Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter May 2017

Letters to the Editor

FROM John Anderson

The next UK book group meeting is being planned for Saturday 20th May. The venue is the Greyhound Pub, Kew Green, West London TW9 3AP. Meet at the pub at noon and I'm told we can use one of their 'pods' for our meeting. The book to be discussed is Most Secret.

If you plan to come to this meeting can you please let me know by email so that we can gauge numbers. Thank you.

FROM John Forester

I noted the reference to the novels by David Beaty, an author whose aviation experience equaled that of Shute. So I looked him up. Published by William Morrow. The officers of that firm were family friends, and, sometime in the early 1950s, when I was in their offices, I was introduced to one of their authors, an aviation novelist who had been RAF and BOAC. And, one way or another, I came into possession, shortly after or even before publication, of a novel I have remembered to this day. It concerned the early days of commercial trans-Atlantic flight, when stopovers were required at the Azores. The novel concerns the issues of pilot fatigue in operating that service, and the romantic relationships that became entwined into that. Looking up David Beaty, I realized that that novel was The Four Winds, and Beaty was the author whom I had met in Morrow's offices. So I have ordered a used copy of that novel, to see if it is as good as I remembered. And I have just downloaded to Kindle a copy of his book concerning the tensions under which pilots fly and the accidents caused thereby.

FROM Sally M. Chetwynd

I have emailed John Marsden about the aviation author David Beaty, and it occurred to me that Shute fans might be interested in a more contemporary author.  Tom Chase, who is a retired commercial pilot living in New Hampshire (USA), wrote a novel over ten years ago, called “Last Flight,” about a commercial airline pilot who is about to celebrate his 60th birthday and must now retire from flying professionally.  On his last flight, an international one to Paris and back, he deals with the usual good and bad events, reminisces to some degree about his career, and does harbor some self-doubt about if he is still capable of flying in these days of automation and technology, when so much is changing.  He gets his answer on the flight home, when a terrorist-planted bomb explodes in the cargo bay and this veteran pilot has to resurrect some old-school techniques if he is to land his craft and 200+ passengers safely in dicey, hurricane-induced weather.  Talk about edge-of-your-seat, gripping prose!

FROM Tony Woodward

I’m always interested in people’s top picks.  Mine change all the time but I still think my top three faves are Trustee from the Toolroom, Ruined City, and either The Chequerboard or Requiem for a Wren.  I’ve already told this group that Most Secret was the only Shute novel in our house when I was a child and it put me off Shute for 20 years.  I understand it now.

FROM Dan Telfair

The Butterfly Effect

The “Butterfly Effect’ is a theory that small changes can have large effects over time.  The original example used by the author of the theory, Edward Lorenz, is that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings might be sufficient to result in a small wind perturbation that could grow over time to influence the path of a tornado.  A related example has to do with how the premature death of a butterfly could change the course of history.  The butterfly’s death would take away all of his or her future generations - going into tens of thousands of butterflies.  Plants that would otherwise have been pollinated fail to propagate, and animals that would have eaten those plants die of starvation or range further afield.  Primitive people who would have hunted those animals for food, travel elsewhere for better hunting.  Others give up the hunter/gatherer existence and start farming communities.  Communities become towns.  Towns become cities.  Cities become nation states, etc., etc.  (With apologies to Ray Bradbury.  His example was the premature death of a dinosaur, but that lacks the order of magnitude provided by the butterfly example.)

The best example in my life of the butterfly effect came about in 1998 after I had used my first-ever personal computer and the “new” Internet to organize a small on-line book club reading and discussing Nevil Shute’s work.  There were no more than a half-dozen members.

One day in late 1998, one of our number - I don’t remember who - reminded us that January 17, 1999 would be Nevil’s 100th birthday.  

His comment was the butterfly.

I decided to host a birthday party in Albuquerque, and invite other Nevil Shute aficionados.   One of our number suggested I could hold it in a telephone booth.  How many people would travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a place that Nevil never even visited, to celebrate the long-dead author’s centennial?

As many of you know, we had 120 participants at the Centennial, including both Nevil’s daughters, his grandchildren and great grandchildren, the author Richard Bach, ATLA director David Stevens, and others traveling from around the United States, Canada, and as far away as Australia.

