There are differences of opinion regarding who are the most prolific English writers—that is, who have written the most words. Some would argue that Charles Hamilton, the creator of Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, tops the list. He is supposed to have produced around 100 million words in a writing life of over sixty years of contributing school and adventure stories for The Gem, The Magnet and many other magazines. Another contender—who is still very much alive—is the that extraordinary man from East Dereham, the Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe, who cut his teeth as a writer of pulp science fiction for’ Badger Books’ in his late ‘teens ( at one stage he was penning a book each fortnight ) and went on to write prolifically on the supernatural and paranormal—that is when he wasn’t presenting Fortean TV, gaining awards in swimming and judo , being a management consultant, and riding around the UK on his powerful motor bike with his wife. He certainly holds some sort of record for the number of titles he produced. I interviewed him twice—for Book and Magazine Collector and Mensa Magazine—and I can honestly say that of all the hundred or more people I have got on tape, he is by far the most unusual figure.
But then we have Clement Wood (1888 – 1950) who, according to his own publicity, may be the most prolific American wordsmith. This poet, erotic novelist, biographer, journalist, short-story and pulp-fiction writer, and compiler of multi-volume encyclopaedias, also gave talks on writing and it is in one of these talks– to the Writers Club of Gloversville, New York in June 1938– that he made the astonishing claim that he had written over 25 million words! Here is his claim.
Published: 10 volume encyclopedia…………………………… 2, 400,000.
The equivalent of 100 printed books averaging
300 pages each, including 5 vol. History of
The World, Outline, Games, Rhyming Dictionary 9, 000,000
55 Little Blue Books for E. Haldeman Julius 1, 000,000
Short stories, c.200 at 5,000 words…………………1, 000,000
Reviews & newspaper columns……………………..2,500,000
Unpublished: 90 full erotic novels,100 plus pages each, to order,
all sold 3,000,000
Unpublished volumes, some of my best work,
About 50 300p.volumes altogether. 4,000,000
Unpublished short stories and essays, c. 400 at
5,000 words each 2,000,000
Total 25, 000, 000.
Well, we’ve done the ‘math’ and it all adds up, but can we take Mr Wood’s figures and words for granted, especially regarding the ‘unpublished‘ works. What does he mean by claiming that the unpublished ‘erotic novels’ were ‘all sold’. How can unpublished novels be sold? Or is he saying that they were typewritten—like those ‘Soho scripts’ of the fifties that were sold to men in dirty raincoats from under the counter in clip joints?
Anyway, here’s Mr Wood again. He’s a modest man with, no doubt, much to be modest about. Poor bloke, he never had a day off, either. For his pulp work he probably wrote for dimes, rather than dollars, a bit like the teenage Fanthorpe, but according to another source he was paid reasonably well for his novels. All told, since he did not become rich, despite his hard work, he’d have made more money selling gas or frying steaks in a downtown diner. But he did not return to the law, for which he had been trained, and genuinely seems to have been addicted to words. I wonder how many typewriters he got through.
‘I have been writing and publishing since 1917 (though wholly devoted to it only since 1922). Assume the whole 21 years, during this time, without a day’s vacation, I have written on the average:
1,250,000 words a year
104,000 words a month
3,425 words every day—more than 11pp.
FINISHED copy ( I omit all first
drafts in these figures) which means
a full length novel every 17 ½ days,
without a day’s let up for 21 years.
I have written serious novels, detective novels, sexy novels over various names, fiction for the slicks and for the pulps, essays for both, some 2,500 published poems and almost as much published light verse, full length biographies, volumes of criticism, histories, books on science, omnibuses of rhymes and poetcraft, games, jokes, English, history band a 10 volume encyclopedia. And I’m young yet and beginning the hang of writing.’
Evidently, though, all this industry took its toll. Wood died in 1950, aged just 62. [RR]