The Website of Novelist  Derek Robinson

NEW DEREK ROBINSON NOVEL  - "What a romp!"  
virgilioThis is Virgilio, in handcuffs, before he got out of jail.

 Middleaged, five feet tall, slightly deaf, bad knee, twitches a bit.  Used to be a journalist.  Now flat broke.  No money, no job, no future.  Mr Insignificant.

 So he's the last man to rattle any world leader's cage, right?  Wrong.  Very wrong.

Holy $moke
gets warm welcome

"Bloody marvellous!  The characters are plausible, with the usual black humour and excellent dialogue.  Quite a bizarre story - but amazingly true."  Philip Ardley

"I  read it  -  devoured it, more like!  Always a pleasure to read your books.  Holy $moke was no exception."  John Kush

"I loved it.  What a romp!  Populated with indelible characters, a fast-moving, believable plot, and situations that rapturously capture the organizational plod toward the wrong answers - in the face of logic and the evidence to the contrary!" Bill Stroud

"I read Holy $moke at once, and with the greatest pleasure.  What a terrific novel!  It's fascinating, very funny, pleasingly intricate and fragrant with that subtle thing that is often only noticed in its absence: charm."  Richard Snow,  Author

For a full review of Holy $moke by Bill Stroud, click:

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                                                         £6 in U.K. inc postage
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                                             £9 in Rest of the World, inc airmail

                                    To order, email me at
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A heartwarming comedy of deceit, deception, power-seeking and
revenge, set in the liberated Rome of 1944.  Based on fact. Similar
 to my Luis Cabrillo  novels, but completely different.  No aircraft.
 Many jokes.  Self published - a slim volume, only 170 pages,
which explains the low price.

Here's a taste of page 1. We're in the Pentagon in 1944.

               “Albanian dwarves,” General Donovan said. “Dwarves from Albania. Interesting.” 

                He was walking along a wide and busy corridor. With him were a colonel, Randall Stuart, and a major, Fred Stoner.  Stuart had just outlined a plan to
infiltrate into Albania a number of male dwarves who were fluent in the language and the customs of the country.  Their task would be to sabotage German army
communications and to stimulate Albanian partisans. Stuart said that dwarves had an inbuilt advantage as secret agents because nobody suspected them..



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                                                                                                          Readers Write #49 May 2017

Hello Hitler, goodbye Britain?

       the SE5a flies again,

              and the glider-bomb is late again.  

Sloppy thinking leads to bad writing, just as lazy writing points to a bungalow mentality: nothing upstairs. There are world leaders who sometimes rush into print and reveal that their ability to handle words is that of a not-too-bright ten-year-old.  Churchill had greater respect for the English language.  After the British army’s escape from Dunkirk, he told the House of Commons: “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned upon us. Hitler knows he will have to break us in this island or lose the war.”

No weasel-words there.  No spin-doctoring.  Churchill did not say   -   as so many politicians instinctively do  -  “We must address the issue.”  (Which means nothing at all.)   He told the truth.  We could do with politicians today who tell us, not what they think we want to hear, but the hard truth, no matter how unpleasant. Back in 1940, the grim prospect was Hitler’s plan to destroy a free and independent Britain.  Was he serious?   In 1945, the contents of the German embassy in London were auctioned.  They included four large swastika flags,  each embroidered with the name of a part of London: north, south, east, west. The embassy had been holding them in readiness for the German HQs which would govern those areas   -  preparations that had been made long before war broke out.   

      Anyone who still thinks invasion was just one of Hitler’s daydreams should read SS General Schellenberg’s Invasion Plan.  Recently, the BBC showed a television drama called  SS-GB (about a German-occupied Britain). Compared with General Schellenberg’s plan it looked like candyfloss.  The drama got a lot of flak because the actors mumbled. Schellenberg never mumbled.  His plan was a detailed and thorough blueprint for the total occupation and exploitation of Britain.  All opposition would be suppressed,  which meant killed. Everything useful would be seized, men of working age deported as slave labour, and six death squads (Einsatzgruppen, soon to be notorious in Russia) would liquidate unwanted elements, such as the 300,000 Jews. Then there was the Special Wanted List of Names. Schellenberg identified 2,820 prominent men and women to be eliminated. Politicians and journalists, obviously, but also actors, film directors, singers, musicians, authors.  Peter Ustinov’s father was on the list; also Paul Robeson, Paderevski, the cartoonist David Low, Bertrand Russell, Robert Baden-Powell, Sigmund Freud, Jacob Epstein.  Noel Coward and Rebecca West were there too;  after the war she wrote to him:  “My dear, the people we should have been seen dead with.”


