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A Victor Canning calendar

The months of the year, and how they struck the author

A Happy New Year to all Victor Canning readers

The phrase "New Year" occurs 36 times in Canning's complete works. Fourteen of them are in The Kingsford Mark in which the pivotal incident (the murder of the Foreign Secretary) takes place three days after Christmas in the run-up to a grand New Year's Eve party (Chapter 10).


There are 22 occurrences of the word January in Canning's works, significantly in Mercy Lane, Queen's Pawn and The Kingsford Mark.

And in Everyman's England he writes: "January is the time to wander away from the huddle of towns into the clear air and the steel-bright landscapes of the Dales."


I found the word February used 55 times. Nearly half of these were in two books: Doubled in Diamonds where the Hatton Gardens diamond robbery occurs in February, and Firecrest where the scientist Dilling suffers his fatal heart attack on 27 February.

The Runaways begins: "It had been raining all night, and all the morning; raining hard all over Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. It was a cold February rain, filling the ditches, swelling the rivers, and stripping the few dead leaves that still clung to the trees. It made quagmires of the cow treads at field gates, spouted over blocked gutters, and flooded the low-lying roads so that passing cars sent up bow waves of spray and soaked unlucky passers-by."


The word March (capitalised) occurs over 210 times in all, with around half of these referring to the town of March in East Anglia, where Canning lived in 1934/5. It is the setting for parts of Polycarp's Progress and Atlantic Company and has one chapter in Everyman's England.

Frank shook his head. "I've heard of Nineveh and the buried city of Ur, but March! I'm only familiar with the unpleasant month of that name." (Polycarp's Progress, chapter 8)


The word April occurs 68 times, most often in two books: The Painted Tent with 10 and The Satan Sampler with 8.

In The Painted Tent we find: "And in more than one creature, human and otherwise, the restless drive of April was forcing new patterns of behaviour, not all of them sensible."

In Birdcage: "It was early evening, a lovely April evening when, he told himself, the beauty of everything hit you suddenly and made your eyes blink on the verge of tears."

There are no citations for April Fool.


The word May meaning the month occurs 72 times, with the only strong concentrations occurring in Mr. Finchley Goes to Paris and Queen's Pawn where significant events take place in May.

There is a character named May in The Boy on Platform One.

The word may as a modal verb occurs 1455 times.

From The Runaways: "April ran into May and early summer smiled on the valleys and plains. Marsh marigolds, frogbit and water crowfoot flourished on the pond in the paddock. The primroses went and the bluebells came. Bryony wreathed up the hedges and the wild garlic flourished under the trees by the river. The trout and grayling grew fat on flies, nymphs and caddis grubs. The fledglings feathered up and felt an urge in their wings that made them restless in their overcrowded nests. The cuckoo pints unfurled their green sheaths and attracted small insects to crawl about over their stigmas and pollinate them. In the hedgerows, the real cuckoos had long deposited their eggs in other birds' nests."


The word June occurs 128 times, all referring to the month.

From Every Creature of God is Good: "It was a June sky; today was the first of June, and that was why he felt so good, because today was pay-day, today the day of the monthly cheque. Today, for a few hours, he would be rich, his wallet full of notes, and then his monthly dues to the landlady and his other bills would deplete the store. ... June, he said to himself, the first of June, and he had to go into a damned office. Yet even this did not sadden him as much as he might have wished. A bright day might make one long for freedom, but it also cheered up captivity. "


The word July occurs 61 times.

From Sanctuary from the Dragon: "If we have much more of this weather when the corn's standing a bit higher the farmers will be cursing," said Ephraim looking across at Jim. "I remember before the war we had a storm like this in July. It flattened all Mr. Collyer's oats and wheat in fifteen minutes, and ten minutes afterwards it stopped and out came a strong sun to splut the wet cherries and spoil them. He lost two hundred pounds because of that storm. "


The word August occurs 68 times referring to the month and twice as the adjective august describing the Minerva Club.

