Algernon Henry Blackwood - reporter, writer, broadcaster.

His book, Pan's Garden, was published in 1912.

Algernon Henry Blackwood was born in Shooter's Hill, Kent, on March 14, 1869 - making him an exact contemporary of Dame Eva Anstruther, who was born in the same year.

He was the son of the dowager Duchess of Manchester and her second husband, Sir Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, a clerk in the Treasury and later Secretary of the Post Office. In his youth, Algernon was at the receiving end of his father's strict Evangelism, but showed signs of rebellion by reading the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedanta, the Yoga of Patanjali, and theosophy.

Besides his time in England, he also lived in Canada and New York. The stays in Canada agreed with him a lot, as can be seen in the story The Wendigo. In New York, he became a reporter for the Evening Sun. Here he became acquainted with Arthur Bigge, who appears disguised as Boyde in Blackwood's autobiography Episodes Before Thirty. Blackwood's room mate, Bigge stole much of his money, causing Blackwood to track him down and have him arrested.

Blackwood's life in New York was wretched; he had little or no money most of the time, was frequently sick, surrounded by con men, thugs, pimps and drug addicts, cynical drunken reporters, corrupt policemen and other unpleasant elements. He posed as a model for Charles Dana Gibson, who was a friend of Robert W. Chambers of The King in Yellow fame, in order to avoid starvation. He was also swindled out of sorely needed cash while he was lying on the brink of death, and was almost railroaded for arson. Of his time in New York, he talked quite viciously: "I seemed covered with sore and tender places into which New York rubbed salt and acid every hour of the day."

His monetary troubles finally resolved themselves when he became a reporter for the New York Times in 1895 and later a private secretary to the wealthy banker James Speyer in 1897, a position acquired by Blackwood in part by impressing the millionaire with his classical education.

In 1899 Blackwood returned to England. There he became a partner in a dried milk company, although he was rather inactive where the operations of the firm were concerned. He took several lengthy trips over the next few years, to the Danube region, which is the setting for the story The Willows, his old school in Germany, and elsewhere.

Interested in paranormal phenomena, he joined the Golden Dawn in 1900. Although he was a prolific reporter, Blackwood wrote sparsely; he only produced only a few stories, poems and essays until his middle thirties. After a meeting with an old friend, Angus Hamilton, Blackwood submitted a story collection to Eveleigh Nash, which was published in 1906 as The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories.

Two years later he became an acknowledged and renowned author with his immensely popular John Silence, and from then spent the rest of his life writing. From 1908 to 1914 he lived in Böle, Switzerland, where he wrote voluminously. A trip to the Caucasus mountains in 1910 inspired The Centaur, perhaps his most important work. A journey to Egypt made him write The Sand, A Descent into Egypt and The Wave: An Egyptian Aftermath. A Prisoner of Fairyland was adapted into the play The Starlight Express with music by Sir Edward Elgar.

Blackwood served as an undercover agent for the British military intelligence during the first World War. After the war he settled in Kent, turning mostly to drama. He felt that he had come to the end of his fictional career by 1923. Instead, he began writing articles and reviews. Tongues of Fire and Shocks were his last story collections, and the novels he wrote at this time were mostly children's books and light fantasies, such as Sambo and Snatch, Dudley and Gilderoy, and The Fruit Stoners. He continued travelling in Europe and visited New York in 1933. The next year he started a new career reading ghost stories on the BBC radio, and was enormously popular. In 1936 he began appearing regularly on television. In 1940 his nephew's house was destroyed in the Battle of Britain, Blackwood himself surviving by accident. He retired to Bishopsteighton, Kent, where he continued preparing talks and plays for radio. He received the Television Society's medal in 1948. This work continued after the second World War, leading to Blackwood's being named a commander of the British Empire in 1949. He was affectionately called the Ghost Man, which was perhaps unfair, since his interests went much further than to simple ghost stories. While he never became rich from his stories and novels, they did pay for a modest way of life. Algernon Blackwood died on December 10, 1951.

Blackwood's biographer, Mike Ashley, responding to an elecronic interview states:

"There are no close relatives of Blackwood still alive, but he had many friends. Particpants in biographical research were, for example, Patsy Ainley (daughter of the actor Henry Ainley) and the artist Barbara Lindsay who supplied many personal memories. Also the great traveller Ella Maillart who shared many memories. She had known Blackwood from as long ago as 1919. The biographer contacted many who had distant memories of him, and will never forget his meeting with Lady Vansittart, who first met Blackwood in 1926 or thereabouts, and who recreated that meeting so vividly after almost sixty years.

Blackwood was something of a rolling stone and hated to keep papers. His whole lifestyle worked against anyone being able to reconstruct his life, because Blackwood did his best to hide it, other than what he revealed in articles and radio talks.

Research was carried out through his letters ... "to Patsy Ainley, Ella Maillart, Hilaire Belloc, Vera Wainwright, the BBC, his agent A.P. Watt and his publisher Macmillan - all of which are particularly revealing, but what about - says Ashley - his correspondence with Violet Pearn, Wilfred Wilson, Graham Robertson, Maude ffoulkes, Eveleigh Nash, Hesketh Bell, Baroness Knoop and so many others. Does it survive and, if so, where is it? I'm missing some of the events from his life 1900-1908 when he travelled extensively, and this is the same period from which I believe there are more published but forgotten stories in obscure newspapers. It's also the heyday of his involvement with the Golden Dawn and with the Society for Psychic Research, and I need to do more research in both their archives. Finally I'm still missing some of the details of his escapades as a "secret agent" during the First World War. Thankfully he did write these down, but they were deliberately incomplete (probably because of Official Secrets) and when I tried to find the papers in the Public Record Office some years ago they were missing ... "