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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Peter Crowther: Americanophile

“Somewhere on the windswept east coast of Yorkshire there’s a mind so steeped in the idioms and lore of American pop culture that it all but constitutes a 51st state.  The mind belongs to Peter Crowther, and at the heart of its multifarious, ever-churning swirl are the picket-fence stylings of Rockwell, the folksy profanity of King, the deadpan gravitas of Serling, and the madcap irreverence of Bunny (Bugs).”
--James Lovegrove

Remember that movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”?  We utilized all three during this year's trip to England.  All those trips proved enjoyable in their own way, but our ride on the tube from Heathrow Airport to Victoria Station proved particularly memorable.  For my wife and I fell into conversation with a English gentleman from London who, it seemed, was as fascinated by American culture as we are by his own.  He shared with us his experiences during his recent trip to New York, and expressed a desire to drive Route 66, see Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, and visit “Big Sewer.”  

After a few repetitions of the latter term, we finally realized that he meant “Big Sur," a scenic spot along the California coast, just a little south of Monterey and Carmel.  

We shared with him about our trip last year to Yorkshire, and when we mentioned Holmfirth, he didn’t recognize the town. But when we mentioned that it was where “Last of the Summer Wine” was filmed, he nodded in recognition.  Of course, he knew of the show, as it’s the longest-running comedy series in British TV history (if not the world).  But try as he might, he had just never gotten the humor of the show.  For him, the series employed a form of Northern humor which he simply didn’t understand, and he found it interesting that we, not being British, and much farther removed from Yorkshire, should understand it and enjoy it, when he himself could not.

At the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, I compared the membership list with the authors of the books we received at registration, and took the books that matched to the mass signing evening event.  For some reason, I missed Peter Crowther’s name on the list, or perhaps our copy of Darkness, Darkness hid somewhere in our room during the process.  But, along with the books I had for the attending authors to sign, we also took our convention book, which had an autographs page.  After waiting in line for several authors whose books we had read, I suddenly found myself standing near Peter Crowther.  

No one stood before him at that moment.  Peter Crowther looked at me. I looked at him.  Of course, I recognized his name.  Feeling somewhat guilty, as I had not read any of his stories to that point, I sheepishly asked if he would sign my book.  He did so.  Somehow, in that brief moment, I glimpsed a little of myself in him, or at least qualities I admire.  Quiet repose.  Satisfaction with his place in the world, without the need to trumpet his triumphs.  Generosity of spirit.  Kindness.  And, dare I say it?  He just seemed like a proper English gentleman. 

It’s dangerous to attribute qualities to a person you don’t know, but somehow, that brief moment in his company made me want to read something he had written.  I saw him several times over the course of the weekend, usually in the restaurant at breakfast, and each time, my observations only reinforced my initial assessment of his character.  So imagine my surprise when I later realized that I had received one of his books.  Imagine my delight at realizing that I possessed a book by someone who had impressed me.

Darkness, Darkness is worthy of the all the praise heaped upon it by other noteworthy authors at the beginning of the book.  Not only have readers found Peter Crowther's books enjoyable, but many of his stories have been adapted to TV.  He’s also noteworthy as a publisher, having started PS Publishing fifteen years ago, a firm which now publishes 30-40 books annually.  I’m glad I finally got around to reading one of his stories, and meeting a man who has become a driving force in the British Science Fiction and Fantasy genre.  It was also nice to meet someone, even briefly, who appears to be as fascinated by American culture as I am by his own. 

Darkness, Darkness is heaped with aspects of American culture that sucked me into the story, from the Marlboros the characters smoke, the Juicy Fruit gum they chew, the DeSoto trucks they drive and the Cameros that fly (Yes, fly!), to the names of the musicians the radio DJ Melanie plays, such as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams.  Now, if only Crowther had set his story along Route 66.  Or better yet, somewhere near “Big Sewer.”  (Or, if you prefer, “Big Sur”).   I can think of another English gentleman who might have enjoyed reading it, even if it was written by a Northerner.

Dragon Dave

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