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Why 1914

NEW  -  from Derek Robinson

Short, highly readable, inexpensive  -  this brisk non-fiction account  stands out from the flood of lengthy, costly, hardback books on the Great War. Here, in only 200 pages, is a shrewd analysis of a human disaster: why Europe hurried into a conflict that went massively wrong from the start.  The narrative is written with the insight and gusto you'd expect from this author.  Price in the UK: under a tenner, including post and packing. Signed copies available  - just ask when ordering. Alternatively, see next panel for the E-Book version.

 Paperback Prices

In U.K.                                              £8
In Europe                                         £10
Rest  of World                                 £12.50

Preferred payment method  -  PayPal


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Click here to read
Elizabeth Ballmer's review
Why 1914?
   is now also available as an Amazon E-book.

Click here for details

Why 1914?
is a grand slam for American fan.

Initial reactions from readers have been very favourable - here are some of the first in:

"Your sprint through the causes and effects of the Great War is not only informative but immensely interesting. Not to mention readable and entertaining. You've hit a home run, as we say on this side of the pond. Perhaps even a grand slam. You came up with some gems of historical detail. I loved reading about the sailing rivalry between Kaiser Bill and Bertie; about Willie's "strategy of lunacy" in South Africa; about the provenance of "Huns;"  about the murder trial of Henriette Caillaux, playing out against the lead-up to the outbreak of the First World War; about Britain's ultimatum to Germany and the bumbling minuet danced by Sir Edward Goschen, Lancelot Oliphant, Harold Nicolson, Prince Lichnowsky and the unknown butler; about the desire of German farmers to turn margarine blue; about the sacks of mail sent to Paris awaiting German soldiers who never got it; about the Phantom Army with "snow on their boots"; about "Servia" and why its name was changed to "Serbia" . . . . . and all the rest. A great piece of work.

Tim Leland, Boston 

“I’ve just consumed  Why 1914? in a single sitting, fitting the old cliché ‘unputdownable’. It’s crisply written and brimful of fascinating facts, expertly woven together.  All in all, a resounding success.”
Steve Travis, Oxford

"You've managed to boil down to the essence a huge breadth and depth of knowledge.  It's excellent, and many thanks for it."
Elizabeth Ballmer, Bristol 


"Greatly enjoyed  Why 1914?.  I think it is a masterly synopsis of  an incredibly complex period. Charactistically brisk and forthright."
Graham Thorne, Essex


"I read it on my vacation, and it is one of the most enjoyable and readable histories I have ever read."        David Stengele, Tennessee

"Four copies of Why 1914? should be on the library shelf of all schools and colleges offering history at A-level, and a further copy in public libraries, for secret reading by adults."

Charles Manton, Hungerford

"Just finished ‘Why 1914?’ and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve learned more from your book than I did from 12 years of history lessons."    

Nick Vaughan, Faversham, Kent
What an excellent book this proved to be! It was a pleasure to get my hands on a straightforward, no-nonsense narrative history. I loved the incidental detail and the wry commentary." 
Edward Vincent, London   

Mentioned in Despatches

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 humou
r."                                                                                           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.

                                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 #36     September 2014

Not all over by Christmas,


                                 and a hop in a Camel 

Here’s a thought.  Suppose MI6 had killed Adolf in the middle of World War Two.  Would that have improved the Allies’ chances? Probably not.  It would have made him a German martyr and removed the war’s worst decision-maker, the man who invaded Russia and, seven months later, declared war on America.  Two colossal mistakes.  There were other blunders.  The best way to defeat Germany was by leaving Hitler in charge.   The same might be said of Kaiser Wilhelm II, supreme commander of all German forces in WW1.  Kaiser Bill was tenpence in the shilling  (if you don’t understand that, ask your dad).  He believed he was appointed by God and therefore saying something made it happen. In August 1914,  just after war was declared, he told his troops: ‘You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.’  When the leaves fell, his troops already knew that they faced a long, hard fight. Confidence in the Kaiser took a knock.

 Sometimes  -  not often  -  war can be very simple. When I was writing my latest effort, Why 1914?,  I used my secret weapon: simple English.  Everyday words, short sentences, brief chapters.  Too many histories are written to impress other historians,  and they make hard reading.  I wrote  Why 1914? for people who never read history but who want to know what caused the Great War.  Like all my stuff, I tried to make it irresistibly readable.  (Some critics despise that word.  What do they want? Unreadability?)  So an email from Gritings in Sweden pleased me.  He told me that writing in English is difficult for him. ‘It’s more easy to read,’ he says, ‘and you are the reason for that.’    Of my novels, only Goshawk Squadron has been translated into Swedish, ‘so I have with help from my son’s dictionary struggled through all your other books.’  That probably means the other seven flying novels, so it was quite a journey. ‘I like your writing very much,’  Gritings says, and he’s looking forward to reading the new book.

