Tuesday, 13 September 2016

At last, the stain on my reputation has been erased - I did not write "Eat Them Alive": Evelyn Louise Nace did!

I was sitting at my BBC desk one afternoon about 15 years ago when a smirking colleague pointed out that my long-retired writing alter-ego, Nick Sharman, was the subject of some heated online speculation. Puzzled, I went to the relevant horror/fantasy Trash City fansite and there found myself brazenly accused of having been responsible for writing a 1970s horror novel entitled Eat Them Alive, under the pseudonym Pierce Nace. I didn't in the least mind being accused of writing an incredibly violent pulp horror novel, because that's what I used to do for a living, and, to be fair to the rumour-mongers, the mysterious Pierce Nace had been published by New English LIbrary, the same company that published most of my books at that time.  But I did object to being accused of writing Eat Them Alive because - even by pulp horror standards - it is reputed to be execrable.  Here's a sample of the dialogue:
"White man see big bugs?"
"Certainly I see them ... Don't be afraid, Keko. We'll have a fine day on the island. I think you'll have such a good time that you'll never go back to the mainland."
 Keko smiled his trust in Dyke and ran to tell the others that no danger awaited them.
In other words, it's curtains for Keko! I'll admit to never having read the book, but I do remember a friend (who was thinking of following my lead and writing some horror fiction) reading extracts to me one evening at his house in Boston, Lincolnshire - and both of us rolling around howling with laughter. If I'd wanted people laughing at my books, I'd have tried writing comedy: the comedy in Eat Them Alive is purely unintentional. The plot? Some evil nutcase has his privates ripped off for some reason or other and somehow finds himself on a remote island where it just happens that gigantic flesh-eating praying mantises are crawling up through a crack in the earth (why they are doing this or how they came to be under the earth's crust in the first place is apparently never explained). The evil nutcase - Dyke Mellis - decides to befriend the mantises (!) and train them up so that he can use them to revenge himself on the people responsible for unmanning him. As you do. But how to prevent himself ending up as a snack for his new BFFs?
If he could eventually put together such a concoction, something so foul that this beast would not eat him when the stuff was smeared over his body and clothes, then he would be safe to return to Malpelo and live among the mantises there, to start training a few of them to wreak his vengeance when he decreed that the time had come.
Brilliant! (And, yes, I know that, as the author of Childmare, in which the toxic levels of lead in the bodies of London's schoolchildren causes them to go on a murderous city-wide rampage during a heatwave, I'm throwing stones from within the precincts of a particularly vulnerable glass house.)

I decided to scotch the rumours regarding my authorship by posting the following comment on the offending website:
I’ll admit to writing The Scourge, The Cats and Childmare (and a few others), and I’ll even admit to working for the BBC, but…I’ve no idea why anyone should think I wrote Eat Them Alive – I always thought my prose style was functional but pretty effective. I rarely look at my old stuff, but when I do I’m sometimes surprised and uneasy about the level of violence, but the actual writing strikes me as workmanlike at the very least. As to who actually did write it – again, no idea. 
That seemed to do the trick - but I knew I wouldn't be totally in the clear until the actual author of the book had been definitively identified. Which has now happened, thanks to Scottish horror writer, editor and all-round genre expert, Johnny Mains, who recently sent me a link to his article, "Pierce Nace UNCOVERED", in which he firmly and undeniably identifies the author of the notorious Eat Them Alive as Pampa, Texas resident Evelyn Louise Nace. She would have been about 65 when the book was published, and while she was evidently a prolific writer and journalist with a number of pulp titles in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres to her name(s), it's hard to figure out how someone who looked as respectable as Mrs. Otis Nace (her husband owned an insurance company) could have produced anything as derangedly violent as this schlock horror classic.  But, thanks to Johnny Main's impressive literary detective work, it would now be perverse to deny it.

I wrote thanking Johnny Mains for finally exonerating me - "I was sure the only thing on my tombstone, apart from name and dates, would be “Author of ‘Eat Them Alive’”- and I'm really looking forward to find out what else he manages to uncover about the exceptionally intriguing Mrs. Nace. They're a funny lot, writers.

For those of you who don't suffer from sensitive dispositions, here are some of my favourite covers from other truly beastly horror novels of that era. What were we all on back then?

This one was a work of staggering genius, obviously:

I don't know if Richard Curtis wrote the next one before or after producing the screenplay for Love, Actually (might as well start a rumour of my own):

Maybe we all had too much lead in our bodies back in the '70s - the summer of '76 was an absolute scorcher, I remember, and it was around then that I (and many, many others) started writing horror. And it's always hot as hell in Texas. Hmm.

Rest in Peace, Evelyn Louise Nace (1912-1983).


  1. I note that the authorship of "Gobs of Glamour" remains unconfirmed. Anything you'd like to share with us?

  2. I turned down the opportunity and wrote "Midnight's Children" instead.

  3. Hello Scott! Just a quick note to say, many congrats on The Surrogate (the internet takes one down some rather interesting paths at 4am - one of which led me here), a book that scared the living heck out of this former 12-year-old; possibly helped shaped a future interest in curvy types (after 30 years, my battered paperback still falls open at pages 200-201); and remains proudly on my bookshelf today. As for the politics, well, I'm so Guardian I actually write for them, but live and let live, I say.
    All best wishes

    1. I just re-read pages 200-201. Bit fruity, I must say! I have absolutely no memory of writing them, but I do remember a BBC News colleague once asking me if there were any good sex scenes in my books, and replying that I never included any because I found it impossible to type one-handed - boom! boom! Anyway, I'm delighted if you found it both scary and... useful? All I remember about it is chortling while I wrote one scene involving a homicidal doll and another where a series of photos of the hero's son taken in Hyde Park reveal a mysterious figure creeping closer to the boy with each shot.

      My mother's neighbour once brought her 11-year old boy to tea, and he got very excited when he saw a copy of one of the my other books, The Cats, which was apparently all the rage with his mates. Dead impressed, he was. I sometimes envy today's writers for the amount of instant feedback they get on the web - but then wonder how they cope with all that raw criticism.

      Having spent 20 years working at the BBC, I'm no stranger to Guardian readers: some of my best friends, etc... Besides, you write for the best bit of the paper. (I always wanted to be a film critic, but five years as a BAFTA member, watching 80 DVDs in the month before voting closed, made me realise I'd never have had the required stamina - and that was the good stuff!)

      It was really kind of you to let me know that The Surrogate means something to you. Genuinely touched. And keep away from screens at 4am - you'll never get to sleep.