Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

June Newsletter

2007-06/June, 2007


Laura Schneider writes:

Dateline: Alice Springs
The 5th Biennial NSN Foundation Conference is one for the books.
The last scone crumb has been brushed away and the last evidence of cream and jam has been daintily dabbed off our mouths.
We had a great time in The Alice. The dedication of the Nevil Shute Memorial Garden was a moving ceremony.
The Alice Springs Public Library did a beautiful job creating the garden and it is a wonderful memorial to Nevil Shute. There was a lot of media coverage and great local interest.
The presentations were first rate and the excursions were memorable.
Those who were still around Friday evening got to meet Bruce, a 7 month old red kangaroo. I was reading A Town Like Alice to him in the hopes of hooking a new generation (and specie) on Shute.
Thank you to all who attended. Your enthusiasm and energy made it a fantastic week!


Cedric writes:

I watched a couple documentaries on our Public TV tonight.
First was about Amelia Earhart's last flight.
Second was about the crash of the Hindenburg.
The story claims that the airship crashed because the paint pigments, powdered iron mixed with powdered aluminum, were explosively flammable and were ignited by static electricity. The archives of the Zeppelin company show that this was concluded in 1937, but kept secret, and newer compounds were used.
However by 1939, the Zeppelins were all scrapped for war materials.
The result was that hydrogen was blamed and got a bad reputation for the next 60 years.

Editor's Comment: Although the progress in aeroplanes, notably the DC3 which came out in 1935, had already signed the airship's death warrant well before it exploded in flames in 1937, it is interesting that its reputation was destroyed partly for the wrong reasons. However, given a choice, I still would not prefer to float under hydrogen if helium were available.


Joy Hogg of Harrietta MI, USA writes:

I belong to a book club, and was traveling the night of the book selection meeting. To my absolute delight, someone nominated A Town Like Alice as one of our books this fall! I had no idea anyone else in our newly formed club liked Shute! So I hope to have some new Shutists coming up.
I will be bringing copies of the book for my members to keep, and some duplicates of his others.
I knew there was a reason I collected his books.


David Weir wrote recently that the Northampton model company called Basset-Lowke was also architecturally interesting.
On the basis of a tenuous connection to Shute in that correspondent Mike Butterfield's father, who once made and tested Swallow Gliders for the DMWD, once worked there before the war, I draw your attention to a website about the restoration of modelmaker Basset-Lowkes' beautiful 1917 house.
See it at
Basset Lowkes made high quality model trains.


Cedric writes:

Some time ago there was a discussion of who besides Nevil Shute was a successful writer with an engineering background.
Kurt Vonnegut Junior (1922-2007) was born in Indianapolis into a prosperous German-American family whose fortunes plummeted while he was young.
Vonnegut went to the Ivy League Cornell University in New York State, until his education was interrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Soon afterwards, Vonnegut volunteered for the US Army and was sent to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now the Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, and the University of Tennessee to study Mechanical Engineering.
He went overseas in 1944, was captured in The Battle of The Bulge, spent the rest of WWII as a POW, and won the Purple Heart.
After the war Vonnegut worked as a crime reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau.
In 1947 Vonnegut became a public relations writer for General Electric, based in Schenectady, New York State. In 1950 he sold his first story, Report on the Barnhouse Effect, to Collier's Magazine.

Editor's Comment: Kurt Vonnegut is most famous for his novel Slaughterhouse Five, which was based on his wartime experiences as a prisoner during the firebombing of Dresden.


After Alice 2007 Laura Schneider, who organised the event, visited her Mecca, the National Library of Australia. The national Library holds a collection of Shute's remaining papers. Laura writes:

