Last night at the reading group we discussed the novels of Howard Spring. Older members of the group remembered him from their youth; he published many popular novels from the 1930s until the 1960s, his best-known being My Son, My Son! (1938 originally titled O Absolom!). The Times Literary Supplement praised this best-seller as ‘a long, vigorous novel of frustrated lives … a story that is remorseless in its insistence on futility; pitiless as life itself’ (26 March 1938).
Spring’s early life is interesting. He was born in Cardiff to a poor family and left school at twelve. He managed to get a job as a messenger-boy in the office of the South Wales News, and from here began the hard work of self education that led to a career as a journalist. After nine years of the South Wales News, Spring moved to Bradford and joined the Yorkshire Observer; from here he moved to the Manchester Guardian. In the 1930s he became book reviewer on the Evening Standard, following Arnold Bennett and J. B. Priestley.
Spring started writing books in his forties, beginning with the children’s book Darkie & Co. in 1932. He became a steady producer of popular novels, writing five days a week, apparently producing 1,000 words every morning (would that I could write so fast!). The success of My Son! My Son! brought financial independence and enabled Spring to move to Cornwall and give up his journalism.
His novels are not in print now. There was a popular TV adaptation of Shabby Tiger (1934) in the early 1970s that led to paperback reprints, but nothing since then, I think.
The response of the reading group to his novels was mixed, to say the least! Two people read My Son, My Son! – one thought it a highly readable, compelling novel, the other thought it thinly told, tedious, and thick with coincidence. Fame is the Spur (1940) got a rave review, as did All The Day Long (1959). The reader of Sunset Touch (1953) thought there were far too many coincendences, and that Spring ought to have been given a Bad Sex Award! Oh dear. Let the reviews begin…
(Source of biographical details: M.H. Spring, ‘Spring, (Robert) Howard (1889-1965)’, rev. Katherine Mullin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.)