NEW DEREK ROBINSON NOVEL - "What a romp!"
Holy $moke gets warm welcome
“Holy Smoke finds us in Rome at the end of the war, a new location for Robinson but one which has his customary cast of liars, saboteurs and arsonists. Everyone will have their particular favourite; one of mine is Captain Ironside, whom I nominate as the statutory ‘awkward bugger’, a fixture in so many Robinson books. What is conjured up for our delight is the amorality of a city staggering out of war, in a state of mind which - with an almost total disregard of government and law - enabled Italy to slip from Fascism to democracy. I loved it and thought it a perfect topic and cast for the Robinson treatment. My one disappointment - the Albanian dwarves were an authorial invention.”
Graham ThorneFor a full review of Holy $moke by Bill Stroud, click:
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three forgotten heroes.
Mussolini was a bad joke, especially for the Italians. He has a walk-on part in my new novel, Holy Smoke, along with the Mafia, exploding mule droppings, and the vanishing act of Italian fighters in the Battle of Britain.
His Fascism was rule by terrorism: he suppressed opposition with the castor-oil bottle and, if that failed, murder. He made speeches from a balcony, promising his nation triumphs, but he left nothing except fresh ruins in Rome. He aimed to make a new Roman empire by attacking his weak neighbours - Libya, Albania, Abyssinia. He lied by instinct. When WW2 began, he boasted that his army had 150 divisions when in fact it had ten. He banned divorce in Italy to strengthen the family, yet he fathered fourteen children, nine of them illegitimate. (Rough sex was his pastime.) Failure increased his vanity: when he sang the Fascist marching song in the Chamber of Deputies, they all rose, saluted him, and cried ‘Hail the Duce!’. The alternative was castor oil.
When the Allies invaded Italy, Mussolini was deposed and he ended up in the north, failing to raise an army. Partisans found him in bed with his long-term mistress, Clara Petacci. She fumbled under the bedclothes and they stopped her, thinking she was reaching for a gun; instead she was looking for her knickers. Later, they shot them both. In A.J.P. Taylor’s words, ‘There has never been a dictator who threatened more and achieved less.’ Yet Italy was a major power in the inter-war years. This is hard to understand.
Partly it was because Italy had fought alongside the Allies in WW1, taking heavy casualties, and everyone hoped for a good recovery in peacetime. Mussolini seized power in 1922, claiming he had 300,000 blackshirts supporting him; the truth was he had less than a tenth. But his propaganda was good and many European leaders were bluffed. At first, Churchill admired him, and George Bernard Shaw was a permanent fan. In 1938, when Hitler threatened war with Czechoslovakia, it was Mussolini who stage-managed a summit conference in Munich, for which Europe was grateful. In those days, Italy sat at the top table. This may help to understand the strange case of massive bribery which an old pal, Graham Thorne, has unearthed in the diary of Sir Henry Channon, known as ‘Chips’.
Chips was an MP from 1938 to 1953 and was keen on gossip. In January 1939, he dined with Sam Hoare, then Home Secretary, who reminisced about his time in Italy in 1917. Italy had just suffered a massive defeat at Caporetto and its people were demanding a ceasefire - not what the Allies wanted to hear. At that time, Mussolini owned a newspaper in Milan. He offered a guarantee that Milan and the north would keep fighting - “if sufficiently bribed”. Sam Hoare bought the newspaper “for a very considerable sum indeed”. Mussolini kept his bargain, thanks to his “gangsters and thugs” on the streets of Milan. The deal was a big boost for Mussolini, and Chips claimed that “English Government funds did much to create the Fascist revolution.”
That, of course, was Chips’ speculation. Hindsight is a great advantage for a diarist. Whatever the bribe, it was money well spent: Italy fought on, the Allies survived the crisis, Germany was defeated. Money has always been a weapon of war. Britain bribed Spanish generals to keep their country out of WW2, which worked. Hitler paid huge sums to his generals to buy their loyalty, which was less successful.
So much for Mussolini, who believed he was superior to Napoleon but showed himself to be worthless. Holy Smoke is about a very different man, an anti-hero who made the most of his talents. Readers agree. Jon - a Norwegian on vacation - reports that the novel is “excellent reading on the beach in Santa Monica” and adds: “Nothing is discovered by staying indoors!”, which is a quote from the story. Graham, whose review is above, said: “I loved the book”, and points to the fact that my chosen subject is the military and their intelligence, which “is full of examples of the ridiculous which one couldn’t make up”. The Author’s Note - “punctilious in making clear what is truth and what is false,” he says - also helps.
Dictators rarely see combat, so it’s refreshing to remember the quiet courage of men who simply did their job. Three stand out.
The first was Ian Neilson. He was 26 in 1944 when, on the evening of D-Day, he rode a motorbike across the battlefront in order to find a site for the first British air observation post. Then he led a working party to blow up obstacles and make a landing ground for Auster aircraft. He flew 55 sorties in Austers, directing the fire of the warships offshore to targets inland. The biggest shells weighed almost a ton, the Auster was in the firing line, and there was always a risk of being hit. “I only saw German tanks on two occasions,” Neilson said. “I think we had quite an effect.” He finished the war as a lieutenant-colonel, DFC.
