John Brosnan: "Why Bother?"

John Brosnan: "Why Bother?"
A treasure from the John Ryan Comic Collection
23 June 2015

Portrait of John Brosnan

Portrait of John Brosnan (1947–2005), http://www.comicvine.com/john-brosnan/4040-63726/

Never in my 18 years of work have I stopped to seriously read the items I’ve been cataloguing … until now. What appeared to be a pile of unassuming documents not worth a second glance, turned out to be a goldmine of the most entertaining writing I have ever read.

The title in question is Why Bother?,a fanzine written by Australian science fiction author John Brosnan, as his contribution to the monthly Australian and New Zealand Amateur Press Association (ANZAPA) mailing. Why Bother? had a short run of only eight issues. All but one contains an outstanding personal piece, with some also containing comments on other ANZAPA members’ contributions, sometimes a book review, and once even a hilarious commentary on a badly written newspaper article, 'Katoomba fears at mental case influx' (John Yeomans, Sun Herald, 1969).

The first page of Why Bother? (Number 1, ca. 1968)

J. Brosnan, 'Why Bother?'  ca. 1968 No. 1, p. 1, MS 6514

What attracted me to Why Bother? in particular were the personal pieces. John wrote about whatever was going on in his life at the time. While job hunting, getting mugged, a kitchen fire, and getting infected by a tick may not exactly sound like riveting subjects, John wrote about them in such a way, that I’ve read them many times over and still don’t show any signs of tiring of them.

By a hair, I think my favourite personal piece was when he wrote about setting his kitchen stove on fire. Here’s an excerpt:

Keeping cool and perfectly calm, I decided to ignore it for a while. I began to read again.

Black smoke started to curl out from under the door.

Panic.

It was time for decisive action.

I shot out the door and almost collided with a fellow flat-dweller just coming out of his own kitchen.

“Excuse me”, I said, “but my stove is on fire.”

He raised his eyebrows. “What?”

“My stove is on fire”, I repeated.

“Oh…” he said. There was a lengthy pause, then he said, “Let’s see.”

I led him inside and opened the oven door. The flames roared out on cue.

“Hmmmm”, he said, and stood there staring at the bloody thing for what seemed ages. I started to fidget.

“I was considering wet sand…” I ventured.

“Hmmmm? Oh no….” He reached over, grabbed a tea towel and wrapped it round his hand. Then he extended his hand into the inferno and withdrew the blazing tray. This he dropped into the sink and turned on the cold water tap.

I now know that wasn’t the correct thing to do.

An eruption of flame resulted. I yelped and tried to climb over him in an effort to reach the door. It wasn’t fear, it’s just that I wanted to make sure my comic book collection was safe before the rest of the building caught fire.

J. Brosnan, 'Why Bother?'  ca. 1968 No. 2, MS 6514

The final issue left me on an absolute cliff-hanger, as it was here John wrote at length about preparing to go on a trip with 11 other friends/associates who had bought a share in a double decker bus, and planned to drive it across Asia and Europe. I love hearing about other people’s travel experiences, and this one sounded so exciting, especially as it was in an age before all the technical gadgets we take for granted these days. I had to find out if John wrote a travel journal of sorts in his inimitable style.

I was to find that there was good news, and there was bad news. The good news was that John did indeed write about the trip in a new fanzine called Why Bother Abroad? The bad news was that the National Library of Australia doesn’t hold a single copy. No library does! Not in a catalogued accessible form anyway. Absolutely determined not to be defeated, I continued searching, and found that a wonderful person (based in Canberra, no doubt!) had compiled a selection of John’s fanzine work, which just happened to include two issues of Why Bother Abroad? I was absolutely thrilled! A few issues are most certainly better than none at all! I immediately absorbed myself in the Indian leg of John’s adventures, where he attempted to deal with a toothache (which remained unresolved), managed to lose his travel party and the double decker bus, and navigated the crazy traffic on a motorbike he described as, “If it wasn’t crashing, it was breaking down.” John also wrote humourously about the long drawn out process of trying to cash a traveller’s cheque in Afghanistan.

