Stephen Southwold, the forgotten SF pioneer

Stephen Southwold, aka Neil Bell-one of our alumni that made career of being a novelist. But this one is special to me and it will soon be clear to you why.

He had no stomach for the Marjon as it was in 1905-1907. The stern discipline and the monastic isolation was hard on him and who can blame a creative soul to rebel against that? Yet he apparently did pretty well, especially in French.

He is one of those writers that were quite prolific in their time, but now fell into obscurity. And I don’t mean one that can be bought 10p a dozen. I am talking worldofrarebooks.com obscure with ebay only having his collection of stories circulating among hardened bibliophiles. And it is a shame, as he was writing a lot and in variety of genres, including fantasy, speculative- and science-fiction, all at the time where these genres were just being developed. It would be good to see his name next to Gernsback, Campbell, Zamyatin and Čapek. And I’m stopping right there before you’d get a lecture on the history of SF that you never asked for.:-)

What we have of him, next to one of his (now rare) books, are the letters he wrote to one of his friends. There is something very personal about letters, even when they are not addressed to you. It feels like this man, dead for so many years, still speaks to you somehow.

He writes a lot about his creative process and the issues around the world of publishing of his time.How he tried to gather material for a war book, but only rumours so he can write a speculative account of a war that did not happen yet. He writes about troubles with his publisher, saying that he was the only person that didn’t like his new book and how the epistolary novel fell out of favour yet again. Or how he seems to have a quirky fondness for the name ‘Esteban’ naming thus another of his characters. I wish I had read his letters when I was still a creative writing student, plenty of good research material there.

So Stephen, Mr Sci-Fi Writer from the past, do you have anything else to say to your colleague from the present?

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