You gotta love the Internet

In a previous post I wondered whether the authors of the 1934 knock-out blow novel Invasion from the Air, Frank McIlraith and Roy Connolly, might have been left-wing, as the artist who (apparently) was supposed to illustrate the book was a communist. I hadn't been able to turn up any biographical information about either of them in the usual places (eg Oxford DNB or Who's Who). But thanks to the magic of the Internet I've tracked down Connolly, in 5 easy steps!

The first breakthrough came when I looked for other books by McIlraith or Connolly in the British Library catalogue, and I found one called Southern Saga (1940), which was published by the same company as Invasion from the Air - which is suggestive but not conclusive. Then Google led me to "New literatures" in The Year's Work in English Studies which in turn led me to "Literary imaginings of the Bunya" from the Queensland Review, then "The Making of a Queensland Politician: Jack Duggan's life before parliament 1910-1935" from the Journal of Australian Studies, and finally I used the very handy AustLit (subscription only, unfortunately) to confirm that it was indeed the same Roy Connolly who wrote both Invasion from the Air and Southern Saga. So it turns out that Connolly was not British at all, but an Australian! He was the political journalist for the Queensland Labor Party's Daily Standard in the 1930s (and so it is probably safe to assume that he was a Labor man himself). What he was doing writing air-scare literature for the British market, I have no idea, but if I can scare up a biography of him it might give me more of a clue. (I tried the Australian Dictionary of Biography today at the library, but naturally the volume I needed was not on the shelf.)

It makes me wonder how I would have found this out 15 or even 10 years ago, before masses of this sort of information became available on the Internet. Even if I'd thought to check non-British biographical dictionaries, there's still no guarantee that I would have found Connolly, and without any clues I wouldn't have known where else to look. In the end I probably would have given up: it's not really all that important and there would be better things to spend my time on. But now, thanks to Google and other resources, this kind of sleuthing is both painless and fast - in fact, I spent more time writing this post than I did on the search itself!

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10 thoughts on “You gotta love the Internet

  1. I was looking for Roy Connolly on the Internet, and found your post. Back in about 1947 I sent in a short story to an exservice newspaper and was called in by its editor and offered a job as a journalist working on his (independent) newspaper). The Editor/owner was Roy Connolly. He had expected a tough ex-digger; I was a timid,young ex-servicewoman. He gve me the job anyway; it - and the paper - lasted about three months.
    Long enough for me to join the AJA, nominated by Roy, who really admired my writing; but the only outlet from there was the local Brisbane Courier, which took on about one apprentice a year, or less. So I took a PWR course at Queenland Uni, but never fulfilled my 'writing destiny' - see my website, just google Betty Birskys.
    I am writing up "My Brilliant career"; would you know the name of that small short-lived newspaper?

  2. Post author

    How interesting! I'm sorry to say I don't know the answer to your question. You've probably already found Connolly's ADB entry, which doesn't say either. But it does suggest some further places you might look: R. B. Walker, Yesterday's News (Sydney, 1980); Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 14 September 1966 (presumably his obituary); Connolly papers (National Library of Australia). You could also try asking the author of the entry, Chris Tiffin, who is at UQ -- although as he wrote it at least 17 years ago, his memory may be hazy!

    Good luck.

  3. Wow! I only just found your reply of 19th March 2010 to mine of 17th. Sorry not to have written before. Now, I can tell you that Roy Connolly's son became a Judge (Chief Justice, I think) in Queensland. I forget now where I found this information; I think it was just by googling...
    By then, I had moved into a different life: in 1951, I married a DP - a Balt as we called the New Australians - and that is another story as they say, but you can find out a little about me by googling Betty Birskys (which is how I found your reply!) Bless the internet indeed. I'll look up the suggestions you make. All the best in the meantime. I'll be in toucch again.

  4. Post author

    Six years later, the internet has turned up trumps again. Almost. I've narrowed down Frank McIlraith to one of two people (who might be the same person). The most likely would seem to be Frank L. McIlraith, in the late 1930s the London editor of the Sydney newspaper Smith's Weekly, for which Roy Connolly wrote upon his return to Australia shortly after the publication of Invasion from the Air. He had previously worked in Adelaide and (c. 1920) Hobart. Frank L. died in 1940; he travelled with H. G. Wells on his 1939 trip to Australia, and his correspondence with several other figures is extant.

    But a brief notice in a Hobart newspaper for Invasion in the Air doesn't mention anything about this, merely saying referring to 'Mr. Frank McIlraith, of New Zealand'. That seems like an odd description of somebody who, six years later, was described as being well-known in journalistic circles in Hobart. There was a (presumably) different Frank McIlraith around in New Zealand in the 1930s: he worked in the Eastbourne post office and got married in 1933.

    Given that Frank L. was like Connolly an Australian journalist, like Connolly worked in Britain for a while, and was an editor for a newspaper that Connolly wrote for, he seems a much better match for a co-author than a Kiwi postal worker. But besides the 'of New Zealand' thing, I can't be sure he was in Britain at the same time as Connolly. And if he was already writing as 'Frank L. McIlraith' then why didn't he use that on the book instead of 'Frank McIlraith'? So, this is only about 95% trumps, I reckon.

  5. Robyn Conway

    Frank McIlraith was my grandmother's brother. He started as reader, then became a journalist on the Lyttelton Times in New Zealand. Was a conscientious objector in WWI, smuggled to Australia, never allowed to return to NZ. Worked on Fleet Street. His two sons Shaun and Warren became renowned journalists. Find Shaun's obituary from January 2007 in the Sydney Morning Herald. It goes into the family background including Frank. They were all humanitarian with strong socialist consciences.

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