Today, I made it to the National Library, aka Mecca. This library houses many of Nevil Shute's original manuscripts, notes, correspondence, etc.
I was able to read through Shute's early notes on A Town Like Alice (a moment of silence please!!) plus other documents that clearly showed where he got ideas for many of his Australian based novels. As I've always told my students, write what you know! Shute certainly did that!
To be able to handle these documents, some tissue thin, was beyond amazing. I had goose bumps when I filled out the required request forms and they didn't go away for a long time.
My hands were shaking when I opened the A Town Like Alice file. Opening that file was like finding the Holy Grail. One always hopes to learn new things but to be faced with information I never knew could possibly exist was shocking, rewarding and fantastic!
The afternoon was spent with my nose in the manuscripts...especially A Town Like Alice. I learned things I never knew I didn't even know! For example, to read the many different possible titles was fascinating but the big moment was the discovery that Willstown wasn't the original name of the fictitious town! Who knew??
For the record, it's Adamstown. I wonder if there's a story behind the name or if it is random. My first thought is that it might have something to do with Adam being the first man created by God and that Jean was creating a new town from nothing.
My second thought was I'm reading too much into the name. The revelation of the name was great and I'm now curious as to why it was changed to Willstown. Probably the Wills and Burke thing.
The unpublished short stories plus articles he wrote while waiting out his time in Calcutta are terrific. He wrote several stories and suggested publications for each of them, like Colliers and Atlantic Monthly.
That he thought Pastoral wasn't a very good book but it was a wonderful piece of propaganda for the RAF was fascinating. He said he wrote the book in a hurry and called it a trivial little book. Wow!
There wasn't nearly enough time to read everything but I took a lot of notes.

Editor's Comment:
The "Wills and Burke thing" is a reference to early Australian explorers Burke and Wills. Burketown was a real outback town so he finally named his equally awful fictional town Willstown.
Laura would also have seen the lists of alternate titles for many of Shute's books. It is strange to think a book you love might easily have had another name. The names seem so solid and locked in to the novel but they are often subject to last minute decisions.
This brings to mind an article in Wikipedia about Joseph Heller's most famous book, Catch 22. Would the title phrase have entered the language and our collective psyches if it had been in any of the other possible forms below? Read on:
(from Wikipedia)

Explanation of the novel's title.
A magazine excerpt from the novel was originally published as Catch-18, but Heller's publisher requested that he change the title of the novel so it would not be confused with another recently published World War II novel, Leon Uris' Mila 18.
The number 18 has special meaning in Judaism and was relevant to early drafts of the novel which had a somewhat greater Jewish emphasis.
There was a suggestion for the title Catch-11, with the duplicated 1 in parallel to the repetition found in a number of character exchanges in the novel, but due to the release of the 1960 movie Ocean's Eleven this was also rejected.
Catch-14 was also rejected apparently because the publisher did not feel that 14 was a "funny number".
Catch-17 was also rejected so as not to be confused with the WWII film Stalag-17.
So eventually the title came to be Catch-22, which like 11 has a duplicated digit with the 2 also referring to a number of déjà vu-like events common in the novel.


There was no May newsletter and recent newsletters have been much shorter lately.
Usually I would pad a short newsletter out with some Shute research but I am still catching up with things after shooting my feature film for two months and concurrently having to miss the Alice Springs Conference. Loving Alice Springs already and then having to miss a Nevil Shute conference was not a happy thing especially as I missed the dry land "swimming" that conference members did in the "MacLeans" now-filled-in swimming pool. Those who are mystified should see the pool I mean at
This was the pool that Shute sat next to in 1948 and realised that, with a the addition of a female population and water, the outback could become pleasant if you could recreate "A Town Like Alice".
Sydney is sliding into winter with the shortest day only 3 weeks away. I find seeing the sun down at 5pm rather testing of my morale but the days are still bright and brisk and my wife and I are still swimming daily in the ocean pool so I can't complain. The rain and wind usually don't get going in Sydney till July and August.
I am about to start re-re-re-reading another Shute for the first time in a year just to keep the winter blues away.
I hope you are all well and making the most of whatever life is throwing at you.

Richard Michalak


Write in if you want your name listed and would like to get together with other Shutists in your vicinity.


Jim Wells lives in Lindfield, Sydney
Richard Michalak lives in Paddington, Sydney
Ruth Pearson lives in Adelaide
Neil Wynes Morse lives in Canberra


Julian Stargardt


Bruce A Clarke lives in Bangkok


Jim & Kristi Woodward live in Broken Arrow (east of Tulsa), Oklahoma, USA.
Priscilla Pruitt lives near Bellingham, Washington State
Bill McCandless lives in Joliet near Chicago.
Joy Hogg, Harrietta Michigan (northern lower Michigan, near Traverse City and Cadillac)
David B. Horvath, dhorvath in the domain, near Philadelphia Pennsylvania, USA.
Al Benkelman Warrenton, Virginia