Conall Cearnach’s “The Fatal Move”

A few years back I wrote a short piece on how we put together Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature (2015) from a design point of view. There are often embedded design details of significance in our books—the sort of things you might not notice until they’re pointed out and the various meanings explained. With the imminent publication of The Fatal Move by Conall Cearnach, I thought it might be a good time to write another such essay looking at how we designed this particular book.

Irish author F. W. O’Connell (1875-1929)—who often published as “Conall Cearnach”—was brought to my attention by Reggie Chamberlain-King, probably sometime in 2017. Chamberlain-King had been pitching to me Irish writers to consider for The Green Book’s ongoing profile series “Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural, and Fantastic Literature”, and Cearnach was among them. You can read the resulting biographical overview in Issue 11.

During his lifetime, Cearnach was known as the author of two Irish grammar books, A Grammar of Old Irish (1912) and Irish Self-Taught (1923), as well as for his broadcasts on 2RN, Ireland’s first radio broadcasting system. (It’s these broadcasts that I suspect formed the contents of Cearnach’s three essay collections.) But the primary reason for Cearnach being considered an Irish fantasist in The Green Book is for a slim collection of short stories he published in 1924: The Fatal Move and Other Stories (M. H. Gill & Son, Dublin). Chamberlain-King describes the stories as “ranging from the darkly macabre, to the speculative, to the absurd”. I had to track down a copy.

When the slim volume arrived—the first edition is only 96 pages—I was even more intrigued by the story titles: “The Vengeance of the Dead”, “The Homing Bone”, “Professor Danvers’ Disappearance” . . . I found among them a supernatural thriller, a locked-room mystery, a conte cruel, and even a “delightfully comic dystopia” in which Bolshevik Russia had taken over England, wiping out the English language. Eventually I reprinted “The Fiend that Walks Behind”, a Jamesian ghost story, in The Green Book 15, where it drew a favourable response. I grew to quite love this quirky little book, perhaps not a lost classic, but certainly a quirky gem of Irish literature, which I decided was worthy of inclusion in our 2021 publishing schedule. Naturally, Reggie Chamberlain-King provided the introduction, greatly expanded from his previous profile in The Green Book, and probably the lengthiest piece written about Cearnach to date.

So back to the book itself: the first edition copy of The Fatal Move that I managed to track down was complete with a somewhat grubby (and fragile) fawn paper wrapper. Depicted on the cover in green ink were two weary chess players, one slumped over their game board, both overseen by the disembodied head of an Edwardian beauty with red pupils—all this being an illustration from the title story.

While the name of the artist is neither listed in the book, nor in any bibliography I could find, my own copy bore two interesting inscriptions on the front endpaper. At the top, in black ink: “To the Artist with the Publisher’s Compliments, Dec. 1923”; below that, in red ink: “From Tom Grogan, as a specimen of his productions, le hárd-cion [with great affection]”. Certainly this established the identity of the artist, but begged the further question: Who exactly was Tom Grogan? A “Father Thomas Grogan” is registered at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919, and is a possible candidate, but apart from that the trail is cold. Any amateur art sleuths out there want to take up the challenge?

Courtesy of L. W. Currey

I noticed something else while putting together The Fatal Move. The eyes of the woman on the jacket are blank on all the other copies I was seeing for sale on the internet. Mine would seem to be unique with its crimson glare, which, until this realisation I had thought was part of the original design as opposed to added. Some of you might already have made the next leap in logic, but I confess, it took me a moment before I got there: the red ink with which Tom Grogan made his inscription is the same ink used on the jacket to enhance the eyes. In other words, the cover of my copy was embellished by the artist himself.

