Reprint: A Chat with Mr. Fergus Hume

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The author of a book that has sold to the extent of 300,000 copies in England alone, not to mention an enormous sale in Australia and America, and that has been so much talked about as "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," may fairly claim a niche in the temple of, at least, ephemeral fame. Consequently, hearing of Mr. Fergus Hume's arrival in England from Australia, a representative of the Sunday Times waited upon him with the object of "drawing him out."

Mr. Fergus Hume, we are told, is a young man, in his twenty-fifth year, with a bright intelligent face, keen eyes, a dark moustache, and of middle height. His manner is quiet and unassuming, and his accent in speaking is somewhat provincial.

"I have been just twelve days in London," says Mr. Hume, " but have seen very little of it as yet, though I am just longing to see all the sights. But we -- that is, my friend Philip Beck and I -- have been working so hard to finish the adaptation of my new book, 'Madame Midas,' as we want to produce the play, for copyright purposes, before the publication of the book on July 7."

"That will be sharp work."  

" Ah, thank goodness, the play is now finished."

"'Madame Midas' is also a story of Australian life, is it not?"

"Yes; and chiefly concerned with the mining interests in the Colony. You see, Farjeon and Marcus Clarke, our two Australian novelists, have dealt with the Australia of a past day -- the rougher times of the Colony. But my desire is to picture the Australia of to-day, to destroy a common impression in England that the miners are still the lawless haphazard diggers of the past, and to convey a true knowledge of the mining industry, which is now carried on on the most scientific principles. To this end I spent some weeks at the Midas mine -- one of the best conducted and most promising in the Colony -- and studied the whole scientific system of gold mining, so as to make my story as realistic as possible. My heroine I have partly drawn from life, being a lady who has become famous in Australia on account of her gold-mining successes. She is an owner of many mines, and works them herself, and in the colony she is known as 'Madame Midas.' Of course, the incidents of the plot, though in the main based on fact, are highly-coloured and elaborated according to the requirements of the story. The first part is laid at the mines, and subsequently the story deals with the stock and share markets in Melbourne. There is an interesting case of poisoning, and the heroine's love story is quite romantic."

"Is the story dramatic?"

" I think so--very. And it is also, I hope and believe, a great advance in every way on 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.' That book I wrote when I was very ill and hard-up, not very encouraging conditions for an unknown author to write under; and I know there is consequently some very slippery writing in the book. It was six months before I could get any publisher to take it up, and then a Mr. Trischler, who was connected with a publishing firm in Melbourne, took a fancy to the story, and undertook to arrange for its publication. The Melbourne publishers expected only five hundred would be sold in six months, but Mr. Trischler believed in the book, and an edition of 5000 copies was accordingly printed. These were sold out in eleven days, and the type having been distributed it was two months before the second edition came out, and then they soon sold 30,000 copies. So successful was the book that Mr. Trischler formed ' The Hansom Cab Publishing Company,' and, publishing the book over here, they have made no end of money out of it."  

"I trust you have shared financially in this success?"  

"I can't complain; they gave me a good sum down for the copyright, though had I known that the success was going to be so immense, I would never have parted with the book. However, for 'Madame Midas' they have given me very handsome terms, and I need hardly say how anxious I am about its success. I should hate to be known as a 'one book man.' Consequently I have put my best into this work."  

"Was the 'Hansom Cab' your first literary work?"

"No. I had been dabbling in literature for some time, though intended for the law, and engaged in a lawyer's office. While living in New Zealand I wrote several stories for the newspapers, and one of these--a psychological romance--attracted some attention. Then I wrote two or three plays for Australian theatres, one of which, 'A Woman Scorned,' was produced by Miss Marie de Grey."

"Are you a native Australian?"

"No, but I have lived in the Colonies since I was two years old. My parentage is a mixture of Scotch and Irish. Till I was twenty-one I lived in New Zealand, where I was admitted to the Bar, but never practised as a barrister, and for the last three years Melbourne has been my home, and there I have spent my time between literature, the law, and the Stock Market."

"And now you are fairly launched on the career of a novelist?"

"And playwright. In that connection I have entered into a partnership with Mr. Philip Beck, the actor, who has been playing in Melbourne for the last two years, and who has just returned home with me. The play of 'Madame Midas' is our joint work."

First published in The Maitland Mercury, 18 August 1888

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 3, 2012 7:25 AM.

Amusing Literary Terms #2 - Muphry's Law was the previous entry in this blog.

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