From The Chasm: "It had been August and as hot as hell. Even they knew they were fools to be walking about Italy in such heat. There was a pleasure in being foolish in those days."

And from Mr Finchley Discovers his England: "Everywhere, in field and pasture, on beach and headland, beside stream and sea, man and beast shrank from the pitiless glaze of the arid August sun; the tropic sun that frightens England for a week and then is gone, taking summer with it."


The word September occurs 78 times.

From Fall from Grace: "... a light drizzle had begun to fall and early September was weeping for the passing of Summer ..."

And from The Scorpio Letters: "The sound of rain woke him, hard, splashing September rain with the lick of a rising gale behind it to shake the window panes."

And fourteen citations come from the story "Nine Little Fishermen" in the Department of Patterns series (reprinted in The Minerva Club), "Pierre Appell, murdered, Paris, 20th September, 1952. Olivier Cour, murdered, Paris, 20th September, 1953 ..." since a series of eight murders have occurred on that aniversary and are still unsolved.


The word October occurs 65 times, almost half the occurrences coming from the two children's books, The Flight of the Grey Goose and The Painted Tent. Most of the citations, like this one, are about the hoped for return of Smiler's father on the ship he works aboard, due to dock at Greenock on 1st October.

"Soon it would be autumn and the red-deer would start their rutting, the echoes of the calling stags roaring and rolling through the tops. And soon, Smiler told himself, it would be October and he would be off to meet his father. When the moment came he knew he would be sad to go."
Flight of the Grey Goose, Chapter 6.


The word November occurs 36 times in Canning's works, including this most significan one from the short story "The Man who Hated Time".

"He had got the all-clear signal and had his hand on the car door, about to get in and drive off, when all over [Dover Harbour], which had been the usual pandemonium of customs clearing, there was a mad wail of sirens for a few seconds, and then everything stopped. Chris Selby didn't have to be told what it was. In those days the war wasn't long past, and when the sirens went at eleven o'clock on the morning of November the eleventh everybody stopped and there was silence for two minutes. There really was silence. Even the seagulls stopped bawling their heads off. Chris Selby and the officer stood by the car like a couple of wax figures, and you could have heard a pin drop. No one did drop a pin, but Chris and the officer heard something else. From the car, not loud enough for anyone else to hear, it's true, but loud enough to do the damage, came the gentle sound of five thousand [smuggled] watches ticking, all carefully wound by the half-witted Audiat brothers who wanted to please the anglais by making sure that he had watches that worked as well as looked good.


The word December occurs 25 times altogether. Here is a characteristic fragment from The Mask of Memory:

"It was a mild December morning, a thin mist knee-high over the ground and the sky, barely light, a gun-metal grey. He walked down a gravelled ride, leafless poplars towering over him, and found the lake. Grebe and coots moved out of the sere reeds and the bent, brown flags to lose themselves in the mist after a few yards."
(Chapter 5)


The word Christmas occurs 194 times, but 75 of these are accounted for by the steward named Christmas who works aboard the freighter Olantigh in Atlantic Company.

There are sixteen citations in The Kingsford Mark, in which the murder of the Foreign Secretary takes place during a Christmas visit to his country estate.

I rather like this paragraph from The Great Affair:

"My brother had once asked her how babies were born and Miss Amberley had, after thought, said that God gave a present of the seed of life to every man and that every man handed the present on to his wife who planted it in herself so that it would grow into a baby in her tummy until the baby got too big to be comfortable and then came out, and I remember that the main question for us after that had been when and where had God given our father the seed (and how was it wrapped up, like a Christmas present?) and also wonder at the thought that a man like my father could have had a direct present from God and never told us about it because he wasn’t a man to miss a chance of name-dropping." (Chapter 9)


... and in case you are wondering how I came to know all these facts, I used a concordance program capable of searching a vast amount of text in a few seconds (in this case the five million words of Canning's published output) and displaying all occurrences of whatever you searched for. The one I used was called AntConc, but there are several available.

John Higgins, 18 January 2021.