Shortly after discovering John’s fanzines, I began to wonder what the man behind these wonderful tales was like. He was born in Perth, Western Australia on 7 October 1947. I was thrilled to find that he lived with John Ryan for a couple of months in 1968! In issue number nine of John Ryan’s fanzine, Boomerang*, Ryan details the joy at having another comic fan living under his roof to bounce ideas off, and distract each other from life’s more serious tasks:

 Boomerang. Issue no. 9 / John Ryan (August 1968)

J. Ryan, Boomerang, Issue no. 9, August 1968

(*Boomerang was John Ryan’s contribution to CAPA-Alpha, a monthly US-based fanzine that is still going to this very day. And the Fiona mentioned in the excerpt, is Ryan’s young daughter.)

John Brosnan moved to England during his twenties. He was a regular contributor to the fandom movement (he won a Nova Award in 1974 for best fanzine), before breaking into the big time, publishing many novels, non-fiction books and even a few comics under various pen names, as well as being a regular columnist for Starburst magazine. I was pleased to discover this after having read about his attempts at getting his first novel published, only to be constantly rejected (see Why Bother? Number seven.) The National Library holds a small selection of John’s work (including a signed copy of The Sky Lords), and I’m currently working on following up the rest of his works to add to the collection.

Signed copy of The Sky Lords by John Brosnan

Signed copy of The Sky Lords by John Brosnan

Some of John’s novels have been adapted for the screen. The one that immediately grabbed my attention, was Carnosaur, which John wrote under the pen name of Harry Adam Knight. As I’m a big fan of creature features, especially when producer/director Roger Corman’s name is attached to them, I immediately placed an order for my own copy on DVD. I was really interested to find out that Carnosaur was released in the cinemas just a month before the first Jurassic Park movie premiered in 1993! Another coincidence I came across, was that the lead actress in Carnosaur, Diane Ladd, is the mother of Laura Dern, the female lead in Jurassic Park!

Carnosaur DVD

Carnosaur DVD (from my personal collection)

On a more personal note, I was very sad to find that John suffered from depression, and drank more than he should have. Towards the end of his days, he became withdrawn, and resisted friends’ intervention attempts. It was heartbreaking to find that such a talented person passed away, alone, aged just 57, on approximately 11 April 2005. His death date is an estimate, as he was found by friends in his flat days after he had passed away from acute pancreatitis.

To end this post on a positive note, let me share with you an excerpt of my new favourite John Brosnan piece, entitled 'The things that go bump in the night are working overtime':

Then it began to gnaw. It was gnawing on the door. The sound was so loud it filled the room. It sounded like a sawmill. At this rate the rat would be free within minutes. I got up, went over to the cupboard, and kicked the door. From inside there was the sound of something scuttling around. Clang went the saucepans again. It was no use, I would have to deal with the creature there and then.

J. Brosnan, edited by Peter Roberts , Egg no. 7 (March 1973)

Visit the National Library of Australia anytime during opening hours, to gain access to the wonderful works of John Brosnan. Be sure to search the catalogue under his pen names as well—Harry Adam Knight, Simon Ian Childer, James Blackstone, and John Raymond.

A selection of John Brosnan titles held at the NLA

A selection of John Brosnan books held at the National Library of Australia

 

