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Gerald Berthot(Thomas Owen)

A Belgian writer, art historian and journalist whose real name is Gerald Berthot.

Born in Flanders, in Louvain, in the family of lawyer Arthur Bertot, who taught at the city college, and Elizabeth Jeanne Schuermans (d’Elisabeth Jeanne Schuermans). He was the oldest child in a family of three children. He receives secondary education in Brussels at the Saint-Michel school, where he publishes small articles in the school journal “Youth” (La jeunesse). At seventeen, he met with Jean Ray (Jean Ray, 1887-1964), and this meeting (according to Owen) determined his whole future life. In 1928 he enrolled in the first year of the Faculty of Philosophy of the Institute of Saint-Louis (Universitaires Saint-Louis), then until 1932 he studied law at the University of Louvain, where in 1930 he founded the literary journal “University Word” (La Parole universitaire; this publication, under his leadership, and then his brother, lasted another ten years). In 1933, at the University of l’Université Catholique de Louvain, he received a doctorate in law and married Juliette Ardies and left the bar (in 1936 and 1939 they had two children). Then, thanks to his friendship with the director of the daily newspaper “XX Century” William Hughes, he, under the pseudonym Stefan Rey (Stéphane Rey), begins to publish art articles on surrealism. And under his own name, he publishes political articles in magazines. And in 1937 he took up work at the flour mill of his cousin “Moulin des Trois Fontaines” in the northern suburbs of Brussels, where he worked for 43 years and reached the post of General Director. Thanks to this profession, he often traveled throughout Europe and the United States, retiring in 1979. He was the president of the Association of Belgian Millers, the president of the Association of Milling Associations of the EEC, the International Mill Association and, finally, the president of the Federation of Agricultural and Food Industries.

During World War II, being mobilized into the cavalry in 1939, he was soon captured, but after his release escapes deportation, which follows surrender. The flour mill was destroyed and closed, and Owen is becoming unemployed. The meeting with Stanislas-André Steeman (1908-1970), the author of detective works, in 1941 served as an impetus for a writing career. Steeman convinces him to write detectives, not very popular at that time. From 1941 to 1943, a young author in the journal Le Jury published detective stories “with rather cruel humor,” which attracted the attention of critics. The same Steeman advises Gerard Berto to choose an Anglo-Saxon pseudonym. And the author borrowed it for himself from the name of the hero of his first novel, which, in turn, he found in the catalog of booksellers.

He then turns to “black” science fiction, publishing a collection of “Strange Roads” (Les chemins étranges) (1943). It is these special kind of “terrible tales” that bring him the recognition of the general public. Fantastic stories, most of which were published in Fiction and Mystère-Magazine, plunge us into confrontation with horror and irrational. He makes his friend Jean Ray the hero of one of his short stories (“The Cemetery in Bernkastel”), and also wrote several articles about him in the magazine “Bizarre” (October 1955).

The stories of Thomas Owen are characterized by a growing sense of anxiety, intolerable mystery; at the end, there is a fall from which is breathtaking. Images of death are skillfully replaced by erotic sketches. Without giving up a certain amount of humor, the author invites us mainly to enter the world of fear, which appears in an extremely real design. Stories always or almost always begin with exciting real-life situations, are conducted in the first person, which reinforces the impression of a true story, and is distinguished by a thorough description of the situation. Meeting with vampires, shadows, ghosts sneaks in elusively and prompts us to imperfect conclusions that contribute to the continuation of intrigue or the development of character characters.

Until the end of his days he led an active lifestyle and did not live only a few months to 92 years. On March 2, just at the time when the Brussels International Book Fair was in full swing, Thomas Owen “moved to the other side of the mirror,” as the daily newspapers put it.

Awards and titles:

• 1950 – Brabant Prize (le prix du Brabant) for the novel “The Secret Game” (Le Jeu secret)

• 1952 – Laureate of the New York Herald Tribune newspaper contest for the story “Bagatelles douces”, which was recognized as one of the “56 Best Stories of the World”

• 1953 – President of the Association of Belgian Millers (l’Association des meuniers belges)

• 1954 – prize of readers of the magazine “Courage” (Prix des lecteurs de la revue Audace) for the novel “Adults” (Les grandes personnes)

• 1972 – Sandrara Prize (le prix Sander Pierron) of the Royal Academy of Language and Literature of Belgium for the collection of short stories “The Pig.”

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