It is a relief to turn to Operation Sealion, codename for Hitler’s planned invasion, and read that it was to be ‘a surprise crossing’ of the Channel. The reality was that, by the time his invasion fleet was ready to sail, there was no possible surprise. The Royal Navy was ready to smash and sink the slow armada of river barges.  (My Invasion 1940 gives full details.)   To pretend that it could be a surprise crossing was lazy thinking.  Hitler had a fatal habit of believing that by saying something, he made it happen. He sent his troops to conquer Russia without winter clothing.  Sloppy. 


   Which brings me to Nick Garton’s new book on the WW1 fighter, the SE5 and its many variants.  This book is the reverse of sloppy.  It’s a hardback, 160 pages, superbly illustrated (many in colour), brilliantly researched and written with the utmost clarity. Here’s a taste of the pix:


   Nick tells us everything about the design, building and combat flying of the SE5, including many things you would never imagine. Its airframe was wood  -  Douglas fir and Sitka spruce, well seasoned.  He demolishes the notion that RFC aircraft were just string and canvas;  the SE5’s fabric was Irish linen, and Henry Folland used a windtunnel to help his design.  Nick profiles Frank Goodden, the test pilot who made an immense contribution to the machine, until in January 1917 he put an SE5 through its paces, the port wing collapsed, and Goodden was killed   -   which led to a redesign of the wing and the survival of many future RFC pilots.  Nick’s book is called an ‘Owner’s Workshop Manual’,  but don’t be fooled:  it’s full of gems, from a photograph of Albert Ball’s SE5 windscreen with a bullethole in the middle, to an appendix that gives the recipe for the plum cake that Ball’s mother used to send to France.  


    And  -  surprise, surprise  -  there’s an interview with me, all about Goshawk Squadron, which Nick says inspired his book and ‘was a novel that changed popular perceptions about World War One for good’.  He quotes my reason for equipping the squadron with the SE5a rather than the Sopwith Camel.  It was ‘the same reason that Woolley gives in the book: it was a compromise that was most effective in accomplishing the purpose of the pilots being up there, namely to kill the enemy’. As for the man himself, Nick writes:  ‘Then there is the magnetic appeal of Woolley, Robinson’s uncompromising, Guinness-swilling anti-hero, drawn with significant influence from two former ‘camp rats’ who rose to lead SE5a squadrons: Mannock and McCudden.’


     Nick’s book is priced at £25. It’s published in England by Haynes Publishing, Sparkford, Somerset BA22 7JJ, and in the USA by Haynes North America Inc., 859 Lawrence Drive, Newbury Park, California 91320. The ISBN is 978-0-85733-846-4. Believe me, it’s a classic. 


      Meanwhile, emails keep arriving from all over.  Lars in Denmark was with UN forces in Cyprus and ‘stumbled upon Piece of Cake and have  been a huge fan of yours ever since...Just read the two books with pilot Silk for the third time and will certainly read them again...’  Alan in Maryland, USA, writes:  ‘I have no doubt whatsoever your existing books are going to delight readers for decades, and perhaps even centuries, to come.’  It’s an encouraging thought.  Most art is of its time.  Things date quickly. If any of my books is still in print 50 years from now, I’ll look down (or up) and hope they’ve spelt my name correctly.  Alan adds: ‘Books like yours are not just adventure stories and not just interesting historical records;  they are appreciations of people who risked and often sacrificed their lives for the good of humanity.’  I can’t argue with that.   


    David in Glasgow has, in the past two years, read all of my RFC and RAF quartets, including  Goshawk Squadron:  ‘Read it half a dozen times...I still remember the horrible sinking feeling in my chest when I first read the ending. It’s an impressive skill to make an ending so painful even when it’s obviously inevitable.’ He adds:  ‘Hornet’s Sting is the one screaming out for an adaptation to television.’  If only, Dave, if only.    There are more entries for my Mile-High Club, awarded to members who re-read Piece of Cake and then read it again (and again).  Robin, a New Zealander in the Netherlands, bought a copy in 1984 and has read it so often that he’s listed the qualities he admires:   acute observation of men at war; action, grippingly presented; a lot of humour; plenty of quirks that may change the outcome of a man’s life in seconds;  wonderful description of clouds and weather.  ‘I cannot remember having read a war novel that is so three-dimensional and insightful as Piece of Cake,’ he says.  Well, a lot of ink and sweat went into writing Cake.  It’s good to know it paid off    -   although not, at first, financially.

