Robinson Crusoe in this regard. Try studying ancient history or the language of a country that is not one of our major trading partners, and you’ll get the picture.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Triple Shot of Carter Brown

“A cold corpse becomes a hot assignment to curvy blonde, Mavis Seidlitz.”  

Today’s Pulp Friday is a triple shot of covers from one of my late father’s favourite pulp authors, Carter Brown.

Carter Brown AKA Alan Geoffrey Yates was a Australian-British author who wrote a massive 317 novels in a career that spanned from 1958-1985. Tens of millions of these were sold all over the anglo world.

Most of his stories were crime, although at the beginning of his career he also wrote horror and Westerns under the alias Tex Conrad. His books were published in Australia by Horwitz and in the US by Signet.

Cops and private investigators were his staple characters, the stories a mixture of sex and action, leavened with a bit of tough guy humour. The writing’s not brilliant, but, hey, that’s no surprise given how fast he churned books out.

His first Horwitz contract stipulated two novellas and one full length novel a month. He could write as much as 40,000 words overnight, reputedly with the assistance of Dexedrine which he used to stay awake for periods of up to 48 hours.

As was common practice on the part of Australian pulp writers in the fifties and sixties, all of his books were set in the United States.… Read more

Books my father read

 

July 24 was the fourth anniversary of the death of my father, William Nette.

He died peacefully in hospital on the Queensland Gold Coast, where he had retired with my mother many years earlier. He was 86.

William Nette, Papua New Guinea, 1942

Like many father-son relationships, we didn’t always get on. That’s putting it mildly. But he brought a lot of positive influences to my life.

He turned me onto the joy of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey and Dave Brubeck. He had a large collection of 78s wrapped in brown paper that he’d secreted out of Papua New Guinea, where he was an armed forces disc jockey during the war, along with cartons of cigarettes he later sold in Australia.

Only recently have I realised he’s also responsible for much of the delight I find in reading and my particular fondness of crime fiction.

I remember the pivotal moment quite clearly. I was thirteen. He came home from work one day and, to my complete horror, announced he was withholding my allowance until I started reading books (comics, which I loved, didn’t count).

He set the first two books, Robertson Crusoe, followed by Treasure Island. They were heavy looking volumes with no pictures that had belonged to my father when he was a boy.… Read more

The dying trade? Private investigators in Australian crime fiction

In the 1940s and 50s, some of the biggest names in Australian fiction were authors unknown today. People such as Gordon Clive Bleeck, Carter Brown, Don Haring and KT McCall were the leading lights of a huge local pulp fiction industry. It produced countless cheap westerns, science fiction and above all crime novels, printed cheaply with lurid covers and sold at news-stands on the street and in train stations. This piece was originally commissioned by the Wheeler Center and appeared on their website here.

In 1938, the federal government decided to levy foreign print publications. As a result of this decision, local publishing houses sprang up to fill the void, releasing hundreds of novels a month, including Westerns, racing and boxing stories, science fiction and crime. Hard-boiled and not so hard-boiled PIs became a standard feature of the pulp crime scene that flourished in Australia for two decades thereafter.

The authors are unknown today, despite some selling in the millions in Australia and abroad. Gordon Clive Bleeck wrote over 200 novels, including PI stories, while working full time for NSW Railroads. Carter Brown, the alias of UK immigrant Alan G Yates, is associated with nearly 300 titles.

Starting off as a hugely popular radio program on the Macquarie Network, the PI Larry Kent inspired a series of novels by Don Haring, an American who lived in Australia or a time, and Queenslander Des R Dunn.… Read more