The second was Eric Worsley, RN. In 1940 he was 26, stationed at Portsmouth as a bomb disposal officer. During a raid, a 250 kg unexploded bomb was buried in the middle of a naval station where 4,000 trainees were in the shelters. The tail fin was visible but not the fuses. Worsley wrote: “I knew that German clockwork fuses had a time delay of between an hour and up to 96 hours.” The bomb could not be hauled out in case anti-disturbance devices exploded it. “I decided to dig...In less than half an hour a circular moat was excavated...I could now work away with the spade.” Soon he could read the fuse number. He ripped off one of the bomb’s tubular struts, placed one end on the fuse and the other end to his ear. “Was that a sound of ticking, or was it my imagination?” He went in search of a stethoscope. “I was lucky, the stethoscope made the tick sound like an alarm clock.” Much work still remained to be done. Four hours after the bomb fell, Worsley had extracted two fuses, unscrewed the primer and disarmed the bomb. “The clock setting was for seven hours. Hallelujah.” It was the beginning of eight months of bomb disposal, in which he was twice decorated.
The third was a civilian, Bill Penley, 22 years old in 1940, with a PhD in electrical engineering. His job was to climb the lattice towers of the Chain Home early-warning radar system. They were 360 feet high. “Each ladder was 50 feet, with thick ice on the rungs, it was really a foolhardy activity...The platforms had protective rails around them but as those in front of the receiving aerial would interfere with reception, they had to be removed.” Then, hundreds of feet above ground, he adjusted the electrical connections and worked out how to avoid power loss in the cable to the top of the tower. His success meant that when the Luftwaffe attacked, Chain Home enabled the RAF to scramble its fighters in time to intercept the bombers. Penley retired with the CB and CBE.
To sign off, here’s Bob Hoover, an American aviator described by Jimmy Doolittle - who led the first raid on Tokyo - as “the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived.”
My thanks to all who wrote. Derek Robinson
is "the best short introduction to the causes of the first world war I
have come across. Derek Robinson is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as
he is a novelist.”
Here's a taste of what you get:
“The Black Hand recruited Gavrilo Princip and two others to murder the Archduke. All three young men had incurable tuberculosis. They were ordered to kill themselves when the Archduke was dead. Phials of cyanide were handed out. What could possibly go wrong? In the event, everything. Especially the cyanide.”
"To find war news in July 1914 you have to look at Ireland. Home Rule had been passed. Ulster, largely Protestant, detested the Catholic south. Gun-running was on an industrial scale. The government was trapped in an Irish bog.”
"In 1914, Kaiser William II, commanding the most powerful army in Europe, was not so much a loose cannon as a whole battery of loose cannons.”
"Admiral Tirpitz, Navy Minister, held the job for 19 years and followed one plan throughout his career: more battleships, and then more battleships. The Kaiser said that ‘with every new German battleship there was laid a fresh pledge for peace’. Yet Tirpitz was using his battleships to frighten Britain into silence.”"On 15 August 1914, Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery wrote in his diary: ‘At least the thing will be over in three weeks."
”If Germany seized the Channel ports, this would be hugely damaging to Britain’s strategic position. Britain went to war for Belgium’s sake, and for her own.”
"In 1914 the German army did not talk to the German navy. For eight days in August an armada of ships transported the British army to France without disturbance.”
"The British infantry’s name for its rapid rifle-fire was ‘mad minute’: a trained rifleman could fire fifteen rounds a minute. This was often mistaken for machine-gun fire.”
"Confidence of success fuelled German troops’ drive for victory. All Germany shared this confidence: friends and family wrote letters to German soldiers with the address ‘in or near Paris’. (The postal service being neutral, sacks of this mail reached Paris.)”
"Winning the Battle of Ypres gave the Allies no strategic advantage but it became a heroic trophy simply because Germany wanted it so badly.”
The Paperback is available only directly from the author
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Elizabeth Ballmer's review
is now also available as an Amazon E-book.
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|Mentioned in Despatches
Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian chooses Why 1914 as one of his Paperbacks of the Year, writing: "The novelist Derek Robinson, 82 this year, just keeps going, and his prose is as sharp and sprightly as ever (there is something of Evelyn Waugh about its economy and grip)... This year he has written and self-published the best introduction to the causes of the first world war, Why 1914?, I have come across. He is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist."
Robert Allison puts A Good Clean Fight in his top 10 of desert warfare novels, saying, “Well above genre standards, thanks to its energetic storytelling, its wealth of factual detail , and the author’s trademark gallows humour." Click to read the full article.
Reviewing A Splendid Little War, Nick Lezard writes: "Robinson has pulled off a remarkable coup. It's as bleakly intelligent as anything he has done but he has
also increased our historical understanding."
Click to read the full review.
