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       A new review by Nick Lezard of
       A Splendid Little War
                                      appeared in The Guardian on 1st April 2014:
                                  Click here to read the full text of the article 
                            Click here to read Antonia Senior's Times review                                      
                                A Splendid Little War is now available in paperback. 

It's 1919. The  Great War is over but a civil war is raging in Russia.  Bolshevik Reds are fighting White Russians, and a volunteer R.A.F. squadron, flying clapped-out Sopwith Camels and DH9 bombers, arrives to duff up the Reds.  But the 'splendid little war' they are promised turns out to be big and brutal, a world of armoured train, anarchist guerillas, unreliable allies and pitiless enemies.  There is comedy, but it is the bleakest kind. A Splendid Little War shows war as it is: grim, funny, moving - but never splendid.

Reviews of A Splendid Little War
      The Daily Express
                                     American edition of GQ Magazine
                                                                                            The Independent      

                                                                                                     Readers Write #34   March 2014

Knuckle-duster knife,

           Throttling a Camel,

                  And bouncing-bomb Mosquitoes.

Here’s a remarkable coincidence.  Just when Mark  (“always been a fan of your WW1 and WW2 books”) learned about my latest,  A Splendid Little War, he was clearing out the family house, his mother having passed away. He knew that his great-uncle and godfather John had flown with the RFC/RAF in WW1 because he’d bequeathed Mark his medals   -   the DFC, the Western Front and Great War campaign awards, plus “a curious thing: the Order of St. Stanislav with Swords”.  Mark had been told that John had flown a Bristol Fighter “in the Middle East, fighting against the Bolsheviks, hence the medal”.  But on clearing out the house “I found a raft of John’s stuff. His presentation sword; a hideous knuckle-duster knife, a personal survival weapon; a plywood good-luck mascot  -  a black cat with a bomb in its paws  -  which I assume was screwed to the fuselage;  but most importantly his diary...”  It starts in early summer 1918 when John was in action against the Turks;  then, after the Armistice, “off they went to fight in the Russian Civil War.”  There are photos; one shows John in front of a Sopwith Camel, which chimes in with ASLW. Mark is reading the novel and the diary together. He’s promised excerpts. Sounds like fascinating stuff.

Then another regular fan, Steve, emailed me to say that in the early 1980s, “as an impressionable teenager”, he’d read John Harris’s story The Interceptors, also based on the Intervention of 1919.  Fast-forward thirty years and he saw a copy in an Oxford bookshop. It was from the original print run of 1977, so he snapped it up “for a mere 99p.  There are occasional underlinings and question marks, and this rather priceless comment written in a shaky but clear hand in capitals:  "NONSENSE. YOU CAN’T THROTTLE BACK A CAMEL AND OPEN UP AGAIN.”  Steve adds: “It seems to have the authority of One Who Knows  -  1977 being 60 years after 1917 (when Camels went into service)  -   so eminently feasible.”  The correction certainly has the ring of truth. The fact is that the Camel had a button on the joystick, and to get the speed right on landing, the pilot ‘blipped’ the engine by using the button to switch it on and off. Get it wrong and make a crash landing (as described in ASLW), and you bash your nose against the gun-butts and spend the rest of your life with what was known as ‘Camel Face’.  Not an improvement.

From Oxford to Kentucky. Simon, living today not a thousand miles from here, has been reading my stuff since the 1970s. His late father-in-law held the splendid title of Charles E. Tripp Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Berea College, Kentucky.  They shared a taste in books, so “I was unsurprised to find Goshawk Squadron on his shelves, but I then found Kentucky Blues   -   what a small world.”   I had to do a lot of writing and rewriting with KB   -   about 25 years, off and on  -  and at the end I was disappointed that it didn’t find an American publisher.  So it’s good to know that at least one prof in Kentucky liked it. 

 Next, to Oz.  Peter in Sydney spent several years doing what he describes as “chasing WW2 plane wrecks in Australia with HARS”,  which turns out to mean Historic Aircraft Restoration Society.  “We have 28 buried Corsairs,” he says.  (If that seems a lot, bear in mind that over 10,000 Corsairs were delivered to the US Navy Corps in WW2;  it was a very tough single-seat fighter, easily recognisable with its inverted ‘gull-type’ wing roots.)  What’s more, Peter “located several bouncing-bomb Mosquitoes”,  which sounds like the art of flying low and skidding a bomb into a tunnel. He “managed to get one to Glynne Powell in New Zealand, who now rebuilds Mosquitoes.”  Who knows?  Maybe a Mozzie will fly again.  “Just finished A Good Clean Fight for the second time,” Peter says, “and enjoyed it just as much.”  

