A.M.Burrage and Dorothy L. Sayers

I’ve set myself the task of discovering more about A.M.Burrage, prolific short-story writer and pseudonymous author of War is War (1930)

Yesterday I paid a visit to the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, to look at some documents in their Victor Gollancz archive, and these turned out to be quite enlightening.

The Gollancz contract ledger gives some basic commercial details for War is War. For a start, the author is down in the ledger as “A.McLelland Burrage Ex Private X” – so the authorship was no secret from his publisher. The advance was a generous £200 on receipt of manuscript, which presumably shows Gollancz’s high expectations for the book during the “war books boom” of the late twenties/early thirties. As a comparison, in the same year Bernard Newman’s alternative history The Cavalry Went Through was given an advance of only £50, on publication. Dorothy Sayers was given £150 advance for Strong Poison, but more generous royalty terms (15% for the first 5000, and thereafter 20%, which is pretty good.)

In a 1931 letter to Dorothy Sayers, Burrage says ruefully that War is War “promised to be a great success, but was only a moderate one” so Gollancz’s optimism about its prospects were not fulfilled.

The letter to Sayers is part of the correspondence about her ghost and horror anthologies, which included some stories by Burrage. The archive contains letters to and from a large number of authors, and I only looked at the BRO-CLO folder, but that was interesting enough to make me want to go back and look at more.

The correspondence between Sayers and Burrage starts off as merely business, but Burrage knew Atherton Fleming, her husband, “whom I hope to encounter soon in one of the Fleet Street tea-shops.” Tea-shop being a euphemism for pub – both Fleming and Burrage were drinkers on a scale that became problematic. Later letters are very revealing about Burrage’s health and financial desperation. I won’t give the details now, but in a week or two I hope to post a mini-biography of Burrage, which will quote them extensively. (Meanwhile, if anyone knows good sources for his life, or any interesting snippets, please let me know.) In her replies, DLS comes across as very sympatheitic. She clearly enjoyed Burrage’s writing – especially what he called his “‘orrible” stories.

Burrage seemed very happy with the £3.3.0. reprint fee offered for inclusion of “The Room over the Kitchen” in Sayers’s first anthology. Other authors with correspondence in that BRO-CLO folder are less amenable. A request to John Buchan for permission to include “No Man’s Land” produced a stony reply from a secretary:

Colonel Buchan asks me to say, in reply to your letter of 4th may, that he does not like his stories to appear in collections. He is therefore afraid he must refuse your kind proposal.

Buchan, of course, is replying from a height of literary status and financial security that Burrage could only dream of.

G.K.Chesterton’s secretary first asked for £10.10.0 per story, and then wanted a share of the royalties, but was persuaded down to £5.5.0.

Agatha Christie was the hardest author for Sayers to net (for a detective anthology, not a ghost one). Her agent demanded £20 for the reprint rights for “The Cheap Flat”, saying this was at the insistence of the original publisher (John Lane). Sayers replied mentioning “the much more reasonable demands made by such writers as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mr H.G.Wells, and their agents.” She was offered another story which she did not much like for £10.10.0 , and finally they settled on “The Adventure of the Clapham Cook” for that sum. In 1931, Christie was at the height of her fame (and would stay there) and could obviously name her own price.

You probably need to mutiply the sums mentioned by about 50 to get an idea of a modern equivalent.

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