The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - World War I
The manuscript notebook (above), and the title page and first page (below) of DW's first full-length novel, largely written amidst the shell-fire of World War I
The Foreword and the Contents pages
Following his 'Nightmare Journey', in October 1917 DW was given charge of an ammunition dump near Etricourt, where there had been an old chateau, which was deliberately reduced to rubble by the Germans during an earlier retreat. It was comparatively quiet. DW liked the old quote that 'War consists of long periods of acute boredom, punctuated by short intervals of intense fear". As he was to recall in his memoirs, to relieve the boredom DW set about writing a novel.
About half of "Julie's Lovers" was written at this ammunition dump, "in a draughty Armstrong hut to the light of a gutted candle", more during a lull in fighting in January 1918, and the final quarter in England when he was recuperating from his wounds "with a piano going at one end of the room and a couple of tables of noisy gamblers at the other".
DW's father thought so highly of it that he got it typed up and it was sent round to Cassells for their opinion, but they rejected it.
It went to Cassells under the pseudonym, 'Dennis Clinton Audley', and in a brief foreword its author not only commented on the adverse conditions under which it was written, but he then, and rather bravely, went on to comment about how he profoundly disagreed with the popular sentiment that 'the only good German was a dead one', saying that he had lived in Germany before the war and that in Germany as in other countries there were both good and bad people. He went on to say that he hoped only the right men would pay the price of the war, and not everyone. In other words DW was already showing an ability to think for himself and an ability to be compassionate when others still spat venom. It is a pity perhaps that those who crafted the Treaty of Versailles did not listen to him.
The novel was thought completely lost until the two volume typescript and an exercise book containing about a quarter of DW's original ink-written manuscript surfaced at a London auction room along with a few other DW related items in January 2020. They are now in safe hands and perhaps one day DW's first novel can now be published.
It is far from being an immature work, and its sheer length is impressive. The typescript runs to 514 pages and for a twenty year old to have committed so much time and effort and concentration to the task in the knowledge that he might never live to finish it shows how deep the drive was in the young Dennis to be a writer.