Comment: 
Fabulous post! Thank you for 'bothering' about John Brosnan :)
Comment: 
My absolute pleasure, Debbie. I hope my post has brought John's work to the attention of a whole new fan base, as I found his work to be so entertaining when I stumbled across it only a few months ago.
Comment: 
Thank you! Brilliant work Alison ( :
Comment: 
Glad you enjoyed my blog post, Michael. I've thoroughly enjoyed coming across John Brosnan's thoroughly entertaining works and bringing them to light for a new generation of fans. I feel so lucky to be working on the John Ryan Comic Collection - if it wasn't for this project, I don't think I would have discovered him as easily, if at all.
Comment: 
Glad you unearthed and shared these treasures Ali.
Comment: 
Thanks Liesl - I'm super glad too! After writing the post, I chased up as many of his works for the collection as I could. You'll be pleased to know that out of the 20 titles I ordered, 19 have come in and are now available for loan! :) (It was so hard to send them down to the Stacks, as I would've liked to have had the time to read them all myself, first!)
Comment: 
I've put a "suggest we buy" request in at my friendly local library so I hope some of these great works end up available in SA
Comment: 
I knew John Brosnan in the 1960s when he lived in Sydney, and I have been delighted to learn from your blog a whole lot of things I did not know about his subsequent life. Thank you! I am able to confirm that the bus full of members of the Sydney Science Fiction Foundation took John to the UK, from where he never really returned (he may have visited, but did not live in Australia again, as far as I know). I think, before that, he lived with the Ryans for a whole lot longer than the anticipated "couple of months", and was active in Sydney fandom -- including being one of the committee that organised Syncon '70, the first Sydney convention since the mid-50s. As another member of that group, I can confirm that even then it was evident that his drinking was a real problem for him and when I heard of his sad death in 2005, my only real surprise was that he had managed to survive so long. I had not been aware that he suffered from clinical depression until then, but I hardly knew the term before he left Australia. In retrospect, that also is not surprising. But even taking all that into account, he was a wonderful, talented person who lived a pretty good life. I do not have any of his books, sadly, but if you were able to find a copy of the DVD of Carnosaur, I think I should too. Thank you again for blogging about him!
Comment: 
Well what a day it has been. First finding your post about my late husband's collection and now reading about John Brosnan, whom I remember so very well. A strange trip down memory lane for me. And then I scroll down and see the name Gary Mason...the memories are flooding back of my days in Sydney before John and I moved to Brisbane in late 1970
Comment: 
Well what a day it has been. First finding your post about my late husband's collection and now reading about John Brosnan, whom I remember so very well. A strange trip down memory lane for me. And then I scroll down and see the name Gary Mason...the memories are flooding back of my days in Sydney before John and I moved to Brisbane in late 1970
Comment: 
Wow Jan, that's fantastic! If you ever had the time, I'd love to hear any anecdotes you'd be willing to share about John Brosnan. I am a massive fan of his work, and absolutely loved his sense of humour which shone through so brightly in his fanzines and other written articles. At the time of researching this post, I went through the personal papers part of your late husband's collection, hoping to find some correspondence between the two of them, or a photo, but alas I wasn't so lucky. Glad to have brought back so many happy memories for you - they must've been such wonderful times!
Comment: 
I love the skylord trilogy. I'm happy that I have found part 2 and 3 after a long search in many different second hand shops. My sister had the first part and gave it to me and I was hooked. Sad to hear the story about his death. My dream is to make a movie out of his work...
Comment: 
I'm so glad you've been able to locate the novels you were after, Daniel. It's always a good feeling to finally locate something you've been searching for for such a long time. I wish you success in your movie endeavours.
Comment: 
As the person who put together the collection of John Brosnan's writings you were so taken with I think it would be worth me making a few comments. Hopefully you will see this despite my writing so long after your original post. I actually put together two different versions of You Only Live Once. When John passed away I decided it would be a nice idea to put together as comprehensive collection of John's work as I could for John's closest friends. John knew a great many people who were far closer to him than I had ever been but I had the advantage of being the only person who had a reasonably comprehensive collection of what John wrote while living in Australia and then England. Besides which I doubted anybody else had the stamina for the sort of project I envisioned. Essentially I put together a collection that included very