I’m looking at the first paperback of Colin Wilson‘s Ritual in the Dark (London: Pan Books, 1962), inscribed “For Ian, Sorry about its condition, but a friend found it a jumble sale. This is my first novel, started before The Outsider & is probably my best. Warm Regards, Colin, 7 July 97.”
I only met Colin, by phone only, in the late 90s, because he was researching Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the Contact Experience (published in 1998), of which Colin sent me a signed copy, not to mention other books; he was very generous considering that most of the time he was writing for dear life.
He’d been prompted to phone me by reading my own fictional take on the UFO ‘experience’, Miracle Visitors. Colin’s phone was struck by lightning through the landline either during or just after one of our conversations, causing a book fire in his room; unremarkable contacts with such as Colin Wilson seemed impossible—or maybe the lightning had something to do with the UFO phenomenon. You’d think I’d be able to remember clearly whether the lightning strike came during or after; but oh don’t we mythologise ourselves?
I supplied Colin with some nifty phenomonological ideas which I’d come up with subsequent to Miracle Visitors, which gripped him, so I was a bit disappointed that that Alien Dawn ignored these—due, Colin apologised, to having to pick up speed to meet his deadline, so he went into journalese mode.
But actually, it was his fluent ‘higher journalism’, in the best sense, which had first introduced me to, oh, Sartre, Hesse (a mistake, to try to reread The Glass Bead Game years later), Nijinsky, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Blake of the Prophetic Books, Wittgenstein, and others, in The Outsider and Religion and the Rebel when I was 13 and 14. That is quite a debt I owe him.
Colin himself was regretably journalised by others into “an Angry Young Man” due to John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger having its first performance in the month when The Outsider burst upon a startled world. But what did the rest of ill-grouped Angries and the supposedly revolutionary kitchen-sink realists of the late 50s, have to offer? On the whole: How To Have a Crap Life and Grouse About It—in comic mode in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, or in a shamblingly stroppy way in John Wain’s Hurry On Down. No ambitious notions of what one might call transcendence. Except in Bill Hopkins‘ novel The Divine and the Decay, which certainly had power, but the author was on a power trip which even I at the time thought was fascistic. And suddenly from America as regards chaotic search for meaning there was Kerouac‘s On The Road, of which I read the first UK hardback in 1958 when I was 15; however the Americans had much longer roads than Britain, so the book wasn’t too much of a route map for me. Apart from Colin Wilson, as regards aspiring, basically there was science fiction! (To generalise rather a lot…)
In memory, my school was a bit like the academy of Gormenghast in the BBC TV version. I was the youngest in my class; the oldest was 4 years my senior. So I had chums of chums quite a bit older, one of whom who lent me the newly published (in the UK) Kerouac. By the age of 14, I was in the 6th form, just 2 years remaining till university entrance exams. Us 6th formers could leave the school premises during free time to go for a coffee, so instead mid-morning we went to the Salutation Inn pub down the street where I learned to drink Newcastle Exhibition Ale, just half a pint at a time to start with.