Usually when we reprint a book, I like to commission a new piece of art so as to modernise the edition—though always with sympathy to the text’s history, of course. But for The Fatal Move we decided to retain Tom Grogan’s original artwork, though not without a handful of minor alterations. First, you’ll notice that the letters in Conall Cearnach’s name are crowded together on the cover of first edition. I asked our designer Meggan Kehrli if she could fix this, which she did beautifully, rendering the author’s name more clearly. Next, we decided to print the image in a metallic green ink, which should give the jacket a striking look (Pantone PMS 8722C, for those who like knowing this sort of thing). The book isn’t back from the printer yet, but I hope it looks good. Finally, we decided, for our new edition, to retain Tom Grogan’s red eye embellishment, an indelible addition to my own original copy, now embedded in Swan River’s updated design. We hope Tom Grogan would approve.

As for the pattern we’re printing on the book’s case, Meggan lifted that from Cearnach’s essay collection The Age of Whitewash (1921). This also seems appropriate as Chamberlain-King wanted to include in The Fatal Move a selection of the author’s more outré non-fiction, hoping to give more insight into Cearnach’s life and milieu. Using the pattern from The Age of Whitewash is a subtle nod to this consideration.

And there you have it—a bit of insight into what goes into putting together the book as a physical object, readying the stories so that a new readership might discover them. I’m excited to see what the book will finally look like when it arrives back from the printer within the next few days. Our limited edition hardback edition will be the first time The Fatal Move has been reprinted since it’s first outing in 1924—nearly one hundred years ago.

So have you ordered a copy yet? Have you read Cearnach already? Or maybe there’s something else about this book you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line or leave your comments below.

If you liked this essay and want to support an independent Irish press:

Order The Fatal Move by Conall Cearnach.

Conall Cearnach’s “The Fatal Move”

The Green Book 15

Green Book 15EDITOR’S NOTE

In our previous issue, we focused on the lives of writers, featuring as we did reminiscences, interviews, and memoirs. For this issue I’d like to do something different. While we have featured occasional pieces of fiction in previous issues, including “Saved by a Ghost” by Bram Stoker in Issue 6 and “The Boys’ Room” by Dorothy Macardle in Issue 9, I’ve decided this time around to turn over the entire issue to fiction.

Consider this issue a special anthology issue, and an eclectic one at that. There is little to tie these pieces together, save for the fact each author grew from the soil of the same island at the edge of Europe, which is to say they are all Irish by birth. Perhaps, instead, to state the obvious, one might find that each story reflects more so its author than any affinity with one another — and yet they are here between these covers. I hope most, if not all, of these stories will be new to you.

Rosa Mulholand’s “A Priest’s Story” is certainly informed by her own Catholic beliefs, the supernatural elements driven by faith more than fear. Similarly, “The Story of a Star” is a fable that could only have flowed from the pen of the mystical poet and painter A.E.

Robert Cromie is best known for his novel The Crack of Doom (1895), which contains what is thought to be the first description of an atomic explosion in fiction. Published here is his supernatural short story “Squire Grimshaw’s Ghost” — decidedly more gothic than the scientific fiction for which he is now remembered.

Herbert Moore Pim’s “The Madman” is indeed a mad bit of writing from his singular collection Unknown Immortals of the Northern City of Success (1917). Whether the madman in question is based on a real person known to Pim is anyone’s guess. Beatrice Grimshaw’s “Cabin No. 9” is a ghost story set on the high seas, full of the adventure and incident one expects from Grimshaw. Unfortunately it is also marred by her racism, but I hope you will enjoy the tale nevertheless. Cheiro’s “A Bargain Made with a Ghost” purports to be based on true events — insofar as any tale told by Cheiro can be trusted as true. But the story is ably told and certainly entertaining.

Dorothy Macardle’s “The Shuttered Room” was originally broadcast on Radio Eireann on 13 September 1957. It was the sixth and last talk by Macardle in her Days and Places series. The other pieces in the series are reminiscences of her travels and experiences in post-war Europe and her sole trip to America. Though the “The Shuttered Room” was the story’s original title, on the manuscript this is crossed out, and a new title given: “A World of Dream”. This new title is then crossed out with “stet” written beside the original. This is the first time “The Shuttered Room” has appeared in print.