Describing Derek Robinson's war novels, Antonia Senior said: "No one writes about war quite like Robinson, despite attempts to shroud him in echoes of other writers, such as Joseph Heller or Norman Mailer. He writes with a bleak savagery, in controlled, precise prose. There is humour – and it is dark and painful. There is love – and it is inadequate and messy. Most of all there is death. It comes from clear blue skies and grey clouds, from enemy fire and friendly mistakes. It hovers, unseen, at 15,000 feet."
Click to read the full article.
When someone at a party asks what I do, I say I write Ripping Yarns. It's a quick answer but a very incomplete one. I'm best known for my novels about the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force in the two World Wars and some might say the books are highly readable adventure stories. Nothing wrong with that, but there's more than combat in the high blue yonder - there's also memorable characters, there's unexpected twists and turns of warfare, and there's aircrew humour. Especially the humour. I did my National Service in the Royal Air Force. I was never airborne; I was in a Ground Control Interception Unit, deep underground in a concrete bunker. But I learned a lot about the special humour of flying people, and it emerges naturally and unavoidably in my novels. Humour is one of the essential colours in the spectrum of life. You don't make a story more serious by removing the humour; you just make it less true.
The longer I do this job, the luckier I know I am. For a start, I'm English and the English language is global. That's pure luck of birth. I might have been born in Hungary. There are good Hungarian writers, but it's a lot easier for me to find readers throughout the English-speaking world. And I was lucky to have literate parents. When I grew up there were always books and magazines about the house, unlike some other kids' homes. There was a good public library at the end of the street. And there was the 1944 Education Act which created State Scholarships for bright lads and helped me get into Cambridge.
That's where I learned to write boringly. I was writing to impress, not to inform. Twelve years in advertising agencies (London and New York) kicked the crap out of my style. Every word had to work hard. I wrote ad copy and commercials for everything from Esso petrol to The Wall Street Journal. Always I knew I wanted to move on, to be a fulltime writer - but I had nothing to say. Nothing worth reading, anyway. (I was a late developer.) I wrote two bad and unpublishable novels and finally got it right with a story called Goshawk Squadron. Might have won the Booker Prize if Saul Bellow, one of the judges, had had his way. Not important. "The most readable novel of the year," Nina Bawden said of Goshawk in the Daily Telegraph. "I laughed aloud several times, and was in the end reduced to tears." That's worth more than any prize. The first novel bought me enough time to write the second, and so it goes. Lucky me..
MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) has published all of my flying novels - four Royal Flying Corps books and four Royal Air Force books. Here are the new covers:
Click here to go to the MacLeHose website. where you can click on their individual covers for purchase options, including e-books.
This will be the first time that all my flying titles are in print from the same publisher: something that gives me great satisfaction. Equally satisfying is the work of Tony Cowland, who has painted the cover illustrations for all the books. Each cover looks dramatically different, yet together they have a family likeness. They form a splendid collection, and they appeared at The Mall Galleries (near Admiralty Arch) in the Aviation Paintings of the Year Exhibition by the Guild of Aviation Artists. The standard was high. My congratulations to Tony on a memorable achievement.
Artist and Author
Photograph: Chris French
FIRST TIME IN PAPERBACK
RED RAG BLUES
He's a heel, bless him.
Luis Cabrillo rides again in this "dashing tale of Nazis and Mafiosi", as The Observer called it.
In fact, Nazis and Mafiosi play second fiddle to the real dynamo in this story. It's 1953, and Senator Joe McCarthy's witchhunt for Reds under beds is scaring America witless.
Cue Luis Cabrillo, ex-double agent, now con artist supreme. Dollars flow, hotly pursued by bullets. Luis doesn't know it, but FBI, MI5, KGB and CIA have him firmly in their sights. Not to mention Stevie, the only three-times married virgin in New York City. This is a rich, fast and very black comedy.
(To read the full Observer review, click here.)
CopyrightMacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) owns the book rights to all my RFC and RAF novels. Sam Goldwyn Jr owns the screen rights to Goshawk Squadron. In 1988, LWT made a six-part television series of Piece of Cake and they own the rights to that production. I own the screen rights to any remake of Piece of Cake. I own the screen rights to all my other novels. Quercus Books owns the e-book rights to all my fiction backlist, available through Amazon/Kindle. Derek Robinson
Contact I welcome comments and views about my books, though as a working writer I can't guarantee to have sufficient time to answer everyone.
Main publications Click any group heading to see details.
The RAF Quartet (WW2)
All my fiction is available as e-books. Maclehose Press publish (in print) all eight of my flying novels, available from any good book seller (who may have to order a copy). Or you could try the websites listed below, often useful for tracking down both new and used books.
Other websites you may find of interest:
1973 Rotten with Honour
1977 Kramer's War
1979 The Eldorado Network
1983 Piece of Cake
1987 War Story
1991 Artillery of Lies
1993 A Good Clean Fight
1999 Hornet's Sting
|2002 Damned Good Show
2002 Kentucky Blues
2005 Invasion 1940
2005 Red Rag Blues
2008 Hullo Russia, Goodbye England
2009 Operation Bamboozle
2013 A Splendid Little War
2014 Why 1914?
2017 Holy $moke