Ten questions for Colin Stanley, on the genesis of his Paupers’ Press, collecting CW, and taking on the large task of the Wilson bibliography. Thanks to Colin for answering the questions.
1. Colin, your “aptly named” Paupers’ Press imprint has produced a lot of interesting titles but you’re best known as Colin Wilson’s bibliographer. How did you first get interested in Wilson’s work?
• Aptly named indeed! Paupers’ has been in existence since 1983 and hasn’t made a penny. Any profits are immediately ploughed back into producing more titles (some more commercially successful than others). Basically, if I find the subject of a manuscript interesting I will publish it. Sometimes this risk pays off as with the titles I have published by Bernie C. Byrnes on Ian McEwan’s work. The first, Sex and Sexuality in Ian McEwan’s Work, appeared in 1995 since when McEwan studies have taken off. Her series of books and booklets on his work now outsell even the Colin Wilson titles I produce.
I discovered Colin’s work by accident (as I describe in my essay ‘The Reluctant Librarian’ reprinted in CW Study #2) idly spinning a rack of paperbacks in an Exeter bookshop in 1970. I was confronted by Ritual In the Dark and never looked back! I’ve re-read it several times since and still consider it to be an important post-war British novel; unjustly ignored by the English literary establishment. This was not the case on the Continent, however, where it was highly praised when published in French translation by Gallimard in 1962.
2. Despite all the usual cheap shots in the press, Wilson is read widely, and enjoyed by many. Were you initially aware of his critical ‘reputation’? I only ask as I wasn’t at first, and it seems like his most responsive readers come to the work without any preconceptions.
• I was not initially aware of his critical reputation. I judged him purely on the work. I think that you are right when you say that his most responsive readers come to the work without preconceptions. It is, however, extremely ironic that, without ever adopting his existential criticism, critics have (superficially, at least) used it against him by assessing the man first and then his work, totally ignoring the most important tenet of EC: what does the writer have to say about the meaning of life. The word ‘autodidact’ is often applied to him, derogatively, in reviews (it even cropped-up in the TLS review of Adrift In Soho two weeks ago!) revealing that, even today, there is still a snobbishness among academically trained critics and seemingly a genuine need for them to belittle those who are clearly more intelligent than them but lack a university education.
3. Wilson’s work is vast and disparate; thanks to your efforts, to Howard Dossor’s book (and Colin’s own Essential CW), it’s a bit more manageable and understandable. But it must have been hard to find all of those editions, especially before the Internet?
• I have only started seriously collecting Colin’s work in the last 10 years. My enthusiasm for collecting was fuelled by several visits from the Australian Wilson scholar Howard Dossor to our home in the mid-1980s. A more avid and indomitable collector I have yet to meet! I have very fond memories of scouring the English countryside looking in bookshops, libraries, newspaper archives etc for Wilson-related material with Howard. We also went to interview Tom Greenwell and Dan Farson together. But Gail and I were struggling to raise a young family, and money was very tight, so my collection, such as it was, did not really occupy much space in the house. When the children left home, and we moved to a smaller house, money became available to expand the collection. Acquiring some of the more obscure items has meant that new editions of the bibliography have featured much more detailed annotations.
Yes, the internet has revolutionised the second-hand book trade. Buying out-of-print books used to be a very hit-and-miss affair. If you wanted something specific you went to a bookseller who advertised a book-finding service. If you were lucky, after about six months, he might find a copy…but at a price! Now it’s so easy and the prices (except for the really sought-after titles) have been driven right down. So most of my collecting has been done with the aid of the internet. Howard, however, did most of his the hard way!
4. Paupers’ have produced many volumes in the Colin Wilson Studies series, essays on various aspects of his writing, all very thorough and scholarly. Do you accept submissions to this series?
• CW Studies will reach number 20 this summer with the publication of Adam Daly’s massive study: The Outsider Writer. This features chapters on Colin Wilson, Camus, Pessoa, Gadda, Robert Walser, John Cowper Powys, Blaise Cendrars, Lionel Britton, Edmond Jabes and many others. It promises to be a truly outstanding contribution to the series. I am always happy to receive suggestions and manuscripts for future volumes.
5. You’ve also reprinted scarce titles such as Sex & the Intelligent Teenager and previously unpublished ones like The Sound Barrier – a sequel to Sidney Campion’s biographical study. Are there any more on the horizon?
• Nothing in the immediate future. When I last saw Colin (April 2010) we discussed the possibility of a collection of his essays on philosophy and philosophers, similar to the Existential Criticism volume. But this has not been finalised and will certainly not appear for some time.
