Tag Archives: Literature

85. Quill the Hedgehog and the Keighley Detectives: John Waddington-Feather’s Yorkshire writings

Meet Quill the Hedgehog!  In a series of books by Yorkshire author John Waddington-Feather, Quill and his animal friends have many adventures fighting the wicked plans of alleycat Mungo Brown and his Wastelander rats.

Front cover of Quill's Adventures in Kangarooland by John Waddington-Feather

John first created Quill during the 1960s to express concern about the environment: Mungo and co destroy and pollute the lands they take from the woodland creatures.  In Quill’s Adventures in Grozzieland, Mungo takes over the fungus folk and plans to blot out the sun!  This volume was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 1989.

The Quill stories are partly inspired by the fate of Yorkshire’s West Riding countryside during the rapid urbanisation of the 19th century, the downside of the wool industry boom.  In a recent email, John observed that a chapter in Quill’s Adventures in the Great Beyond was inspired by an oil painting of Keighley in Cliffe Castle Museum (itself once a mill-owner’s mansion).   The painting shows the first industrial chimneys appearing in a rural scene; within a few decades Keighley was a “dirty, smoke-ridden mill and engineering town of over 40,000 people. Slums appeared overnight and the rivers and streams around the town polluted”.  This image from the cover of Great Beyond shows Quill and Horatio the cat confronted by the changed landscape of their home.


Quill is just part of the story.  John Waddington-Feather is a prolific author, a schoolteacher (now retired) and an Anglican priest.  Born in Keighley in 1933, he attended Keighley Boys’ Grammar School and graduated in English at Leeds University in 1954.  John has been based in Shrewsbury for many years, where he has been a visitor and assistant chaplain at the prison. He retains strong connections with Yorkshire: former Chair of the J.B. Priestley Society and now one of its Vice-Presidents, John has a scholarly interest in Yorkshire dialect (e.g. John Hartley) and literature.

Front cover of Ira and the Cycling Club Lion by John Waddington-Feather, showing image of Keighley Cycling Club

Front cover of Ira and the Cycling Club Lion by John Waddington-Feather, showing image of Keighley Cycling Club

John’s Yorkshire heritage can be seen throughout his writings.  Witness the Blake Hartley series, which features detectives Blake Hartley and Ibrahim Khan investigating crimes around Keighworth (i.e. Keighley) and the Dales while dealing with their difficult boss.  Bodies found in the graveyard or on the allotment lead the pair into deadly webs of international crime, money-laundering and terrorism …

John also writes for the stage, including two light-hearted plays in verse, Garlic Lane and Easy Street.  These are based on his childhood memories, as many of  his short stories and essays (some collected in the above book).  Yorkshire features again in two historical romances set around the Second World War: Illingworth House and Chance-Child.

Many of John’s writings also reflect his Christian faith and his experiences as a priest: he has written many hymns, songs and poems and edits the Poetry Church series on Christian poetry.  His play The Lollipop Man was based on his experiences of working with homeless people.

Special Collections staff are working with John to develop an archive of his work and interests, including typescripts, correspondence and of course the books.   Much of the archive is born-digital, reflecting John’s early adoption of new technology such as selling his books online via his website.  Now he’s finding new audiences via the Kindle e-reader!   The Blake Hartley mysteries  are proving particularly popular; the Quill titles are now being added.

56. To Glory in the Clash of Opposites: Dragon’s Mouth by Jacquetta Hawkes and J.B. Priestley

Two men and two women are in quarantine on a yacht in the West Indies, trapped in a sinister cove full of rocks “like a jaw full of ragged teeth with one sharp fang among them”: Dragon’s Mouth.  Each has a strong personality: Matthew the practical businessman, Nina who loves beauty and fashion (below) , Stuart the detached academic, and Harriet the emotional but embittered personnel manager.

Dulcie Gray as Nina, in sea-green tulle.  Photographer unknown, from The Story of Dragon's Mouth by J.B. Priestley, Everybody's 24 May 1952.

Wish this was in colour! Dulcie Gray as Nina, in sea-green tulle. Photographer unknown, from The Story of Dragon’s Mouth by J.B. Priestley, Everybody’s 24 May 1952.

