In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle escapes to early twentieth-century London with the crime-fighting Four Just Men
There is something irresistibly inspiring about an author who rose from humble beginnings to become popular and successful. J. K. Rowling is the most notable recent example. Charles Dickens went from being put to work in a blacking factory aged 12, after his father was imprisoned for debt, to amassing a fortune of £93,000 – quite a few million in today’s money. But perhaps my favourite ‘rags to riches’ story is that of Edgar Wallace, who was born out of wedlock to two actors in 1875 and adopted by a Billingsgate fish porter. Wallace rose up the journalistic ranks to become a hugely popular – and prolific – writer of thrillers in particular, and was perhaps at one stage the most famous author on the planet. Years later, when he had become a household name, Wallace was asked to contribute to a celebrity feature in a newspaper, titled ‘What I Owe My Parents’. Wallace’s postcard-reply was as long as the feature’s title, at just five words: ‘sorry, cock, I’m a bastard’.