While Sydney-based Horwitz Publications was Australia’s largest pulp publisher, it was not the only one. Cleveland Publishing Company, publisher of today’s Pulp Friday offering, Nurse in Vietnam, was another sizeable operation.
I’ve been able to find out virtually nothing about who was behind Calvert.
All we know about Shauna Marlowe, author of Nurse in Vietnam, is she (if it is actually a woman and not a man writing under a woman’s name) is credited with writing 41 books, nearly all of them for Calvert, from the late fifties to the early seventies.
On one level, Nurse in Vietnam, is just another nurse/doctor romance story (a hugely popular sub-genre of pulp in the fifties and sixties). The nurse in question and a handsome doctor have been captured by Viet Cong rebels. The doctor’s main pre-occupation is not escape but whether she’ll agree to his marriage proposal.
But the publication date, 1965, is significant. A small number of Australian military advisors had been stationed in Vietnam since 1962. We did not start to commit significant ground forces until 1965.
What was the first mainstream Australian novel to tackle the war in Vietnam? Perhaps William Nagle’s The Odd Angry Shot, published in 1975. Nurse in Vietnam shows pulp publishers were onto Vietnam as a setting for fiction straight away.
Pulp publishing was a tough, fast paced industry, far more commercially minded than mainstream publishing at the time. Publishers turned around books quickly to take advantage of the latest tabloid headline or media sensation – sometime in as little as a month.
Pulp authors had to write fast, often using whatever was around as material, which means the books mine rich seams of cultural authenticity and are often dealing with themes mainstream literature would not touch until the early seventies.
Based on our records, it looks as though the first ‘serious’ novel to address the Vietnam War was John Rowe’s Count Your Dead, published by Angus & Robertson in 1968. Subsequent reprints actually labelled it ‘The first novel based on the Vietnam War’. There was also Morris West’s The Ambassador (1965), but that was not about the war, per se, but about the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem.
The only novel about the Vietnam War that we list as preceding Nurse in Vietnam is Dymphna Cusack’s Black Lightning (1964), and the war is somewhat peripheral to the main story there.
There is some poetry around the same period, though. The poets are always quick off the mark.
I have never heard of ‘Count Your Dead’ but I will check it out. There’s another book called The Unforgiven by C.J Cairncross, a thriller about an Australian serviceman who returns from Vietnam and gets embroiled in a life of crime. It was published by Sun Books in 1978, a couple of years after The Odd Angry Shot.
There are two additional nurse novels that I am aware of, both called “Vietnam Nurse,” both published in 1966. One, interestingly, was written by important experimental poet Fanny Howe.