Author Tags: Fiction
June Skinner of West Vancouver published four novels under the pen name, Rohan O’Grady, and a young adult novel under the pseudonym Ann Carleon.
Born in Vancouver in 1922, June Margaret O’Grady was raised in Point Grey, the daughter of an Irish-American forester who came to Vancouver in 1912 and her Irish-Canadian mother who left Winnipeg with her family in 1890 to homestead at the head of Knight Inlet. The family owned a thriving hotel at Shoal Bay, East Thurlow Island during the Klondike Gold Rush before settling in Vancouver in 1900. She graduated from Lord Byng High School in 1940, along with B.C. lawyer and biographer David Ricardo Williams, who knew her as “Legs O’Grady”. During World War II, she worked as resident assistant manager of the Capilano Golf and Country Club and, after the war, in the library of the Vancouver Sun where she met and married newspaperman (and Princeton man) Frederick Snowden Skinner of Providence, Rhode Island. Together they raised three children in West Vancouver.
O’Houlihan’s Jest, O’Grady’s first and favourite novel, required much research into Irish history. The author jokes that she cannot claim espionage service in the I.R.A. but that she is an enthusiastic Irish patriot in spirit. "Although she has never set foot in Ireland, her British publisher wrote: Few new novelists of importance have come out of Ireland since the Second World War: but here is an exciting arrival – an intensely individual voice that is yet in that great tradition of Irish writing which O’Casey and O’Flaherty have been the most recent to adorn. Written in a beautifully lyrical prose, it tells a highly dramatic story, and issues in a closing scene of grim and hair-raising power: and while free of all sentimentality, it moves the heart."
O’Grady’s second novel, Pippin’s Journal, “is a rich, strange tale, told with unblushing narrative power and relish. Edward Gorey’s drawings superbly capture Miss O’Grady’s love of the melodramatic, romantic, and macrabre. Here is storytelling in the great tradition of Mrs. Gaskell, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Poe.” Gorey’s jacket cover and more than a dozen illustrations have made Pippin’s Journal highly collectible. Although her other books have been long out of print, this novel, republished as The Curse of the Montrolfes, continues to sell.
Let’s Kill Uncle drew heavily upon O’Grady’s knowledge of B.C.’s coastal islands. In 1967, Hollywood’s Universal Pictures transformed Let’s Kill Uncle into a film starring British actor Nigel Greene. The author remembers, “I’d set the book on one of the Gulf Islands and there was a cougar in the story. They’d switched the whole thing to some tropical island off Mexico or Texas. The cougar became a shark. Sometimes I think all they really bought from me was the title.” The jacket copy reads “Rohan O’Grady has brought off the most readable brew of humor and horror, chills and child psychology since High Wind in Jamaica”. The book jacket is graced with a typical Edward Gorey illustration.
According to Wikipedia: "Let's Kill Uncle is a 1966 color horror film directed by William Castle about a young boy who is trapped on an island by his uncle who is planning to kill him. His only friend is young girl who tries to help him. It stars Nigel Green, Mary Badham, Pat Cardi and Robert Pickering. It is based on a novel written by Rohan O'Grady. It was filmed in Bermuda."
After the release of the movie and for the next three years, O’Grady wrote movie scripts at the request of her Hollywood agent. These were historical period pieces, none of which were produced.
Bleak November, written in 1967 but not published until 1970, is O’Grady’s least favourite novel. It was written at the request of her New York editor who wanted a fictional account of the sensational true story of the murder of an entire Coquitlam family by their embezzling, policeman father who then killed himself.
The May Spoon, published in 1981 by Beaufort Press as an adult trade paperback and in Great Britain as a young adult novel, is set in West Vancouver in the 1970s and has been described as “the direct descendent of Holden Caulfield”. In an odd coincidence, the Beaufort Press catalogue of 1982, which lists The May Spoon in its Recently Published section, leads off its Spring Fiction list that year with Keith Maillard’s The Knife in My Hands. Maillard met and married O’Grady’s daughter Mary six years later.
Discouraged by minimal recognition, a lack of literary fellowship and slim earnings, June Skinner put away two unpublished manuscripts in the early 1970s, and stopped writing altogether. At 81, she does not regret giving up the writing life. “The creative juices don’t need to flow through a pen”, she says. She is not related to Constance Lindsay Skinner, the novelist and critic who was born in Quesnel, B.C. in 1877.
O’Houlihan’s Jest, MacMillan, New York 1961. Gollancz, London, 1961.
Pippin’s Journal, MacMillan, New York, 1962. Gollancz, London, 1962
Republished in the States and Britain as The Curse of the Montrolfes and currently in print with Second Chance Press, Sag Harbor, N.Y.
Let’s Kill Uncle, MacMillan, New York, 1963. Longmans, London, 1964
Bleak November, Dial Press, New York, 1970. Michael Joseph, London, 1971
The May Spoon, Beaufort, New York, 1981. Methuen, London, 1984
[BCBW 2003] "Fiction" "Movie"