Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter March 2017

Letters to the Editor

FROM Bim Bensdorp

Following our friends in the UK and USA, we are trying to start the Nevil Shute Book Club NL. Our first meeting will be held on 26 March, at 12:30 in the restaurant of the National Militair Museum (, on the former airbase Soesterberg. The restaurant can de reached from within the museum, but can also be entered from outside, without a museum entry ticket.

This first meeting will be used to get to know each other, and learn what we expect form our book club. If everything is going alright, we will also discuss our first book, which will be Pastoral.

The language used will be Dutch, unless there are people from abroad (you are more than welcome), in which case we will speak English. 

Until now 4 people have said that they will come. If you are interested, please contact me via email, or at 06 53 146 581.

We will let you know what happened in the April Newsletter.

FROM Jill Nixon

Book group UK 25.2.17

The village of Charlgrove in Oxfordshire was 'adopted' on Saturday 25th February 2017 to represent the fictional village of Hartley Magna from Pastoral. Phil Nixon, super sleuth, discovered that this village not only contained a Manor House with a lake, a local RAF base and the correct distance from Oxford but also three pubs! Alison Jenner was nominated to choose between the pubs and she decided on The Red Lion which turned out to be a fantastic location for lunch and our discussions.

After gathering outside the Red Lion at 11 am, nineteen Shutists set off in a convoy of cars (as no bicycles were available) for the Manor House. Our expectations were well and truly surpassed by this magnificent house which dates back to the 13th century. It has been owned by Rachel and Paul Jacques for the last forty years and they have spent that time restoring it. It contains many original features and is worth a tour on its own merits but for our purposes, it served to represent Kingslake House in Pastoral, so we dutifully walked to the lake hoping to spot the odd trout. We were slightly disappointed not to be shown the rod room but delighted to be invited inside for a short tour of the ground floor. 

Our next stop was outside the gates of the WWII Base of RAF Chalgrove. We were given a  short talk on its history during and after the war by Phil.

After this, we retired to the Red Lion for a sumptuous lunch before we began to discuss Pastoral. John Anderson preceded the discussions with a talk about the book itself and the discussions took place about the classical poetry at the beginning of every chapter, the source of information Shute would have used for life on an RAF base, the title of the book, the device of returning to the narrator at the end of the book (in this case Shute himself) and other interesting topics. Phil played us a recording of Vera Lynn singing"A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square", which rounded off our 'Hartley Magna' day nicely.

After the conclusion of discussions, we enjoyed the traditional cream tea before turning our thoughts to our next meeting. This will take place in June and will most probably be held in central London to discuss Most Secret. Time and place yet to be finalised.

It was a great day. Thanks to Phil for organising it and to everyone that came along, especially the new people - we hope you enjoyed it! 

FROM John Anderson

Chalgrove book group meeting.

What a pleasure it was to meet last Saturday in the village of Chalgrove, Oxfordshire for a discussion of Pastoral. There were 19 of us, including many people who attended for the first time. We pretended that Chalgrove was the fictional location of Hartley Magna. Our base was the Red Lion pub. Before we got down to discussion, we visited Chalgrove Manor a charming 14th century Manor house complete with lake (substitute for Kingslake in the book) with a warm welcome from the owners. Then it was on to nearby Chalgrove airfield an ex-World War 2 airfield still used by the Martin Baker company for testing ejector seats.

A lively book discussion followed an excellent pub lunch and was rounded off by the obligatory cream tea including scones!

Many thanks to Phil Nixon who did a great job organising the location and visits and providing local information. It was greatly enjoyed by us all. It felt more like a mini reunion than a book group meeting.

FROM Tony Woodward

I can’t put forward a reasoned argument, and I have read no biographies of NSN apart from his own Slide Rule.  But did NSN have sleep problems?  Taking pills in order to sleep, or having problems sleeping, or waking up tired, figure in many of his earlier novels, especially in An Old Captivity, but I have noticed them in other early novels as I re-read through them after my usual five years hiatus. I can’t quote chapter and verse as I didn’t take note.  Bad research!

Does anyone have any views on this?  Just thought this might be a productive thread. 

FROM Donna Baker aka Lilian Harry

As a Shute reader and admirer from my teens (60 years ago!), brought up in Gosport so very aware of his local connections around Portsmouth and Southampton, and a fiction writer myself, I am always very interested in what others say about his books and hope one day to be able to attend one of the meetings. I almost made it to the Portsmouth one, last year, but sadly it didn't work out.

I would just like to say, in response to the correspondent who suggested that some of us should write sequels to some of the books....don't even try! It's a temptation - I'd love to do it myself ! - but while 'sticking to his style' would be the first hurdle, and a higher one than might be imagined, it is not the only one.

Nevil Shute's style is deceptively simple and direct. There is nothing flowery about it and the undoubtedly strong emotions often involved are restrained,   in the 'stiff upper lip' manner that was of his time and might be difficult for a younger, present-day writer to understand. But even higher is the hurdle of not being Nevil Shute, and not having his mind.

Quite a lot of writers produce sequels, or prequels, to famous books. (I have one in my own mind that I would dearly love to write and even began once, but will never finish unless for my own pleasure, and will never publish.) These are often published to critical acclaim, but in my view they are never quite successful because the writers are not the original authors and do not have their minds. 

An author writing a book has his/her own background, family, education, life experience, values, imagination (an important one, that!), loves, hates, desires and so on and on. All these are brought in some measure to the creation of the characters, the stories, the setting and the entire creation of the book. Nobody else, however accomplished a writer they may be, has these. They are unique and they are what makes the books unique. 

