His chequered story is often hard to unravel. Like a mirror to her own life, truthful details are a nuisance, especially when they get in the way of a better, more fanciful story. Archibald was a storyteller. According to Fanny he wrote over eighty novels, publishing the eightieth on his eightieth birthday. Fanny baked a cake to celebrate, with eighty candles. She threw him a wild party, stretching out until three or four in the morning. Perhaps there were eighty guests.
Fanny referred to him as 'our Father who art in Shepton Mallet' as he preferred to live alone in later life, in peace and quiet. Archibald published under the pseudonym Valentine. A swish of camp-ness which Fanny would no doubt have appreciated, but also borrowed almost from his real-life ancestors, the Vallentins, who were distillers in London. Fanny claimed that her Father was no gastronome however, and ate whatever was put in front of him. Worse still, he knew nothing of wine. He rarely drank. He probably had no time, given he had to deal with Fanny, her Mother and juggle writing at least three books a year. And plays. And songs. He was quite a hit.
Valentine himself also had a pseudonym. The rather more dowdy sounding Mark Cross was the name which adorned the jackets of his thriller series. Valentine had penned the successful play Tons of Money, which made him just that. However, the combination of a wife who liked to spend faster than he could earn, and a penchant for gambling put a strain on finances. Fanny wrote that gambling gave him his worst moments. Moving round the country to avoid debts and debtors ended with Archibald/Valentine in the bankruptcy courts. Mark Cross was created as a way out, to continue to write, and earn, to be known and to keep busy. The word 'prolific' seems to have been invented for him, before being passed on to Fanny.
Fanny went on to publish more books than her Father. She too wrote plays and novels, adding children's books, newspaper columns, magazine features and of course cookbooks to her repertoire. She worked under so many names, at times for fun, at times for financial reasons, at times I would imagine just to cope with the huge volume of work that just kept pouring from her typewriter. Dear Daddy set the blueprint, in name(s) and in spirit too. I wonder if his distilling family are still producing today? I'd raise a glass to him, and to all Fathers.
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