Saturday, February 23, 2013

Peril on the Iron Road by Bruce Carter

One of the many good things about Boxmoor Primary School - in my day it was housed in a long-demolished Victorian building - was that we got read stories at the end of the day.

And one of these was set locally. Bruce Carter's Peril on the Iron Road told of the building of the London to Birmingham Railway through Hertfordshire and the attempts of a local aristocrat to prevent it. I wonder if a children's book written today (Peril on the Iron Road dates from 1953) would be quite so firmly on the side of Progress?

A few years ago I bought a copy of it through eBay - recreating your childhood in this way used to take hard work and a lot of luck, but today you can do it at the click of a button.

It turned out to be a workmanlike children's book, but the structure is a little odd. What I remembered as the climax appears halfway through the tale and we then skip forward a few weeks for the rest of it.

But who was Bruce Carter? It sounds like a pen name, but my occasional attempts to find out who he was never got far.

Until this week. The novelist Deborah Moggach has been on the radio a lot recently because she has a book coming out. After hearing one of her interviews I looked her up on the net and found that she is the daughter of Richard and Charlotte Hough.

Richard Hough turns out to be a naval historian who, in the words of his daughter, "also wrote a few of the old potboilers because he had to keep us all going". And if you look at his Wikipedia entry you will see he wrote those books under the name Bruce Carter.

"Peril on the Iron Road" is illustrated by Charlotte Hough, which would have been a much bigger clue to Bruce Carter's identity if I had thought to follow it up. And through the book I discovered a remarkable story about her. At the ago of 60 she was imprisoned for helping a desperately ill friend commit suicide.

Deborah Moggach speaks about this in a Daily Telegraph interview from 2010:
Last night, Moggach talked publicly about the ensuing family scandal for the first time for 25 years. The Old Bailey trial, the gossip, the furore. The clanging of doors as her mother, sentenced to nine months for attempted murder, "disappeared into the underworld, like Orpheus." Then the relentless bullying by inmates. 
She believes her mother acted bravely, out of deep compassion, and that the mental torment she suffered during her incarceration – revealed in a sequence of mordant letters – points up the inhumanity of the law, then as now, towards so-called mercy killings.
It is hard to disagree with that.

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