 Many thousand miles westward, Maggie  -  a Brit now living in Connecticut  -  is introducing her 16-year-old grandson to my work.  ‘To say I’m a fan of your books would be putting it mildly,’ she says. ‘I’ve read Piece of Cake 6 or 7 times, and I’ve watched the mini-series many, many times’, most recently with her grandson.  What she hasn’t  read is on order.  ‘Goshawk Squadron is one of the finest pieces of writing it has ever been my privilege to read,’ she says. ‘Major Woolley is brilliant.’   Meanwhile Jeff in Tel Aviv ‘stumbled across Kramer’s War in a bookshop in Johannesburg, way back in 1979’,  and now he says ‘I’m quite probably the only person in Israel who owns your novels   -   some of them repeatedly, since I keep thrusting them on people who I think will enjoy them...’  When he reads my stuff, he pictures specific actors for the characters  (Malcolm McDowell as Woolley, for example) and wonders whether I write with actors in mind.  No, I don’t.  By the time they get to be famous, actors are all too old to resemble aircrew who had an average age of  21. The  Cake TV series scored by casting young unknowns as pilots.  And in any case, every reader has a different mental image of a character.  That’s fine by me.

An example of this comes from Jim in Lichfield. He was persuaded by his brother-in-law to try War Story,  says ‘I could not put it down’,  went on to read the rest of the R.F.C. trilogy and ‘currently I’m on the Russian Steppe with Merlin Squadron, it’s a great read...I liked Griffin, albeit his time was short-lived.’  Which I didn’t expect, since Griffin, the C.O., is permanently angry.  But then Woolley is no rosebud. Nor is Moggy Cattermole, in POC, or O’Neill in WS, or Skull in DGS,  and they all have their admirers.  None of my business.  I just write the books.  Jim adds: ‘So enthralled am I by your description of these early flying exploits, I have asked my wife for a Sopwith Camel flying experience for my 50th birthday.’  Good for you, Jim, and a good excuse for a picture.

Sopwith Pup

OK, so it’s a Sopwith Pup.  We couldn’t find a Camel in flight.  (This excellent shot is courtesy of Darren Harbar/Focal Plane Images.)  Jim’s account of the trip: ‘Over  and done in 30 minutes, but hopefully more successful than some R.F.C. aviators!’   Too true.  More than half of all R.F.C. losses were in training,  before the trainee had a chance to fly a Pup or a Camel.

Richard in Kent (‘Now back to having a full house of your output’)  lives near Biggin Hill airport, where several Spitfires are kept.  ‘They fly with delightful regularity... On 11th November last year, four flew above us in formation.’  He tells the story behind one of his prized possessions. In 1978 he went to the unveiling of a painting by the aviation artist Frank Wotton, bought a paperback of his prints, and persuaded Douglas Bader to sign it.  He had the same success with Bob Stanford-Tuck  ‘who carefully inscribed his signature above that of Bader, along with the message: “It’s altitude that counts.”   Adolf Galland also signed the page.  Richard’s conclusion:  ‘So you’re in good company on my book shelves.’

Finally, a round-up of messages. Edward, in London, writes:  ‘My late father is responsible for my discovery of your writing! Urged me to read Goshawk Squadron  -  haven’t looked back since.’  Bill in Ontario, a longtime fan, says he believes that ‘good black humour is one of the most difficult forms of literature to write and you are a master of it.’  Chris in London is thoroughly enjoying  A Splendid Little War (‘Bennett’s is a cracking intro’). Graham in Essex  (‘constant reader since I bought the Pan edition of Goshawk Squadron in 1971’)  has now bought ‘the full set of the RFC/RAF books in their splendid uniform covers... begging me to read them through’.  And when Nick in Kent ordered a copy of  Why 1914? he added: ‘Can’t wait  -  you’re a bloody brilliant and exceptionally gifted writer.’  I must try to remember that the next time I get writer’s block.

My thanks to all who wrote.


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  -  four 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_new              

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.  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 Quartet (WW2)
The Double Agent Quartet
Other Novels/History
Rugby Books

Bristol Books

Availability of the books.   

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. 

 The two Bristle books, and A Darker Side of Bristol are published by Countryside Books .

Finally, I have a few copies of Pure Bristle, available at £2 each. 

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

2014   Why 1914?