| A new article by Antonia Senior appeared in The Times on 13th April 2013:|
The anti-Biggles takes to the sky
Click here to read the full text of the article
Never quit: portrait of a wartime pilot,
Flying in a Lancaster (earplugs needed),
And Baggy Bletchley versus the mobile loo.
The makers of the film A Bridge Too Far, based on Cornelius Ryan's book about the paratroop assault on Arnhem, held a preview before general release. As they left, the audience were asked to write their opinions. Many said it was a good film but the story was farfetched. They simply didn't believe that the force sent to relieve the paras would have to cross so many bridges. Yet the story was true. Arnhem was a bridge too far for the Allied relief columns, and so the operation ended in failure.
Things happen in war that any writer would hesitate to invent. Take the career of Lewis Hodges. He was 21 in 1940 when his Hampden bomber raided Stettin, was damaged, and he made a forced-landing in Brittany. He and his gunner then walked across France to Marseilles, got arrested and jailed. Hodges escaped, stowed away on a cargo boat to Oran, Algeria, got arrested and was returned to Marseilles, where he escaped yet again, having used a potato to create official-looking stamps on a pass. He travelled by train and taxi to the Pyrenees and into Spain. This time customs officers arrested him. He spent five weeks in a prison camp before the British Embassy secured his release and he went via Gibraltar to Britain and rejoined his squadron. He'd been on the run for eight months. Asked what he'd missed most, he said: 'My pyjamas.' Thereafter, when flying on ops he always wore them under his uniform. He flew many ops.
A long spell of night raids on Germany earned him a place in a squadron supporting SOE operations in Europe, flying Halifax bombers that dropped supplies and agents to resistance groups. It was a lonely and dangerous task, calling for a calm temperament and superb navigational skills. By 1943 (when he was 24) he commanded the squadron, now flying Lysanders and Hudsons, small enough to land in fields. He flew SOE ops until 1944 and then went to the Far East, where he commanded a special duties squadron, using Lysanders, Dakotas and long-range Liberators to support resistance groups in Burma, Thailand and Malaya. These sorties lasted up to 20 hours, often in monsoon conditions. He ended the war with a double DSO and a double DFC .
That's a brief account of the extraordinary wartime career of the man who eventually became Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges, CBE, CB, KCB. His portrait hangs in the RAF Club, in Piccadilly, and next to it is a picture of the first bombers he flew, Hampdens, in a low-level raid over the North Sea. It's the original that Tony Cowland painted for the new cover of the MacLehose Press edition of Damned Good Show. Those three words are a fitting description of both Lewis Hodges and the painting.
Onwards. I hear
from John W., an old pal in
More transatlantic info comes from another good guy, Tibor, who is currently mentoring students of English at the University of Tampa in Florida. One of his class wrote a thoughtful critique on my output. "Robinson," he says, "calmly narrates the Goshawk attack on the Zeppelin and subsequent firefight without getting too popcorn and relentless. It all goes back to straight reportage", which he believes I do as well as Hemingway and maybe even slightly better. Well, I just tell the story and hope for the best.
Meanwhile, Garth in NYC,
who is also in the military fiction business, has achieved the ultimate in
research by actually flying in a
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.
Very impressive. You can see what a beautiful beast the Lanc was (and is). Garth reports that he could move around reasonably freely, "although clambering over the main spar that holds the wings on is a bit of a sod, so what it would have been like in full flying gear doesn't bear thinking about" - especially in pitch darkness. "The airframe creaks and groans and screams and shudders, and the noise produced by the four engines is simply unbearable", so passengers wore ear-protectors. In WW2, aircrew endured the deafening noise, breathed oxygen, flew at 20,000 feet in temperatures down to minus 60, and faced flak and nightfighters. Garth concludes: "My respect for the men of Bomber Command, already high, has now doubled."
Jumping from the Lanc to the
electronic age, Bob ("a devoted reader since Piece of Cake
in 1991") writes from somewhere in
And Phil joins the club of
those who re-read Cake every two or three years, and says:
"Liking Skull and Kellaway more with each reading.... I receive a sort of
holistic notice as I approach Baggy Bletchley's testicular battle on the
portable toilet. I know what's happening, more or less what he's going
through, and I still laugh out loud at each reading." I have a
soft spot for old Baggy. He survived the
My thanks to all who wrote.
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:
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.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.
Main publications Click any group heading to see details.
The RAF Quintet (WW2)
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.
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