Finally we have Conall Cearnach’s “The Fiend That Walks Behind” from his sole (and slim) volume The Fatal Move and Other Stories (1924); a mixed bag as a collection, this tale of revenge from beyond the grave is perhaps the best of the lot.

And there you have it: I hope an entertaining crop of stories that will keep you amused for an evening. If you enjoy this all – fiction issue, maybe we’ll do another sometime?

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
19 April 2020

You can buy The Green Book here.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“A Priest’s Ghost Story”
Rosa Mulholland

“Squire Grimstone’s Ghost”
Robert Cromie

“A Scrap of Irish Folklore”
Rosa Mulholland

“The Madman”
Herbert Moore Pim

“The Story of a Star”
A.E.

“Cabin No. 9”
Beatrice Grimshaw

“A Bargain Made with a Ghost”
Cheiro

“The Shuttered Room”
Dorothy Macardle

“The Fiend That Walks Behind”
Conall Cearnach

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 15

The Green Book 11

Green Book 11EDITOR’S NOTE by Brian J. Showers

Our previous issue saw a fabulous array of reminiscences of Lord Dunsany — and also some contemporary assessments of his works — written by his Irish colleagues, including Yeats, Bowen, Gogarty, Tynan, A.E., and others. Issue 10 was fascinating to assemble and the process gave me a better understanding of and more insight into Dunsany’s literary standing in Ireland during his lifetime. If you’ve not yet had a look at our Dunsany issue, and you are in any way interested in this important author, I urge you to track down a copy.

The focus on Dunsany’s contemporaries in Issue 10 was an approach that evolved during research and production. However, during that time I also received a handful of modern appraisals of Dunsany and his work that I simply couldn’t fit into that issue. That’s why I’d like to start this instalment with just a bit more Dunsany.

First up we have Dunsany bibliographer Darrell Schweitzer’s career-spanning survey of the fantasist’s considerable body of work — where a new reader could start, what aficionados might have overlooked, and which titles can, perhaps, be left until later. Next, Martin Andersson, co-editor of the posthumous Dunsany collection The Ghost in the Corner (also reviewed in this issue), explores a lesser-known episode in Dunsany’s life: his Nobel Prize nomination. Finally, novelist Mike Carey offers an appreciation of Fifty-One Tales (1915), a collection not as widely celebrated as Dunsany’s other titles, but maybe one that should be given another read.

The remainder of this issue sees The Green Book in a little bit of a transition.

I’ve long had a penchant for bibliographies, indices, literary guides and encyclopaedias: I frequently take down from the shelf E. F. Bleiler’s Supernatural Fiction Writers (1983), wander the pages of Jack Sullivan’s Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986), and of course Neil Wilson’s Shadows in the Attic (2000) can keep me captivated for hours. I could go on . . .

Last year I commissioned a series of short articles for a book tentatively entitled A Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Fiction. Over the past twelve months, Jim Rockhill and I have been working with a range of literary scholars, each exploring an Irish author that has in some way contributed to the broader literature of the fantastic. The results have been nothing short of captivating.

Therefore, in addition to the usual essays and reviews, I’d like to present, for the remainder of this issue, a selection of eight entries—some names you will recognise, others won’t be as familiar — but I do hope you’ll discover new writing to explore.

You can buy The Green Book 11 here.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“How Much of Dunsany Is Worth Reading?”
Darrell Schweitzer

“Lord Dunsany and the Nobel Prize”
Martin Andersson

“Appreciating Fifty-One Tales
Mike Carey

“Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845)”
Albert Power

“B. M. Croker (1848-1920)”
Richard Dalby

“Edmund Downey (1856-1937)”
Gavin Selerie

“Conall Cearnach (1876-1929)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)”
Reggie Oliver

“Denis Johnston (1901-1984)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Conor McPherson (1971- )”
David Longhorn

“Reviews”
Bram Stoker’s Powers of Darkness (Albert Power)
Lord Dunsany’s The Ghost in the Corner (Jay Sturner)

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 11