The Website of Novelist  Derek Robinson

NEW DEREK ROBINSON NOVEL  - "What a romp!"  
World War 2 gives up another secret.

How to con a major American intelligence agency for fun and profit.

And get away with it... almost.

Holy $moke
gets warm welcome

“Holy Smoke finds us in Rome at the end of the war, a new location for Robinson but one which has his customary cast of liars, saboteurs and arsonists.  Everyone will have their particular favourite;  one of mine is Captain Ironside, whom I nominate as the statutory ‘awkward bugger’,  a fixture in so many Robinson books.  What is conjured up for our delight is the amorality of a city staggering out of war, in a state of mind which  -  with an almost total disregard of government and law  -  enabled Italy to slip from Fascism to democracy.  I loved it and thought it a perfect topic and cast for the Robinson treatment. My one disappointment  -   the Albanian dwarves were an authorial invention.”   
                                                                          Graham Thorne  
For a full review of Holy $moke by Bill Stroud, click:

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

                                    To order, email me at
                                                   Please tell me where you are.

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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  RFC Books   RAF Books   Luis Cabrillo Books  Other Novels    Bristol Books  

                                                                                   Readers Write #56March 2018

 Niagara, Viagra, let’s call the whole thing off, 

                       A footnote from Finland,

                                  and Charles Dash’s magic moment   


In the United States, it was usual for newly-wed couples to spend their honeymoon at Niagara,  and it was often said that the sight of the Falls was the second biggest disappointment for the bride.  And perhaps for the bridegroom too.  This is not to diminish sex,  which is essential;  without it, none of us would be here. It’s a question of balance. How much is enough?   For instance, is there a need for any sex in novels?   A British magazine runs an annual Bad Sex Competition based on extracts from recent fiction,  and it seems that a lot of successful, prizewinning authors  like to play whoopee with their fiction in order to stimulate sales.  The results can be unintentionally comic. In one fertile year, the entries included this description of sexual intercourse:


                              “And then my body, like a cathedral, broke out into ringing. The hunchback in the belfry 

                               had jumped and was swinging madly on the rope.”  


If you find that hard to imagine, try this: 


                                “Her hands were all over me, four hands it seemed, or more than four, and as she touched

                                me she made me weightless, lifting me off the table in a prolonged rite of levitation.”  


Later, when things got steamy, she urged him:  “Pray, pray at my portal.”   As euphemisms go, portal wins the wooden spoon. Perhaps the wooden ladle.  (And it wasn’t the worst entry.)   I keep a file of advertisements that amused the reader for all the wrong reasons. In one ad, the makers of a vacuum cleaner claimed:  Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.  And a magazine for church furniture ran this ad:     



Well, anyone can stumble, even me. Ian in Helsinki (an Aussie who moved to Finland, married,  and speaks Finnish, one of the most difficult languages to learn)  has a question about a rare episode of sex in Hornet’s Sting, my RFC novel set in 1917.  He finds it difficult to understand “the significance of Dash’s affair with the nurses he cannot identify and what they represent or symbolise in the story.”  


Let’s start with Lieutenant Charles Dash.  He arrives at Hornet Squadron in France, 19 or 20 years old, fresh from training, no combat experience but very keen.  Everyone ignores him.  This often happened.  New pilots came and went    -   why waste time with a recruit who’ll probably get the chop on his first patrol?   Dash is typical of his class.  He knows little about girls, never kissed one,  and now he’s living in a very masculine environment.  He’s in prime physical condition and, inevitably, sex is on his mind.  He’d like to lose his virginity before he loses his life but he has no idea how to do this.   


One day the mobile cinema truck fails to arrive.  Probably stuck in heavy snow.  Dash sets off on horseback to find it, gets lost and ends up at a house where half a dozen English nurses live.  They are enormously pleased to welcome a handsome young RFC pilot, give him supper and a bed where   -  in pitch-black darkness   -   one of them introduces him to the excitement of sex.  No words are exchanged. For months afterwards he searches for the girl.  In vain.  


The significance of Dash’s affair (a small detail in the novel) is that it illustrates the innocence and ignorance of most men who joined the Royal Flying Corps, as well as providing an example of the haphazard nature of their life in a time of war.  Many pilots were very young, sometimes only months away from school,  and sex was a mystery.  At the same time, they were flying high in a machine designed to kill, eager to destroy a Hun aeroplane yet well aware that they risked being shot down. Dash’s affair took this contrast to extremes.  By day in the sky or by night with a nurse, chance was everything.  War is luck.     


Ian’s email reminded me that I had an unpublished memoir by Dr Martin Herford,  who was Medical Officer for the British Volunteers who went to Finland in March 1940 to provide aid for the Finns.  This was one of the Forgotten Wars of WW2.  In 1939, Soviet Russia had invaded Finland (which had once been a Russian colony)  and the invaders got a bloody nose.   Russia made the classic mistake of underestimating the enemy,  and sent in tanks and artillery which the Finns    -  at home in a land of deep snow, thick forests and few roads    -  promptly destroyed.  Churchill, who had encouraged British Intervention in Russia’s Civil War in 1919 (see my novel  A Splendid Little War), was delighted:  “Finland, superb   -   nay sublime   -   in the jaws of peril, Finland shows what free men can do...They have exposed, for all to see, the military incapacity of the Red Army...”   Then Russia sent in a bigger, more competent army and the Finns were forced to sign an armistice.  Russia seized a small corner of Finland (to protect Leningrad)  and peace broke out. Herford’s Volunteers were not needed.    


Herford was sightseeing in Helsinki when he saw an exhibition of military trophies taken from the Russians. The most prized exhibit was the standard of the 18th Tank Division of the Russian Guards.  The flag was red with a black map of Europe outlined in silver.  It showed a red bayonet that went through Narvik in Norway, and a huge red sickle whose point cut through Paris,  and a red hammer whose head rested on London.  Between the wars,  Russia created the Comintern    -    the Communist International which would conquer the world. Clearly, the 18th Tank Division took it seriously, until the Finns wiped it out.  Dr Heyford went on to serve in the British Army in North Africa and was awarded a DSO and an MC    -   clearly a man of determination, initiative and courage.  


Fast-forward from then to now.  Email arrives from all corners as well as Helsinki.  Mark, who could be anywhere,  has read all my flying stuff with pleasure, and is about to tackle Hullo Russia, Goodbye England.  “Too many authors portray rose-tinted versions of ‘heroes’,” he says. “Reality and honest assessment is the best appraisal one can have.”   Eric in Blenheim, New Zealand, writes: “My only problem is: do I finish re-re-reading Hornet’s Sting or do I delve straight into Holy Smoke?  Decisions, decisions!”  Steve in Saddleworth says he’s been a fan since he picked up a dog-eared copy of Piece of Cake,  “at which point I was hooked on your writing style”. And David in Ottawa, Canada, ordered three copies of  Holy Smoke (two for friends) and writes: “It has been a pleasure for me to introduce friends and acquaintances to your books.  I’m a big fan.  I colleague introduced me to Piece of Cake and since then  I have burned through what I have been able to find...”   His father and his colleague’s father flew in WW2,  one in Burma, the other in Europe.  So my RAF quartet has an extra meaning. 
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