      Timing is everything in life. Take Herman Melville’s  Moby Dick. It came out in 1851, got badmouthed by the critics, sold a yearly average of 27 copies which earned him an average of $37,  and was already out of print when he died.  It was forgotten until the 1920s, when a different generation discovered its epic qualities.  Too late for Melville, of course.  I know a little of how he felt. Piece of Cake was first published a couple of weeks before the Booker Prize for fiction was announced.  All the London literary critics had their eye on that ball,  Cake got lost in the shuffle, sales were feeble,  and the book was rapidly remaindered.  For me, four years’ work down the drain.   Then, by sheer luck, it found a backer and today the old warhorse is still selling. 
     From Moby Dick to Adolf Hitler is a big jump, but I keep finding examples of  how the Nazi leader missed a trick. In 1942, the prototype Messerschitt 262, the world’s first operational jet fighter, had its test flight.  Soon, with the Allied strategic bombing campaign hammering Germany, the Me 262 was exactly what the Luftwaffe needed:  a rocket-armed interceptor that even the Mustang couldn’t catch.  Instead, Hitler tried (and failed) to develop it as a bomber.  Result:  Me 262s  arrived too few and too late.  Hitler often backed the wrong horse.  He demanded  enormous weapons  (giant tanks, colossal artillery, massive six-engined transport planes)  which didn’t work and wasted valuable resources.  His interference may explain another flop:  the German glider-bomb.   
     This weapon has a walk-on rôle in my new novel,  Holy Smoke.  (The book has other deadly weapons:  exploding mule droppings, lethal bicycle pumps,  incendiary flying bats.)   In 1940, the German propaganda radio station NBBS  (Lord Haw-Haw’s outfit)  broadcast a warning that London would be destroyed by ‘aerial torpedoes carrying many tons of High Explosive and guided by radio’.  That sounds very much like a glider-bomb   -   yet three years passed   before the first models appeared. Same old story:  too few, too late.


Lastly, an email from Wayne in New Zealand. He enjoyed  Holy Smoke (‘Once again you have presented a tale reflecting the times in a truly entertaining and informative manner’) and comments that, at a time when  ‘false news’ is bandied about, ‘it is remarkable to be reminded that, in living memory, one man’s entrepreneurship’  (meaning Virgilio, the anti-hero of the story) ‘could give so many authorities the run-around.’   Virgilio was a remarkable man.  You have to read him to believe it.


My thanks to all who wrote.
Derek Robinson                                                                        

Previous Readers Write


Why 1914

Why 1914?

Why 1914? is "the best short introduction to the causes of the first world war I have come across.  Derek Robinson is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist.”
                                Nicholas Lezard - The Guardian

Here's a taste of what you get:

“The Black Hand recruited Gavrilo Princip and two others to murder the Archduke.  All three young men had incurable tuberculosis. They were ordered to kill themselves when the Archduke was dead. Phials of cyanide were handed out. What could possibly go wrong? In the event, everything.  Especially the cyanide.”

"To find war news in July 1914 you have to look at Ireland.  Home Rule had been passed.  Ulster, largely Protestant, detested the Catholic south.  Gun-running was on an industrial scale.  The government was trapped in an Irish bog.”

"In 1914, Kaiser William II, commanding the most powerful army in Europe, was not so much a loose cannon as a whole battery of loose cannons.”

"Admiral Tirpitz, Navy Minister, held the job for 19 years and followed one plan throughout his career:  more battleships, and then more battleships.  The Kaiser said that ‘with every new German battleship there was laid a fresh pledge for peace’.  Yet Tirpitz was using his battleships to frighten Britain into silence.”

"On 15 August 1914, Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery wrote in his diary: ‘At least the thing will be over in three weeks."

”If Germany seized the Channel ports, this would be hugely damaging to Britain’s strategic position. Britain went to war for Belgium’s sake, and for her own.”

"In 1914 the German army did not talk to the German navy.  For eight days in August an armada of ships transported the British army to France without disturbance.”

"The British infantry’s  name for its rapid rifle-fire was ‘mad minute’: a trained rifleman could fire fifteen rounds a minute.  This was often mistaken for machine-gun fire.”

"Confidence of success fuelled German troops’ drive for victory.  All Germany shared this confidence:  friends and family wrote letters to German soldiers with the address ‘in or near Paris’. (The postal service being neutral, sacks of this mail reached Paris.)”

"Winning the Battle of Ypres gave the Allies no strategic advantage but it became a heroic trophy simply  because Germany wanted it so badly.”

    The Paperback is available only directly from the author

In UK                                              £8
In Europe                                         £10
Rest  of World                                 £12.50

Preferred payment method  -  PayPal
Email your order to me at and you will receive a Payment Request.  Then all you need is a credit card to pay into my PayPal account.

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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

Mentioned in Despatches

Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian chooses Why 1914 as one of his Paperbacks of the Year, writing: "The novelist Derek Robinson, 82 this year, just keeps going, and his prose is as sharp and sprightly as ever (there is something of Evelyn Waugh about its economy and grip)...   This year he has written and self-published the best introduction to the causes of the  first world war, Why 1914?, I have come across.  He is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist."

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 humour."                                                                                           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                        


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
                          why1914thmnl     Holy Smoke      
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?

2017  Holy $moke