close to everything John wrote or drew that I could find. That first version was printed out in a a small edition of less than twenty. Copies were sent to various of John's friends but I also sent a copy to the National Library of Australia because I knew it would amuse John if he knew a collection of his fanzine writings was enshrined in the stacks of such an institution. A little later I trimmed the original version down somewhat and sent it to Bill Burns to be made available on the eFanzines website. I also printed off a number of copies to send various people, including one for the National Library. In theory you should be able to find two different versions of You Only Live Once in the stacks but that's something about which you will have a better idea of than me. There are two different versions of You Only Live Once because I felt I couldn't make generally available the version I had assembled for John's friends. For them I wanted to include as much of John's work as possible because I know they would appreciate it even if not all of it was John's best work. How I didn't want to leave what I considered to be the weaker material in the version for general consumption as I wanted it to be the sort of collection that people without a personal connection to John would still enjoy reading. It's still long enough that nobody can complain about finishing it too soon. In regards to Gary Mason's comment John did make a return visit to Australia but only the once because he was worried that if he stepped out of the UK again he might not be allowed back in. I don't recall the exact details but I believe it had something to do with not having a proper work visa.
Comment: 
Thank you so much for all the effort you put into compiling “You only live once” in John’s memory, Kim. I’ve absolutely adored reading it. I get it out on loan every so often so I can flick through it again and re-read my favourite parts. Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to locate one edition in the Library’s collection – going by the two editions you’ve described to me, I believe the one in my hands is the comprehensive edition. I’ve submitted a request for Pandora, Australia’s web archive, to preserve the online version from Bill’s website (pending permission from Bill.) Thanks also for the brief anecdote in regards to John only ever having returned to Australia one last time since he relocated to the UK.
Comment: 
In a sense, John did return to Australia a second time. Some years after his death, his friends and writer Garry Kilworth made a trip to Australia and took some of John's ashes with him to scatter there. John's last years were very sad, two of his closest friends Rob Holdstock and Roy Kettle tried several interventions on his behalf, and organized and paid for several stays in rehabilitation. He suffered from panic attacks and very low self-esteem. He had a low opinion of his own professional writing (not for nothing did the letters of one of his pseudonymns Harry Adam Knight spell out HAK) but his fannish writings sometimes approached genius, and he could be as funny in real life, among friends,. as he often was in his writing. As I've said Rob and Roy were usually his first call for help when he felt low, but on one occasion when they weren't available, he rang me up and asked me to come over. I lived eight miles away but of course I dropped everything. John was in a bad way. He hadn't moved from his sofa for several days and was shaking with withdrawal symptoms. He gave me his credit card and instructed me to go down the supermarket and buy him two bottles of whisky. After consuming a large amount of one of them he stopped shaking and told me I could leave, having obviously served my purpose. I wasn't happy to leave him that way, but there wasn't a lot more I could do. On another occasion Roy and I drove him to hospital. He had run out of antidepressants and all he really wanted was a resupply of Tamazapan. The doctor asked him if he had had a drink that day and John lied and said "no." The doctor threw him out. I'd like to think they are a bit more sympathetic to people suffering from alcoholism these days. As a side-note: John book's "Carnosaur" predated both the book and film of Jurassic Park, and John very bravely threatened both Spielberg and Crichton with plagiarism and stealing his idea. Spielberg's solution was to pursuade his nearby friend and neighbour Roger Corman to get him out of the hole by making Carnosaur. Realizing there was very little point in taking on the Hollywood machine John settled for that.
Comment: 
I was recently interviewed about my favourite part of the NLA's extensive collection, and chose the works of Australian author John Brosnan: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-20/treasure-trove-tracking-down-john-brosnan-fanzines/8631340
Comment: 
Dear Alison, It was a pleasant surprise to come across your postings about John Brosnan. We were very good friends, and collaborated on the novel TORCHED, under the pseudonym JAMES BLACKSTONE. I have a large collection of his novels, all inscribed, and have archived our long correspondence, both of which I would be glad to donate to the Library. I can be reached as genet@noos.fr Cordially, John Baxter