You can 'copy' Shute's deceptively simple style, or try to, and you may in some degree succeed. But nobody has all of those other parts of what made him write those particular stories and although a good writer (who also has the engineering background which was so vital a part of Shute) may produce a workmanlike and Shute-like book, it will never be the 'wonderful' story that the correspondent asks for, and will probably provoke a lot of dissatisfaction amongst Shute aficionados.  In truth, the author is better writing their own book, with their own unique voice, and making their own name.

Lastly, there is the hurdle of copyright. Nevil Shute died in 1960. Copyright in his books will last until 2030 - 70 years after his death. Unless his 'estate' agrees, to use his stories or characters as a basis for new books would be an infringement of that copyright. It can be done, and obviously has been done in some cases, but it involves a lot of discussion and probably legal agreements, perhaps even some finance. It's not something to be embarked upon lightly. But if you can wait another thirteen years - well, it's not that long, is it!

The only way round all this is to present the 'new' author as 'writing in the style of Nevil Shute' (or some similar wording) which is never quite as satisfactory, although those who long for more Shute will probably read the books in the hope of entering Shute's world again. 

All in all, I would say let us be satisfied with Nevil Shute's existing output. We would all like more, but it it's probably never going to happen, and would only create dissent if it did! 

FROM Paul Spoff

I assume most of you have some interest in aviation. Whether from Nevil Shute’s time of tomorrow. I found this rather interesting, hope you also do. 

Why Are The Dreamliner's Windows So Big?

FROM Ralph Nickerson

"The Lonely Sea and the Sky"

I am currently reading the autobiography (titled as above) of Sir Francis Chichester - a truly remarkable man and pioneer - and it struck me how constantly I am being reminded of our hero Nevil Shute. Though of very different personalities and capabilities these two exceptional Brits had certain attributes very much in common: they were roughly contemporary, and shared a fascination/passion for 

  1. 1920s-30s flying in small planes, and 
  2. b) blue-water sailing.

Both Sir Francis and NSN were noted individualists, and although the former was not much of a writer, let alone possessing that sublime touch demonstrated so habitually by the latter, I think they might have got on together pretty well. Either over a pint, or a drawing board... Did they in fact ever meet?  Who knows - anyone "out there”?

With very good wishes from a currently-damp southern Africa.  Cheers!

FROM Alan Shepherd

I remember reading Nevil Shute in the 1950s when I was a teenager. I took his books out of our local library in South London where I grew up and still remember being entranced by An Old Captivity.

About 30 years ago I came across, and read (or re-read), a couple of his books and enjoyed them. I had long since moved home to central Scotland but it was at a time in my life when I travelled a fair bit within the UK. I set out to find all of his books and read them. It was before the internet so I trawled second-hand bookshops and charity shops. I had to scan the lists on the inside of each flyleaf to discover titles to look for. It did not take too long to get the lot, maybe two or three years. Vinland The Good was the last.

I quickly realised that I had a complete mixture of hardbacks and paperbacks with dust jackets or front covers that fell into almost a dozen different series. I have no idea why, but I carried on buying the books. I set out to collect every book in each series. I tried to spend as little as possible and rejected any book that seemed unduly expensive. Most were under £5 but the odd one cost around £10 or, very rarely, £20.

The early first editions are rare and expensive if they come with a dust jacket. So I have none earlier than Pastoral. I do have a first of Marazan without a dust jacket. I have all 12 of the first Uniform Edition published between 1949 and 1957. The second Uniform edition was published between 1958 and 1972 and I have 19 covers (including an Omnibus edition) which I believe is a full set. For some reason that I do not understand, Slide Rule, Beyond The Black Stump, The Rainbow And The Rose and Trustee From The Toolroom are not included in this series. Perhaps their first editions were still available.

This theory is borne out by the list on the rear fly leaf of On The Beach (Uniform or Film Edition?) which indicates that the latter books are defined as “also available”.

The third Uniform Edition (1974 – 77) is even more of a mystery. I can find just eleven novels published in this series plus two different omnibus editions. However, the list on the rear covers indicates that everything except Stephen Morris and Trustee from The Toolroom was available at the time. The less popular, older books are generally harder to find although So Disdained is a notable exception. Many of these are missing from the Book Covers section on this site. It would be really interesting if anyone who worked at Heinnemann at the time could come up with any information on this subject.

Some Australian and American covers are different. There are Book Club versions and a number of “specials” such as the Town Like Alice edition printed just after the film. I have several of these mixed in with the rest but am not aiming for any more full sets.

Not long ago, I had over 300 Nevil Shute books but gave away about 10% when we moved house. I keep hardback duplicates but not paperback ones. My most prized book is a signed first edition which I found in a small town bookshop for £5. I suspect that the proprietor, who scrutinised the “Norway” signature pretty closely before he let me have the book, did not realise the significance of the name.

Every four or so years I read them all in the order that they were written. This takes a couple of months. I have done this several times now and have never failed to have been delighted with them. The stories are just magic!

FROM Richard Thorn

A book I have written on the life and work of Nevil Shute Norway is due for publication at the end of July. I of course hope that it will be of interest to members of the Foundation. Details are as follows:

Title: Shute: The engineer who became a prince of storytellers

Author: Richard Thorn

ISBN: 9781788032575

Expected publication date: 28th July 2017

The publisher’s book page is


FROM Scott McConnell

This just came through. The final publishing of my Alice interview with Henry Crawford. Your readers might want to see the pics.



Just returned from the UK, where we attended the Chalgrove meeting. Had a great time. From the Netherlands, where Spring seems to be coming, but where we had snow yesterday, See you all next month.