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Caving novel made deep impression


A classic adventure novel from the 1950s is back in the shops, because a man wanted to keep a promise he made to his daughter 20 years ago.

Mr Harry Whitehouse (58) of Queen Street, Balderton, borrowed Conon Fraser’s Dead Man’s Cave from a library in Mansfield in 1960, when he was 11.

He enjoyed the book so much that he paid for a replacement instead of returning it.

The story inspired him to become a keen potholer after he left school.

Years later, his daughter Louise read Dead Man’s Cave while she was at Chuter Ede Primary School, Balderton, and became just as enthusiastic about it.

Mr Whitehouse promised that she would have her own copy, but he discovered that the book was out of print.

Thus began a 20-year search of second-hand book shops and checks on the internet.

“I eventually realised that the only way to keep my promise was to republish it myself,” said Mr Whitehouse, the Advertiser’s editor.

He knew that Conon Fraser’s later books were about New Zealand, so he guessed that the author had emigrated.

Mr Whitehouse began searching telephone directories, and found Mr Fraser’s address in Taupo on the North Island.

Mr Fraser (77) was enthusiastic about the project and signed a publishing contract.

The next problem was to obtain permission to reproduce the artwork.

“Dead Man’s Cave has four brilliant full-page illustrations by Will Nickless, who was very much in demand as an artist for books and The Eagle comic in the 1950s,” said Mr Whitehouse.

“I was very anxious to include his work, but he died in the 1970s.

“However, I found an article by someone who interviewed Mr Nickless’s son and heir ten years ago, and through that I managed to trace William Nickless junior to Norfolk.”

Preparations for republishing the book took place in great secrecy so that Mr Whitehouse could surprise his daughter, Dr Louise Whitehouse (30) of Normanton, West Yorkshire.

“The expression on her face when she opened the wrapping paper was worth all of the trouble,” said Mr Whitehouse.

On Monday, he will help to launch Nottinghamshire’s contribution to the national Library Lovers’ Week event by handing over a copy of Dead Man’s Cave to replace the one he kept almost 50 years ago.

The book is about four teenage boys who explore caves in the Mendips and discover a message from a French commando.

They follow a trail to France in the hope of solving a wartime mystery.

“Dead Man’s Cave is great fun, and it’s a wonderful period piece, recalling the lives and attitudes of people in the 1950s,” said Mr Whitehouse.

“In common with all good books written for young people, it’s also marvellous entertainment for adults.

“I felt there was an excellent chance that it would prove popular with a 21st Century audience.”

The new Dead Man’s Cave is under the Peaksoft imprint — the name of the firm that Mr Whitehouse founded in the early 1980s to produce computer games software, including a chart-topping football management game.

Peaksoft has since published music CDs and sheet music and promoted music events, and through the internet it coordinates groups that raise money for children’s heart treatment.

Dead Man’s Cave by Conon Fraser, ISBN 9780955777905, is available through bookshops, or direct from the publisher on peaksoft.co.uk, at £7.99.

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