MICHAEL S COLLINS shines a light on Rosemary Timperley, a forgotten English horror/ghost writer who deserves more attention that she gets….
Whenever I am editing another writers work, I try and compare their style to a more famous writer. Nearly every writer can be compared to another and, as long as they are being their own person (and not trying to copy their hero) there is nothing wrong with this. What is wrong, however, is when one of the genre greats gets forgotten. Recently, I compared a brilliant writer to Rosemary Timperley in style. They had never heard of her.
It is not uncommon for writers to fall out of fame after their death. It seems like only yesterday that you could walk into any charity shop in the country and see never ending shelves of David Eddings work, for example. It is however, a sad case when even fans of the genre forget one of the great contemporary horror writers. Doubly so, to be frank, as Rosemary Timperley was a brilliant female horror writer, and they seem to be forgotten even easier than their male counterparts are by society. See the Brontes and Shelley still being the go to media example, even today.
Timperley, a writer with fans as varied as Roald Dahl and Mary Danby, was a school teacher. Her first stories were published in the 1940s and 1950s (Harry being a favourite of that time often republished in anthologies). She was born in 1920, died in 1988, married and divorced, smoked a lot, travelled even more. Her life is recalled in deep brush strokes, as she preferred to keep herself out of the limelight and let the stories do their own talking. We do know that her work as a teacher gave her a rare and unique insight into realistic fictional children, and that a lengthy stay in hospital in 1964 inspired many of her tales. That the vividness of, say, Masks and Voices, suggests a writer who had seen these areas of the world first hand. After all, this was the 1970s, you couldn’t just bring up Guyana on Streetview!
Masks and Voices has a form of haunting which so inspired the great R Chetwnyd-Hayes, he admitted jealousy at not coming up with it first. We are never hidden from the fact that Kate Lethem has bumped off her own husband, yet in a world of abusive husbands and lecherous dance partners, she remains by far the most vulnerable and sympathetic character. Hers is a killing in self-defence, after years of abuse, and yet the husband is as unyielding in death. Rosemary Timperley is a writer forever in tune with society and its treatment of women, and if she brings her ghosts into it, they are as much part of that societal divide as the living. Alas, Kate’s head is never free of his pernicious nature, and the voices that speak to her, thousands of miles from London. She is doomed. It is Timperley’s nastiest work, but one in which her heart is certainly on her sleeve.
Stella is another great tale, which manages to mix 1970s terrorist bombings with a metaphorical trip down the river Styx. It’s just as well for our main character that Stella was on the train. The Sinister Schoolmaster highlights Timperley’s school knowledge and her use of wit. Despite presenting horrific stories, and told by a proto-feminist POV mostly, Timperley is also very funny. Usually right at the moment of horrible things happening, her black humour shines through. In this way, she is much like her contemporary Muriel Spark – and yes, every writer can be compared to another!
It is a crying shame that a writer so in demand by the greatest anthologists of her age has fallen from fame so drastically. When she died, not a single newspaper posted an obituary! If you can find her work, and the www.isfdb.org website brings up a number of collections in which the odd story can be found, then she is well worth a read. (You can check out her entry here.) And this brings up the final injustice. Nowadays, every two bit writer has an anthology of their stories published. Hell, even yours truly has an anthology out there (By the Dying Tree, for those curious!). Rosemary Timperley, the great female horror writer of the 20th Century, does not have a single anthology collection of her own work. Many of her own characters seem based on her own travails, vices and wanderlust. It is however the greatest shame that in her death, she has been as forgotten as one of her own female characters.