The following is an excerpt from Adrian Coles’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.
When I wrote my first book, a sword-and-planet adventure (working title THE BARBARIANS) back in the late 1960s at the tender age of nineteen, I hadn’t heard of Robert E. Howard, Conan, or any of Howard’s creations. I worked on my saga in the converted attic of my parents’ semi-detached house in a suburb of the city of Birmingham, UK. I’d come to the city from a rural background, something of a fish out of water at first, so books and writing were both an escape and a release valve for me. My epic saga went from being a hand-written manuscript in several old school notebooks, with maps and illustrations (!) to a manually typed version. After several revisions this was duly submitted (by my then agent, Kirby McCauley) to Zebra Books in New York and … Hey! Sale. Zebra published the book, initially in two volumes, under the general heading THE DREAM LORDS, and commissioned a third volume. Volumes one and two came out, but neither had very prepossessing covers, so reprints were planned.
These books were heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who I had admired from the time I was fourteen), Frank Herbert’s DUNE, Lovecraft, a bit of LORD OF THE RINGS, and…Dennis Wheatley’s black magic books. Quite a concoction.
THE DREAM LORDS was indeed reprinted with new, exciting covers by wonderful artist Tom Barber (who was to become a stalwart at Zebra—more of him later). Volume three was published simultaneously, also with a Tom Barber cover. In between the first two volumes being printed and reprinted, I did discover Robert E. Howard, through a copy of Lancer Books’ 1967 KING KULL, which I found, surprisingly in a provincial bookshop on the edge of Birmingham, just up the road from my house—small world. Soon afterward I got hold of the Lancer set of Conan books plus their 1968 WOLFSHEAD and some other works … and I was off.
I worked at that time in a branch library, and although it had a goodly stock of science fiction, ERB, and a few fantasy works, there was no paperback section and certainly nothing by REH and others of the pulp crowd. I remember sitting almost daily on my breaks, reading books I had bought and imported, while colleagues wondered why I didn’t simply save my money and enjoy the riches the library already provided! I have to say, though, that those same colleagues were thrilled when I sold THE DREAM LORDS and gave me every encouragement.
Ironically the reprints of my THE DREAM LORDS carried banners stating these books were ‘in the tradition of Conan’ suggesting to potential readers, I imagine, that I had shaped the books in the vein of the master himself. (The banners also claimed the books were in the ‘tradition of Tolkien and Lovecraft’ which must have really confused potential punters!)
Discovering REH’s work was for me every bit as exciting as it was for many of my friends and colleagues in the writing/fan community, and I consumed as much as I could get my hands on. It led me into sword-and-sorcery and it was only then I understood there was an entire sub-genre devoted to it, and that many pulps way back in the dim vistas of time had carried a ton of it and variants to boot. I set about collecting as much of it as I could: good, bad, and indifferent, ranging from Moorcocks’s Eternal Champion, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd/Gray Mouser, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Brak, Kothar…and so on. I read a lot of other stuff, too, but at that time S&S predominated. I was lucky enough to meet a guy who sold USA books from his home in Birmingham. He was Roger Peyton (who went on to run the famous Andromeda Bookshop) and it was Rog who presented me with all those amazing Lancer Conans. I recall travelling right across Birmingham on buses one night, with a big box of the books, from Rog’s place to mine (about sixteen miles or more). I got a lot of funny looks, but to be honest, I was by no means the weirdest guy on the buses at that time of night.
Adrian Cole was born July 22, 1949, in Devonport, Plymouth, UK. He currently resides in Bideford, North Devon, UK, with his wife Judy and son Sam. His daughter, Katia, lives in Reading (UK), and he has two grandchildren, Jasper (2 years old) and Tilda (4 months). He retired from his job as Business Manager of a large secondary college in 2011 and has since been able to concentrate on writing. Over the last 40 or so years he has had some two dozen novels published, ranging across science fiction, horror, Mythos, pulp, S&S and fantasy, and has had well over 100 short stories published in similar genres. Many of these works have been translated into foreign language editions. Adrian has appeared in YEAR’ BEST FANTASY (ed. Lin Carter) and YEAR’S BEST HORROR (ed. Ellen Datlow), and has often appeared at conventions as a guest speaker or panelist. He won the British Fantasy Award for the best collection of 2015 with his occult detective stories NICK NIGHTMARE INVESTIGATES (recently reprinted by Pulp Hero Press, US), with two more volumes to follow: NIGHTMARE COCKTAILS and NIGHTMARE CREATURES. ELAK, KING OF ATLANTIS is his first collection of stories featuring Elak of Atlantis, the character created by Henry Kuttner, and is soon to be published by Pulp Hero Press, who will also be publishing a collection of Adrian’s standalone S&S stories, DARK SHIPS PASSING. Another collection, THE DUST OF ANCIENT STARS, gathers the best of his Cthulhu Mythos yarns. Apart from writing, Adrian enjoys swimming (he lives three miles from the sea), cycling, reading, and watching movies.