The term 'mainstream' – when related to literature - can provoke generally negative responses from those of us who have long held hard to the independent press. With no formal training in journalism, without a regular slot on a corporate title, it is easy to sneer. Equally, we can pull-up the metaphorical drawbridge marked 'private property' or 'keep off the grass.' And why not? Most of what I read – and review - was written with neither a particular audience in mind, or for contractual obligation. So, here's to shameful elitism...! It may be produced from personal necessity, often enough, and even occasionally for the obverse, sneer-provoking term, love; but almost never to form. i.e. to editorial decree.
So, to find myself reviewing my first 'mainstream' collection in eighteen months feels something of a culture shock. Sentences suddenly flow swiftly passed the eyes like cool running water, or a script for CBBC. Understatement is taboo, with description almost condescendingly explicit. ('Yes, I know, I know...,' I find myself murmuring under the breath). Sometimes it's by no means clear which audience was being served; adult or children? Going with it, however, cumulatively elicits the strength of a writer who might otherwise have succumbed to the cosily banal.
Most tales here derive from Fifties editions of Reveille, The London Evening News and the near-forgotten Truth and London Mystery magazines. Pan, Tandem, Fontana and Armada Ghost and Horror collections complete the contents. Like Richmal Crompton before her (her Mist collection also available from Sundial and previously reviewed here http://panreview.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/mist-and-other-ghost-stories), Timperley honed an easy commercial style through prolific necessity.
'Christmas Meeting' and 'Harry,' which open the collection, while highly-praised, now feel more like transient playwiths' of the genre; particularly next to what follows. Of the twenty-two tales, there are six which excel beyond the call of contractual duty; 'The Listening Child,' 'The Mistress In Black,' 'To Keep Him Company,' 'Dreams Are More Than Shadows,' 'Voices In The Night' and 'Little Girl Lost' conspire to stubbornly lodge in the mind.
'The Listening Child' revolves around a mother's fear for the safety of her child, who becomes bewitched by the dark figure of a fiddle-player, only to seemingly follow his pernicious path; 'The Mistress In Black' concerns the ghost of a teacher whose legacy in life seeks resolution in death; 'To Keep Him Company' has more true charm than sentiment as the reason a girl and two boys secretly hang around the young protaganist becomes clear in the final words of their mother. Both 'Dreams Are More Than Shadows' and 'Voices In The Night' involve ghostly new tenants - the latter a victim of premonition. 'Dreams' is notable in being the one tale here you could call ambiguous in its depiction, of who is real and who an illusion; a particularly interesting conceit, beautifully told. 'Little Girl Lost' confounds the usual interpretation of the title, as the 'little girl' here reveals greater knowledge and acceptance of 'the other side' than her understandably skeptical parents.
With 'The Listening Child' in particular, echoes of Timperley's own background can be gleaned, from its Christian-adherent GP (Doctor Rivers) recommending prayer as a means to, temporarily at least, ward off child-afflicting 'evil.' You can also see it in the now charmingly dated pop-culture references of the post-war middle-class. "The radio news and 'Programme Parade' were over now. Music on gramophone records came next. Linda was glancing through a highly coloured comic, which had just arrived..." etc.
At her best, Timperley transcends the contemporary mainstream with an unerring ability to elicit familiar fears through wide-ranging depictions of encroaching childhood dangers.
The cover, a chilling image of a half-visible child beckoning through frosted glass, is also notable for the credit of Sundial's stoical publisher, Frank Kibblewhite.