I came across the book quite by chance one bitterly cold February day in the early Eighties, in a junk shop in the Brontë village of Haworth. It was a tatty copy of The Drums of Morning by Rupert Croft-Cooke, without a dust-jacket and bearing the faded sticker of the Boots Lending Library – and it launched my fascination with a writer unjustly neglected during his lifetime and now, sadly, almost forgotten.
Croft-Cooke was a staggeringly prolific wordsmith, producing over thirty novels, as many detective novels under the name of Leo Bruce, and more than thirty works of non-fiction on such diverse subjects as Oscar Wilde, Kipling, Buffalo Bill, the circus, criminals, religion, gypsies, wine and cookery. His 1938 book Darts was, surprisingly, the first volume ever published on the subject. In addition, he wrote a couple of hundred short stories, as well as numerous plays and poetry, articles and essays.
But his finest work was his 27-volume autobiography, known collectively as The Sensual World. The first two books in the series, The Gardens of Camelot (1958) and The Altar in the Loft (1960), describe his birth in Edenbridge, Kent, in 1903, and his idyllic rural childhood – a brilliant evocation of the late Edwardian era swept away by the events of the Great War. The Drums of Morning (1961), the third in the series, describes his public school education, his later experiences as a teacher in Liverpool, and the events that would shape his anarchic and rebellious character in the years that followed.
As a would-be writer in my early twenties when I discovered Croft-Cooke, I found the mixture of evocative nostalgia for the longgone post-Great War era, and his burning passion for literature and desire to become a writer, quite apart from his altruistic world-view, utterly compelling. Over the course of the next few years I managed to track down the remaining volumes of The Sensual World, br
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