More from Oz.  I heard from Shannon, now in Chicago but as a 13-year-old Aussie he was living in Fiji. A friend let him borrow Piece of Cake. “It made a deep, lasting impression,” he says;  but being 13 he forgot the author’s name,   until “recently I stumbled across Goshawk Squadron and thought: this has to be the guy who wrote that other book!”  He  served in the Australian Army, and found that “the ‘world-in-arms' you painted so vividly: the cynicism, the black humor, the ever-so-slightly dysfunctional camaraderie, was in every way real and true. Not sure I would have coped quite so well without your help.” 

 Which is good to hear, and another example of the unexpected rewards of my job   -   once I’ve published a book I’ve no idea where it might end up, who’s reading it, and how it affects them. Will, almost certainly in the U.S., tells me he got clobbered by the fickle finger of fate and ended up feeling pretty low.  A friend gave him Piece of Cake as a sort of therapy.  “I don’t know if healing is the right word,” Will says, “but it was certainly distracting.  I have to thank you for Piece of Cake... it is such a book, and how.

Back to the UK, where Steve, an old pal, dropped a note “to let you know I’ve re-read and enjoyed tremendously (more even than the first time) A Splendid Little War. The Russian Intervention was absolutely of its time   -    almost Steampunk in its fusion of trains, planes and cavalry. Lacey steals the show, in my opinion.”  Eagle-eyed as ever, Steve noticed that Lacey shares a knowledge of Tudor Protestant Sects (especially in Northern England) with Skull in Cake.  I suspect that one of them was bluffing, and it wasn’t Skull. 

Quick roundup.  Nev has just discovered me and “absolutely loves”  Cake. David in South Tennessee enjoyed Kentucky Blues,  looks forward to getting the paperback ASLW  (it’s due out on April 1st)  and asks for any news about a non-fiction job that I’ve been writing, on the causes of WW1..   Well, the book’s finished. It’s titled Why 1914? and I hope to self-publish it very soon. Watch the website for info. Finally, a plea from J.L. in Canada, who has an elderly friend (with no Kindle, no computer) who’s enjoyed the first three books of my Cabrillo quartet and would dearly love to read the final story, Operation Bamboozle.  Problem is it’s out of print.  Even Amazon can’t help.  So...if anyone out there is willing to donate a spare copy and make the elderly friend happy,  then email me ( and I’ll arrange the deal.

 My thanks to all who wrote.

Derek Robinson 

Previous Readers Write


DR_Who He?   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  -  three Royal Flying Corps books and four Royal Air Force books.  Here are the new covers: 
      pce cake       hullo russia        A Good Clean Fight       Damned Good Show_new

                war story_new              hornets sting_new            goshawk squadron_newLanc%20004THUMB.jpg              

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

All four of the Luis Cabrillo novels (following the career of  probably the best WW2 double agent and later con-man) are now available as eBooks from Amazon/Kindle. Here are the covers:

                              Artillery                  RedRag                 OpBam 
                            Click on a cover to go to the Amazon sales page.

The R.F.C. trilogy and the R.A.F. Quartet are also available as e-books.



        'Operation Bamboozle' is a fastmoving black comedy about what happens when a high-stakes con artist takes on the Mob in Los Angeles.  The result is a heady brew of disorganised crime, hot dollars, triple virgins and dead bodies in the begonias.   

         Luis Cabrillo is the con artist, Julie Conroy is his squeeze, and here's the opening sentence:   

      For a man who had been hauled out of Lake Michigan in 1949, headless, his legs and arms broken, and stabbed in the heart with a red ballpoint pen, Frankie Blanco was in pretty good shape in 1953.  

Click to see the News of the World Review


                        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.) 

MacLehose 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.s  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.  

Click here to send me an email

Main publications     Click any group heading to see details.

The RFC Quartet (WW1)
  pce cake      A Good Clean Fight     Damned Good Show_new      hullo russia          
                   The RAF Quintet (WW2)
The Double Agent Quartet
Other Novels
Rugby Books

Bristol Books

Availability of the books.   

This varies from title to title. MacLeHose will be taking over much of my back catalogue. In the meantime,  High Street booksellers will be able to tell you the current position about any particular  book, or you could try the following websites, which are useful for tracking down both  new and second-hand copies.

Quercus Books  Amazon UK      Amazon USA      Fantastic Fiction   

Other websites you may find of interest:    Wikipedia     IMDB     Jeremy Northam Blog   

Major books and original publication dates:

1971 Goshawk Squadron
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

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