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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.


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

Preferred payment method  -  PayPal


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

"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 #35   June 2014

The low-flying submarine,

                     Hairy bridges, and...

                                 Forget soccer. Brazil reads, too. 

The Vulcan attack on the airfield at Port Stanley during the Falklands War was a brilliant operation.  It deserved an impeccable book, and it almost got one.  Rowland White’s  Vulcan 607 is a gripping story.  Pity about the submarine on page 77.  According to White, on 1 April 1982, HMS Splendid left Faslane, on the Clyde, at 9 a.m.  ‘By lunchtime,’ White says, ‘they were at periscope depth between Fastnet and the Welsh coast.’  Two problems: (1) Fastnet is a rock on the extreme south-west of Ireland and so a long way from Wales; and (2) even if we forget Fastnet and assume that Splendid was off the north coast of Wales, she had travelled 200 miles in 4 hours, or 50 miles an hour. Supposing she was off south-west Wales, make that 300 miles in 4 hours, or 75 miles an hour. Either way, it was a hell of a lick for a submarine, especially one at periscope depth. 

 How far and how fast Splendid sailed on that day didn’t alter the Vulcan achievement,  but it made a difference to me. An author needs to make only one big factual mistake and he’s lost the reader’s confidence. I research  my stuff very thoroughly, and it’s good to hear from Steve in Cambridge (‘just finished reading Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, which I could not put down’)  that ‘there is nothing worse than factual error in a story and I found not one.’ Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes I get an email pointing out that I’ve made a mistake.  If  that’s right, I’ll willingly correct it in the next edition. Occasionally the reader’s wrong. An R.A.F. veteran wrote to me and said I’d got it wrong   -   there were no Waafs serving on airfields in 1940.  The fact is there were none on his station, so he believed there were none anywhere.  That’s what’s known as assuming the general from the particular,  a risky business. 

Then came a message from Mark in Surrey about Robert Loraine, the sort of man that nobody could improve on. Loraine was a 23-year-old actor in 1899 when he volunteered for the Boer War, survived that, went back to the stage, then in 1909 he learned how to fly. He was 33.  Next year he was the first to fly across the Irish Sea, or most of it  -  he ditched and swam the last 200 feet.  He was the first to fly to the Isle of Wight, no great challenge except for the rainstorm that killed another pilot.  Loraine also flew Bristol Boxkites over army manoeuvres, pioneered the sending of radio messages from the air, and invented the word ‘joystick’.  He had a good war. Joined the R.F.C. in 1914 (bear in mind he was 38, married, with three children). Got the M.C. in 1915 for shooting down an Albatros;  ran a drama society on his squadron;  was shot in the back  (bullet exited his neck) and won the D.S.O. in 1917.  By then he was 41, probably the oldest pilot in the war.  Still full of life, he went on to star in Broadway shows and in films.  Finally kicked the bucket in 1935.  Extraordinary man.

Next comes news from Steve, a regular correspondent,  about the Spitfire Bridge in Hampshire. It was built in the 1930s to carry the A31 over the Winchester Bypass,  and like all bridges it was catmint to fighter pilots. Richard Hillary’s The Last Enemy describes how he (and others) flew under the old Severn Railway Bridge   -   always tricky because of the great rise and fall of tide;  one pilot misjudged the level, pancaked onto the mud banks, broke both legs and had to crawl to safety before the tide came in. In 1941, George Rogers flew a Curtiss Tomahawk under the A31 and found himself competing for space with a large truck that was travelling in the opposite direction on the Bypass. He took evasive action, clipped the bridge, lost three feet of wing, got back to base and crash-landed. As the saying goes, a good landing is one you can walk away from, which George did, with minor injuries. 

                                           Spitfire Bridge

The locals called it Spitfire Bridge, Spits being the fashionable machine at the time. It’s been rebuilt since then but the name survives.

Which takes me inevitably to Piece of Cake. In the novel, the bridge is in France, the pilots are bored with the Phoney War, and I never dreamed that it might be done for real. The producers of the television series thought the same, until their chief pilot, Ray Hanna, said that, given a flyable bridge, he would do it. (Well, he was a former R.A.F. Red Arrows leader.)  Months of searching found Winston Bridge in County Durham:  the largest single-span bridge in Britain, with a long, straight run for the Spitfire. The span makes a 100 ft semi-circle.  Ray’s approach was at 200 m.p.h. Even today, when I see that shot, I flinch a little.



From one war to another.  Mike, somewhere in the U.S., served a couple of spells in Afghanistan, where he read (and re-read) Goshawk Squadron and Piece of Cake, especially enjoying ‘the black humor and the dialogue...During my time as a tank company commander, I often thought that anyone who had read GS might compare me rather closely to Stanley Woolley.’ Well, there have been worse role models, Mike, otherwise the book wouldn’t still be in print after 40-plus years,  and now being read, to my great surprise, in Brazil.  Giuilia writes that she found it when she was in England and ‘it caught me right there and I’ve been a big fan of yours ever since (I’ve just finished AGCF  -  what a splendid story).  Funny thing is, when I brought it home to Brazil, my friends became your fans as well.’   War Story in particular scored with Giuilia:  ‘I loathed Paxton in his beginnings (pompous prick, as Piggott put it)...but Paxton and O’Neill’s quarrels are very popular around here. Of all the elements in your stories they’re the ones that hit me the hardest...Paxton’s epic quest through enemy soil is one of my favourite moments  -  except the ending. I mourned him. Truly did. Wept all over the book and nearly ruined the paper. Paxton’s final chapters were like World War One itself  -  the effort, the struggle, nearly reaching the end and then dying another meaningless death despite everything.’ 

A round-up of readers who are also authors. Tor Idar in Norway (‘Quick note to say how much I enjoy your novels...I use your books any time I need a good kick up the buttocks to get back to writing.’)....John in the U.S.  (‘Stumbled upon your books recently and kicked myself for never having heard of your work before...’)....Jack, now at Oxford  (‘My supervisor was slightly surprised when I borrowed/stole a copy of  AGCF before any of of his slightly more academic recommendations...’). And finally, messages from Nev in the U.K. (‘Looking forward to devouring the lot’),  Josh in Texas  (‘Huge fan of your work’),  and Bob in the U.S., who got the Kindle version of  A Splendid Little War and asked about doing the same with my older fiction.  Everything is now available as ebooks, I’m happy to say.  

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  -  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?