While they await results of blood tests, the four share their stories and argue about their views of life.   They have heard by radio that one is infected, but it breaks before they can find out who it is …

Dragon’s Mouth (1951) is an experimental platform play, created by J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes at the height of their secret love affair.

Both found Jung’s ideas fascinating; indeed, part of their delight in their romance was the Jungian feeling that their personalities complemented and completed each other.  To create their characters and creative conflict, they used Jung’s four functions of the personality, each voyager representing one: Stuart Thinking, Matthew Intuition, Harriet Feeling and Nina Sensation.

Front cover of Dragon's Mouth
Jacquetta wrote the parts of Stuart and Nina, which reflect the two sides of her personality.  The contrast between Jacquetta’s cool intellect and her sensual nature crops up frequently in her writings and in comments made about her by others, e.g. Priestley’s “ice without, fire within”.

The characters realise that all the functions are valuable and that Nina’s is the most important perspective.  Nina shows us why in a great speech at the end of the play.  In phrases reminiscent of Jacquetta’s appreciation of deep time in A Land, Nina explains how the senses – love and the nurturing of the young – have enabled intellect, feelings and intuition to grow over the millennia.  Nina had enjoyed her life and relished all it had to offer, bad as well as good.  Unlike the others, she could accept death.

“I have grown fat on experience.  My senses have gone out and in like bees bringing home nectar.  I have joined myself with the whole world, sharing its darkness as well as its light, its trivialities equally with its splendours … I would go so far to glory in the clash of opposites”.

The play ends with the arrival of the boat bringing the results of the tests.   Whatever happens, the surviving three have learned something and will try to incorporate the values of the others into their lives.

34. “A Long Happy Daydream”: J.B. Priestley’s The Good Companions

This week, a look at J.B. Priestley’s first great success, The Good Companions.  Published by Heinemann in 1929, the novel tells the story of three travellers cast adrift from their usual lives who fall in with a concert party, the Dinky Doos. Renamed The Good Companions, the troupe have many adventures, odd encounters, successes and failures and happy endings at last.

Cover of The Good Companions Heinemann 1929

Cover of The Good Companions Heinemann 1929

The tale grew out of Priestley’s love for the picaresque: “ample tales in which the characters go wandering”.  For several years, he had wanted to write such a tale but set in contemporary England: “I saw no reason why the picaresque novel should vanish with the stage-coach”.  However, his financial situation was precarious, his writing driven by immediate needs, so he produced journalism, essays, reviews, novellas, rather than working on this great idea. Co-writing Farthing Hall with well-established author Hugh Walpole at last bought him funds and therefore time to write his 275,000 word epic.

J.B. Priestley with pipe, reading, circa 1930 (PRI 21/4/22)

J.B. Priestley with pipe, reading, circa 1930

In creating The Good Companions, Priestley gave himself “a holiday from anxiety and strain and tragic circumstances, shaping and colouring a long happy daydream”, a much-needed break after the War and the years of his wife Pat’s long illness and death.  Readers of 1929 obviously also felt the need to escape into the huge happy world of the novel.  Their enthusiastic response made the book a best-seller and Priestley a household name.  Its afterlife included a 1931 stage adaptation by Priestley with Edward Knoblock, two films,  a 1974 musical, and a 1980 television series; the novel itself is now back in print.

Priestley was ambivalent about the success of the novel, believing readers demanded more of the same while critics automatically condemned him as a cynical writer of best-sellers.  It can definitely be said that The Good Companions transformed his life and literary career, in particular freeing him financially to explore the new challenge of writing for the theatre, of which more later.

28. Priestley and the Great War: Chapman of Rhymes, Margin Released

This week: two works by J.B. Priestley which tell the story of his experiences in the First World War in very different ways.

Priestley in uniform, as a lance-corporal

Priestley in uniform, as a lance-corporal

The first, The Chapman of Rhymes, is a little book of verse published in 1918.  At the time, Jack Priestley had been serving in the British Army since volunteering in 1914 for the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding regiment; he later became an officer in the Devonshires.  Priestley had endured the full horror of the Great War, and had been seriously wounded twice, in a dug-out collapsed by a trench-mortar, and later in a gas attack.

