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It’s cold and wet at the moment – just the right weather for curling up with a good book. But what if you want to curl up with a bad book? That’s what pulp fiction is for: cheap, disposable paperbacks that can entertain you for an hour or so.
Australia’s prolific prince of postwar pulp fiction was Carter Brown – the pen name of British-born Alan Yates. He came here during the war, and married an Australian woman he had met on leave. They lived in England for a while, but Alan’s articles and radio scripts kept getting rejected, so they returned to Sydney in 1948.
One of Alan’s jobs was producing the in-flight magazine for Qantas. In the evenings, he wrote a western, and went on to write horror, science fiction, and detective stories. At his publisher’s urging, he wrote his first full-length crime novel, Murder is My Mistress, which came out in 1954. It was so successful that Alan was contracted to become a full-time writer, turning out a novel every month for a weekly income plus royalties.
In the next 30 years, Alan wrote over 200 novels under the pen name Carter Brown, as well as 75 novellas. An individual title could sell up to 200 000 copies, and his total sales were 55 million. His books were second only to the Bible for the number of languages they were translated into.
His detectives included ditzy blonde private investigator Mavis Seidlitz, Hollywood screenwriter Larry Baker and his drunken assistant Boris Slivka, San Francisco lawyer Randy Roberts, and Lt. Al Wheeler, a policeman from fictional Pine County near LA.
The plots had beautiful, dangerous women, plenty of action, a bit of a laugh, and enough sex and violence to keep readers coming back for more. They could expect strippers, starlets, spankings, vampires, ghosts, aliens, witches, Satanists, psychiatrists, sexy Women’s Libbers, deadly yoga instructors, and rampant dwarfs.
There were loads of alliterative titles, like Bullet for My Baby, Honey, Here’s Your Hearse, Darling, You’re Doomed, and Cutie Wins a Corpse. Blondes were a favourite topic, featuring in Blonde Verdict, No Blonde is an Island, Blonde on the Rocks, and Blonde, Beautiful, and – BLAM!
The books were usually set in California, which was what readers expected. Alan hadn’t been to the United States when he first started, so wrote from his imagination, with some comic results. However, this didn’t bother his readership in Australia and Europe, most of whom hadn’t been to America either.
Once his books started being sold in the US in 1958, he did visit America and was able to add more realism. It was also America which fixed his pen name in place: he had sometimes published as Peter Carter Brown or Peter Carter-Brown, but it was felt Carter Brown would do better in the United States. A helpful rumour circulated that Carter Brown was the favourite author of President John F. Kennedy, which boosted sales.
Alan’s life was very different from that of his heroes, as he was a devoted family man who enjoyed a beer and a joke with friends. He spent nearly all his time writing, living in dread of deadlines, and surviving on coffee and Benzedrine to maintain the relentless pace. He dreamed of one day publishing a serious work, a historical novel set in Australia, but there was too much writing to be done.
Alan was no Raymond Chandler, but although he wrote pure pulp, it wasn’t complete trash. He was able to keep readers addicted through constant inventiveness while sticking to the same formula the publisher insisted on, and his humour, puns and literary allusions added sparkle to the text. Some of his works are still in print, and he has a loyal readership among fans of vintage crime fiction.
Alan won his only literary award a dozen years after his death, when he received the Ned Kelly Award for lifelong contribution.
Carter is an English occupational surname for someone who transported goods, or who made a living building carts. It’s a very old surname, and may pre-date the Norman Conquest.
There are many people with the surname. Jimmy Carter, former American president; archaeologist Howard Carter who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen; writer Angela Carter; country singer June Carter from The Carter Family, wife of Johnny Cash; Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman; Rubin Carter, the boxer known as “The Hurricane” who later worked to help people wrongfully convicted; and Shawn Carter, the rapper known as Jay Z, married to Beyoncé.
Famous Australian Carters include ornithologist Thomas Carter who found many bird specimens; entomologist Herbert Carter, beetle expert; physicist Brandon Carter, known for his work on black holes; photographer and film-maker Jeff Carter; influential businessman Bruce Carter; and high jumper Doris Carter, the first Australian female track and field athlete to make the Olympic finals.
Carter has been used as a personal name since at least the 17th century, and usually given to males. Famous namesakes include Carter Braxton, one of the signatories to the United States Declaration of Independence, and Carter Woodson, the African-American historian considered to be the father of Black History Month in the US.
An influential fictional character with the surname Carter is John Carter of Mars, an immortal Southern Virginian gentleman created by Edgar Rice Burroughs: practically every sci-fi adventure story since owes a debt to him. There’s also dime novel detective Nick Carter, and mob enforcer Jack Carter, from the cult film Get Carter.
Fictional characters with Carter as a first name include superheroes such as Carter Grayson from the Power Rangers, Carter Hall, otherwise known as the Hawkman, and Carter Slade, the original Ghost Rider. There’s also Carter Kane from Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, a powerful teenage magician and the human host of the Egyptian god Horus.
In the US, Carter has been on the Top 1000 almost continuously for boys since the late 19th century. It has been climbing since 1980, joined the Top 100 for the first time in 2004, and is currently #24.
Carter began charting for girls in 2013, and is currently #533. Two female Carters from popular culture are tomboy Carter Mason in the Disney movie Princess Protection Program, played by Selena Gomez, and rebellious Carter Wilson, on the teen drama series Finding Carter.
In the UK, Carter has been in the Top 500 since the late 1990s and has been generally rising since 1999, rising steadily since 2010. It is currently #118, so not far outside the Top 100. Carter is a popular name in Northern Ireland, and is most popular in New Zealand, where it is #20 and rising. It only charts as a female name in the US.
In Australia, Carter debuted in the Top 100 in 2014, and last year went up 19 places to #79, making it one of the fastest rising names of 2015. Carter debuted at #83 in New South Wales, being one of the fastest rising names in the state, and was #39 in Queensland.
Carter fits right in with the surname trend, as well as with the other rising AR names, like Archer, Arlo, and Harvey. It sounds sleek and tailored, but also rugged and manly – a tough-talking guy who looks good in a suit. Like Carter? Join the club.