James Hanley (1897 – 1985), novelist and playwright, with family roots in Dublin and Liverpool, lived and worked for many years at 51 Lissenden Mansions. He wrote from the perspective of growing up in Liverpool at the beginning of the century, and following his father into the Merchant Navy.
The unflinching view of life, both on land and at sea, reflected in his writing, has led to him being likened to ‘a Joseph Conrad of the lower decks’. When James Hanley’s novel ‘Boy’ (based on a story gathered when working in the Merchant Navy) was threatened with a private prosecution in 1932, EM Forster spoke up in his defence, and other supporters of his work included the writers TE Lawrence and Henry Miller.
James Hanley’s commitment to writing was life long, and before he died at his home in Lissenden Gardens at the age of 88, he had produced many short stories and novels. In the 1940s and 50s he wrote avant-garde radio plays for the BBC Third Programme, and later, ‘Plays for Today’ for television.
In recent years James Hanley’s work has won new recognition, leading to the republication of several of his novels by Alma Books.
With thanks to Camden Libraries and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for information in compiling these biographical notes.
N.B.: ‘Boy’ has been recently re-issued by Alma Books, leading to renewed critical acclaim for James Hanley as a neglected genius of 20th century British literature.