The poems in Chapman do not reflect Priestley’s war experiences. They were written earlier, part of his juvenilia (Object 12).  Unlike his later works, there is no sense of his personality or background.  The verses resemble the works of late 19th century poets such as Alfred Austin and Austin Dobson, with mock medieval subject matter and choice of language  (e.g. “shoon” for shoes).  There are also echoes of Swinburne, Kipling, William Morris and de la Mare.

Chapman, despite its pre-War content, brings home the reality of Priestley’s war experience.  He did not expect to survive and become a successful author, represented by many published works.  He thought that, like all his Bradford boyhood friends and Company comrades, he would be killed.  So he had the verses published, “entirely at my own expense, during that war when I felt, foolishly, I ought to leave something behind”.

Later, Priestley regretted the publication: as he put it: “still alive and coming to my senses, I destroyed every copy I could lay hands on, now well aware of my folly”.  He realised that his literary talents were better suited to essays, novels, journalism and above all drama.  To respect his wishes, I decided not to seek to quote from Chapman here.

Image from cover of Lost Generation, an anti-war pamphlet by Priestley

Image from cover of Lost Generation, a pamphlet by Priestley

Priestley seldom wrote directly about the Great War until, almost fifty years later, he created “Carry on!  Carry on!”, the dream-like and incredibly powerful middle section of his memoir Margin Released.   In the honed and vivid prose of this remarkable piece, he evokes the horror, humour and strangeness of his experiences.  His writing blazes with anger at the waste of the lives of his friends:

“The British command specialised in throwing men away for nothing. The tradition of an officer class, defying both imagination and common sense, killed most of my friends as surely as if those cavalry generals had come out of the chateaux with polo mallets and beaten their brains out.  Call this class prejudice if you like, so long as you remember … that I went into that war without any such prejudice,  free of any class feeling. No doubt I came out of it with a chip on my shoulder; a big, heavy chip, probably some friend’s thigh-bone”.

(Thank you to John Brooker for a useful discussion about the style of Chapman.  Priestley quotations from Instead of the Trees and Margin Released.  More about JBP’s WW1 experiences in “J.B. Priestley’s Service in World War 1”, my chapter published in Bradford in the Great War, and Priestley’s Wars, published by Great Northern.

14. The Call of the Heather: Windyridge by W. Riley

In 1912, a novel set in the Yorkshire Dales became an instant best-seller.  Described by reviewers as pure, wholesome, refreshing, and sweet,
Windyridge told the charming story of Grace Holden, an artist who takes refuge from London life by renting a cottage in a Yorkshire village: Windyridge, based on Hawksworth, near Guiseley.

Grace makes the choice to stay in Windyridge because she is so moved by the sight of the heather-covered moors, which remind her of her father’s homesickness for his own part of the country.   The heroine encounters interesting local characters, finds friends, and after many difficulties, love and happiness.  The book was written from her point of view so effectively that readers and reviewers, and indeed at first the publisher, believed this new author, W. Riley, to be female.  But in fact W. Riley was Willie Riley, a 46-year-old Bradford man, who had previously managed his family’s pioneering optical lantern business and was an active Methodist lay preacher.

Willie Riley

Willie Riley

Riley wrote the book to entertain some friends who were having a difficult time after a bereavement.  They were delighted with the book and, along with his wife Clara, urged him to send it to a publisher.  Riley did so, though not taking the idea seriously.  However, new firm Herbert Jenkins recognised the qualities of the book: Windyridge was their first publication.  Riley was to publish over 30 novels with them until his death in 1961.

Like Windyridge, Riley’s other writings are full of his love for Yorkshire; the stories are set in real places under disguised names.   His work also shows the Methodist faith that was so important to him (and I think his success with Windyridge owes much to the communication skills he built up in his activities as a lay preacher).

A lovely period dustjacket for Windyridge Revisited

A lovely period dustjacket for Windyridge Revisited (1928)

Special Collections has copies of all these books, and we are receiving his Archive which documents how he organised his writing career.

Riley was almost forgotten for many years, Windyridge surviving only in the names of houses around the world.  Now there is a revival of interest: Windyridge itself is now in print again, from Jeremy Mills Publishing.  Find out more about Riley and Windyridge on this website, created by Riley enthusiast and Bradford graduate David Copeland.