6. Were you influenced by any other models of small press activity when you first started Paupers’?
• No, Paupers’ was created as a kind of a vanity press to publish my poetry, and the artwork of a colleague of mine at Nottingham University: Maggie Guillon. It was Maggie who came up with the name of the press and drew the distinctive logo. That’s why it is called Paupers’ Press and not Pauper’s Press—there being more than one pauper! At least, there was at first but Maggie soon moved on leaving me in charge. I was doing some live poetry readings on a regular basis and was always getting asked if there was anything by me in print. So I decided to cut out the middle man and publish myself. The first ‘serious’ Paupers’ publication came in 1984 when I produced my Index to The Aylesford Review. Two years later Colin sent me his Essay on the ‘New’ Existentialism and things really took-off from there. [Essay… has sold more copies than any other Paupers’ title (612 at last count) and has just last week been made available as a Kindle book along with The Musician as ‘Outsider’ and Music, Nature and the Romantic Outsider]. So Paupers’ became, more-or-less, what it is today: a small press concentrating on philosophy and literary criticism. In 2000, however, I created a fiction imprint: Paufict. This was successful at first due to the notoriety of my First Novel. Speedy and Queen Kong by Laura Del Rivo followed in 2004. But when I published Novel 2, the sequel to First Novel, in 2005, it proved to be a disaster. I had left too big a gap between the two and the rumblings from First Novel had long-since died away. Paufict became defunct and I have no plans to revive it.
7. Wilson once said to Gary Lachman that he only wanted to be remembered for some of his philosophical ideas and Spider World. What, despite your knowledge of all of his output, do you think are his most important works?
• Well, I believe his best work was published between 1956 and 1972. During that time he produced a remarkable body of sustained high-quality work; I can’t think of one book that I would regard as ‘ephemeral’. I’m not saying that he has been treading water ever since…it’s just that essential texts have appeared at longer intervals. ‘The Outsider Cycle’ is central to an understanding of all his work (I produced a ‘students’ guide’ to it a few years ago) as are the series of attached novels. The three big occult books are also worthy of note (I am currently working on a students’ guide to them too). I have a high regard too for New Pathways in Psychology and Access to Inner Worlds. I’m not so sure about Spider World…perhaps I need to re-read it.
8. What was it like, visiting Tetherdown for the first time, sitting amongst all of the literary and musical materials that shaped Colin’s work?
• I shall never forget my first visit to Tetherdown. It was 18 December 1981—a very cold night. Colin met me at St Austell and drove us to Gorran Haven where I met Joy, was given a meal, a glass of wine and a dose of vitamin C (I had mentioned that I thought I was going down with a cold!). Then I was taken to a chalet, at the top of the field which surrounds the house, where I spent a very comfortable night. The next day, however, the weather took a turn for the worse: the wind reaching gale-force and beyond. As I lay in bed that night I expected the next gust of wind to blow the chalet roof clean off. It didn’t but in the morning we learned that the Penlee lifeboat (just along the coast) had been wrecked with the loss of 16 lives.
I was in for another shock as Colin piled manuscripts, books, journal articles unto a table in the house. It was then that I realised that I may have taken on the daunting job of bibliographer to the most prolific writer of our times! Gritting my teeth, I set to work and am still going.
9. Five Leaves Press have recently reissued Adrift in Soho and it received mostly warm reviews. Do you think that his critical freeze-out is slowly melting? (Not that it really matters, but…)
• No, I don’t think so. The response to his autobiography in 2004 by the likes of Adam Mars-Jones, Humphrey Carpenter and Lynn Barber reveals that there is an ingrained anti-Wilson feeling in the literary establishment. Harry Ritchie is another critic obsessed with belittling him at every opportunity. Sadly their vitriol has now poisoned many of the chroniclers of the 1950s, all of whom reference Ritchie’s and Carpenter’s books, treating them as sacrosanct. The frustrating thing is that these are all individuals who will never achieve even a fraction of what Colin Wilson has achieved and yet they have the audacity to set themselves up as both his judge and jury. But, having said all this, things will change with time, certainly not in Colin’s lifetime though…and maybe not mine. Such an impressive body of work cannot be ignored forever. I like to think that the bibliographical work I have done and, in particular, the setting-up of his archive at the University of Nottingham, will make the work of future Wilson scholars that much easier.
10. I was pleased to be asked to write a piece for Around the Outsider, a celebratory volume for Colin’s 80th birthday, and delighted at the interest at the opening of the archive at Nottingham. How did Colin, despite his recent illness, react to these celebrations?
• I haven’t seen nor spoken to him since April 2010 and although we regularly kept in touch by e-mail this obviously ceased when he went into hospital last Spring. I can guess, however, that he didn’t really make much fuss about his 80th birthday. If he had not been ill, it would have been just another working day. Joy told me that he was very pleased with Around the Outsider though. He was recovering from his back operation at the time and reading the essays apparently made his long stay in hospital a little more bearable. They had both planned to come to Nottingham on July 11th for the opening of the archive but it gradually became clear that travelling all that way would not be a wise option. I was pleased that their eldest son Damon was able to come and represent the family. With Colin not in attendance the event was scaled-down somewhat but it was still a very pleasant day with ten of the contributors to Around the Outsider travelling from all parts of the country (and the globe) to be there. Lunch was provided for many of the contributors at our house and near the appointed hour we all piled into 3 taxis and made our way to the University. After some speeches and drinks an exhibition of some of the treasures of my collection was viewed by those in attendance.