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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Derek Robinson

Derek Robinson has earned a reputation for writing aviation fiction that escapes the confines of genre fiction and reaches for the heady heights of literature. His first novel, Goshawk Squadron was widely praised, the Sunday Telegraph calling it "A brilliant first novel and one of the most powerful indictments of war I have ever read...The persuasiveness of this quietly savage, funny and heartbreaking book lies in its intense reality." The book was, surprisingly, shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Paul Pickering of the Daily Express has said "The author ... should be mentioned in the same breath as Mailer, Ballard or Heller". Most of his books are marked out by their authenticity--the result of meticulous research--and a streak of black humour.

Derek Robinson was born in Bristol on 12 April 1932, the son of Alexander (a member of the police) and Margaret Robinson, and served his National Service as a fighter plotter with the R.A.F. He then went to Cambridge on a State Scholarship and read History. Although he planned to become a journalist, the money looked grim, so he went into advertising instead, working for McCann-Erickson Advertising in London for five years and BBDO Advertising in New York for six, working on campaigns for everything from bulldozers and whisky to oil companies and the Wall Street Journal.

In 1967 he gave up advertising and moved to Portugal for a year before returning to England via the Channel Islands. In Bristol in April 1968 he married his American girlfriend, Sheila Collins Meyer, and settled down to a career as a sports writer and novelist. His first books were about Rugby, on which he is an authority; he was the honorary editorial adviser for the Rugby Football Union from 1966-76 and has written books on the laws of Rugby that have gone through numerous editions. He also contributed to Punch and The Guardian.

Goshawk Squadron followed the exploits of a fighter squadron on the Western Front in 1918. Goshawk Squadron is led by Major Stanley Woolley, the callous, cruel 23-year-old veteran who, by any brutal means possible, trains his green recruits into ruthless killers, shocking the public school sense that war is a kind of game out of his green recruits. Robinson returned to the bleak, dark Western Front in War Story and Hornet's Sting, which act as prequels to Goshawk Squadron, the former introducing 18-year-old Lieutenant Paxton, who joins Hornet Squadron at its airfield in Pepriac, France, in 1916, the latter set in 1917.

After the poorly-received spy thriller Rotten with Honour, Robinson set his third novel, Kramer's War, on Jersey, where the title character finds himself after crashlanding a Liberator. The American's harrying of the occupying forces causes him as much trouble with the locals as the German Commandant.

The Eldorado Network was a wartime thriller in which a young, brilliant Spaniard, Luis Cabrillo, has his services turned down by the British embassy in Madrid; instead, he approaches the Germans who train him to spy on the British. Instead, Cabrillo—codenamed Eldorado—sets up an elaborate but fictional spy network, feeding the German Abwehr in Madrid fake stories supposedly gathered in London for which they pay him handsomely. The sequel, Artillery of Lies, sees Eldorado set the cat amongst the Abwehr's pigeons when he claims that British Intelligence have stumbed upon the German's most successful spy ring.

Piece of Cake is set in the run-up to the Battle of Britain, following a young RAF pilot and the actions of Hornet Squadron in France and England between September 1939 to September 1940. It was turned into a six-part drama by ITV in 1987 and Robinson returned to the period in the non-fiction Invasion 1940, a solidly-researched attempt to demythologise the role of "the few" in ending Hitler's invasion plans for Britain. A Good Clean Fight also featured the RAF of World War II, this time in North Africa in 1942, and Damned Good Show featured the young bomber pilots of 409 Squadron over Germany and at home at a time when British bombing was proving ineffectual.

Kentucky Blues was a rare diversion into Historical fiction set on the ground, in this case following the story of a small pioneering community in the Cameron River Valley, Kentucky, from its founding in the 1820s through the Civil War and to the dawn of the modern age. His latest novel, Red Rag Blues, continues the adventures of Luis Cabrillo who, with the war behind him, has now moved to America where he perpetrates a scam on U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Novels (Cabrillo)
Goshawk Squadron. London, William Heinemann, 1971.
Rotten with Honour. London, Barrie & Jenkins, 1973.
Kramer's War. London, Hamilton, 1977.
The Eldorado Network (Cabrillo). London, Hamish Hamilton, 1979.
Piece of Cake. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.
War Story. London, Macmillan, 1987.
Artillery of Lies (Cabrillo). London, Macmillan, 1991.
Kentucky Blues. London, Cassell, 1992.
A Good Clean Fight. London, Cassell, 1993.
Hornet's Sting. London, Harvill, 1999.
Damned Good Show. London, Harvill, 2002.
Red Rag Blues (Cabrillo). London, Constable, 2006.

Rugger: How to Play the Game. Notes on the laws of Rugby Union Football. New York, Manhattan Rugby Football Club, 1966; 3rd edition, Twickenham, 1972.
Rugby: Success starts here, illus. John Gully. London, Pelham Books, 1969; revised, London, Pan Books, 1975; revised again, London, The Rugby Football Union, 1983.
A Shocking History of Bristol. Bristol, Abson Books, 1973.
Stand By for Blasting, illus. Vic Wiltshire. Bristol, Abson Books, 1973.
Get Squash Straight; or, It's even more fun when you win, illus. Vic Wiltshire. Bristol, Abson, 1978.
Run With the Ball: A Brisk Dash Through 150 Years of Rugby. London, Willow Books, Oct 1984.
Just Testing. London, Collins Harvill, 1985.
Derek Robinson's Best Green Walks in Bristol and where to park so you can enjoy them. Tiverton, Westcountry Books, 1994.
A Year with Rudolf Nureyev, with Simon Robinson. London, Robert Hale, 1997.
Rugby: A Player's Guide to the Laws. London, CollinsWillow, 1995; revised, 1998; revised again, 1999; revised again, 2002; revised again, 2005.
Rugby: A referee's Guide, with Ed Morrison. London, CollinsWillow, 1996; revised as Better Rugby Refereeing. Guidance, tips, warnings, insights and advice on refereeing at every level of the game, Bristol, Whistle, 2007.
A Load of Old Bristle. Krek waiter's peak Bristle, edited by Derek Robinson; illus. Vic Wiltshire, Newbury, Countryside Books, 2002.
The Darker History of Bristol. Swindles, scandals and skulduggery. Newbury, Berkshire, Countryside Books, 2005.
Invasion, 1940: The truth about the Battle of Britain and what stopped Hitler. London, Constable, 2005.

Non-fiction as Dirk Robson
Krek Waiter's Peak Bristle. A guide to what the natives say and mean in the heart of Wess Vinglun. Bristol, Abson Press, 1970.
Son of Bristle. A second guide to what the natives say and mean in the heart of Wess Vinglun, illus. Vic Wiltshire. Bristol, Abson Books, 1971.
Bristle Rides Again. A third guide to what the natives say and mean in the heart of the Wess Vingluun. Bristol, Abson Books, 1972.
Sick Sundered Yers of Bristle, 1373-1973, illus. Vic Wiltshire.  Bristol, Abson Books, 1973; as Sick sentries of Bristle by Derek Robinson, illus. Vic Wiltshire, Newbury, Berkshire, Countryside Books, 2004;
revised and expanded as Twenty Sentries of Bristle, A.D. 50-1996, illus. Vic Wiltshire & Charles Wood, Tiverton, Westcountry Books, 1996.
Pure Bristle. A guide for A-level students into what the natives say and mean in the Wess Vinglun. Bristol, Dervish, 1998.

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