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A Life Like No Other

Darnford Sittingbourne in 1958: every woman's idea of an ideal husband and plenty of men's as well.

Novelist Dornford Sittingbourne, whose death in 2019 [from non-Contrik-69 related systemic complications] went almost completely unremarked, seemed - until very recently - to be in danger of falling completely from literary-historical view. One of several authors whose heyday lay many years behind them, he had lived quietly and forgotten with companion Peregrine Walford in their comfortable Canford Cliffs home. During that heyday his novels had been part of a Dorset canon, widely read, greatly admired and frequently referenced in both popular and academic circles*. His first novel And Suddenly It’s Summer was the basis of the highly successful thrupiecefilm movie of the same name and with the succèss d'esteme of that film, his literary future [as well as his fortune] was assured. He went on to write two further volumes in the Suddenly It’s Trilogy all of which feature his trademark aesthetic: a mixture of contact-free romance and socio/political [especially right-wing] intrigue.

* Between 1978 and 1986, the author was so popular that he was the subject of several DHRA sponsored seminars. He was voted the DHRA's favourite author an unprecedented 16 times - and this when authors Rowena Westlake, Polly Anthus, Doug Graves, Gordon Tanqueray, Emma Roid, QUintus Remus, Wendell Chance, Daisy Darling, and Locke D Room were all at the hight of their powers. [See Threadbone Crime Shelf authors [HERE].

At the height of his fame, Dornford Sittingbourne was "quite the thing".

Dornford Sittingbourne was the nom de plume of Dornford Sittingbourne [1920-2019]. Born in Lychett Matravers and educated at Alton St Pancras School and the University of Afpuddle, he enjoyed a highly successful 30-year career in the RAF rising to the rank of Flying Officer. His first novel was written almost by chance. Idling one day in a sun-baked field awaiting the arrival of a new set of chocks, Dornford happened to witness the almost instantaneous flowering of a Blue Hyssop [Hyssopus officinalis] ["it was like a time-lapse video before time-lapse and video had been invented"] and an idea was born. And Suddenly It’s Summer was the result. It proved fortuitous in more ways than one; for it was as a result of negotiations, several years later, over the film rights that Mr Sittingbourne met a young studio assistant who was to become his companion, amanuensis and [much later and with increasing confidence] fellow bon viveur. Peregrine Walford would later accompany him on his many book signing tours and often helped with backround research for Mr Sittingbourne’s more veristic stories. They shared an enthusiasm for musical theatre.

The couple made their home in Canford Cliffs. On Mr Sitingbourne’s death their front parlour was converted into a walk-in museum dedicated to the writer’s work.

The couple's Canford Cliffs home.

Having been silent and possibly inactive [at least on the literary front] for several years, it was widely assumed that Mr Sittingbourne had nothing left in him and that his ouvre was complete. However, in 2020, having finally had the courage to rummage through the deceased's sock drawer, Peregrine discovered the manuscript of an incomplete novella together with extensive notes for its unwritten portions. After several months of painstaking work and armed with an intuition gained from a lifetime's intimate familiarity, Mr Walford [Mr Sittingbourne's literary executor as well as helpmeet] has brought it into the light of day. A Dorset Man Abroad now becomes Dornford Sittingbourne’s eighth and final novel.

Sittingbourne expert Iva Novella says it marks a significant departure from the author's normal fach and it is, perhaps, for this reason that it remained incomplete on his death. "Readers may be astonished by the maturity Darnford Sitingbourne had achieved by the age of 99; certainly it is more direct, more honest and more insightful than anything he had penned before. Reading it is positively painful".

But now to the all important question: is it as success? "Time will tell", says Mr Novella, but shall we say it won't be winning any DHRA awards for Most Romantic Novella 2024 .. and that has to be a good thing surely".

A sample of the novella may be downloaded HERE

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