The Centennial led to seven more international gatherings, alternately held in Australia, Great Britain, and the United States.  Along the way, lending libraries were established in all three countries.  The Nevil Shute Norway Foundation was formed, a web site was created, and a newsletter was begun.  More research has been conducted on the life and times of Nevil Shute Norway than was ever conducted in his lifetime or in the forty years thereafter preceding the Centennial.  One way or another, well over 1,000 people of various nationalities, who otherwise would not have done so, have interacted with each other in person, by mail, over the Internet, etc.  Many have traveled to foreign countries for the first time in their lives.  Long out-of-print Shute novels have been re-published, and one of his unpublished manuscripts, The Seafarers, has now been published.  An excellent biography has been published by one of our own, John Anderson.  Nevil’s yacht, Runagate, has been found, etc., etc.

From a personal perspective, my life has been changed and enriched as I could never have imagined.  I had been a helicopter pilot in the US Army, but had never flown an airplane, and hadn’t flown at all in over twenty years.  While talking with noted pilot and author Richard Bach during the Centennial, I mentioned that I had once been a pilot.  He said there was no such thing as “once a pilot”.  Having flown, a person was always a pilot, and why wasn’t I flying still?

Several days later, I told my wife Zia that I wanted to earn an airplane pilot license and start flying again.  She said that if I were going to start flying again, she also wanted to get a pilot license.  Within a month, we had purchased an airplane and begun our training.

By the time the next international gathering took place in Australia, we both had our US pilot licenses.  After the Australia gathering, we obtained our Australia pilot licenses, leased an airplane, and flew 5,000 miles around the Outback, largely retracing Nevil’s flyabout.  We returned to Australia three times thereafter, once living in the tiny Outback town of Longreach for three months.

With my pilot license and our plane, we helped form Angel Flight in New Mexico, and I managed the organization for six years.  During that time, I personally flew over 500 charity medical missions and coordinated several thousand more.  There are people who are alive today, who would not be if they had not had access to our life-saving aerial transportation to medical facilities.  Some who are no longer alive, had their lives extended by our efforts.  Many had their suffering alleviated by medical treatment that would otherwise have been unavailable.

At 75, I decided to give up flying passengers, but not to give up flying altogether.  Zia and I sold the family plane, bought a kit, and together, built our own light sport airplane.  Along the way, I earned a light sport aircraft mechanic certificate, and an amateur-built airplane mechanic certificate.  I perform all the maintenance on our plane, and intend to continue flying into my eighties.

The entire time since the 1999 Centennial, the only oil portrait of Nevil ever painted has hung in a place of honor in our home, overlooking our Nevil Shute book collection, and overseeing our daily activities.  In general, I believe he approves.

All because of a butterfly.

I know that the Newsletter cannot devote large amounts of space to the butterfly effects on others.  However, I would be interested in hearing from anyone whose lives have been changed significantly by that particular butterfly.  Assuming there is general interest, I might ask to add a section on the NSN web site to feature these stories

FROM John Anderson

Hampshire Literary Symposium 22nd April.

I was asked to give a talk on Nevil Shute and his Hampshire connections as a speaker at this symposium last Saturday in Winchester. There were five speakers, including me, covering literary figures such as Isaac Walton, William Cobbett, Jane Austen, Flora Thompson and Nevil Shute Norway, all of whom either lived in, or wrote about, Hampshire. Taking them in chronological order I was the last speaker with an audience of about 50, most of whom, on a show of hands, had read a Nevil Shute book at some stage in their lives.

I talked about his life and work before moving on to his Hampshire connections - Petersfield and Fora Twort, Airspeed in Portsmouth, his homes - Helena Road and Pond Head House. There were also his wartime connections such as Exbury House - HMS Mastodon in Requiem for a Wren, and the Swallow pilotless aircraft with its trials at Worthy Down near Winchester and on the Beaulieu river.

My talk seemed to go down well, with few aware of Shute's Hampshire connections, and I may even have inspired some to re-read a Shute book!

FROM Gill Shott

I just wanted to thank you for bringing the novelist David Beaty to my attention. I had never come across this author but, being a library assistant, my first thought was - do Hampshire Libraries have any of his books I could get hold of? The answer was yes - and I have now enjoyed 2 of his novels with more to come. I can quite see why one would compare him to Nevil Shute - the stories are exciting and, having just finished 'The Wind off the Sea', I love the way it is written in two time zones - similar to one of my favourite Shute novels 'In the Wet'.

I am the proud owner of all Nevil Shute's works. It took me many years to collect them - haunting second hand bookshops throughout the country (I tried to avoid on-line purchases as I saw that as cheating!) I have followed the Foundation newsletters for many years, most of the time being somewhat overawed by the in-depth discussions on technical points. I freely admit that I just enjoy the stories! I particularly like the novels set in Hampshire - 'What happened to the Corbetts', 'Landfall' & 'Requiem for a Wren'. In 'Round the Bend' Shute describes Morden underground station and its environs exactly as it is - I should know as I lived in Morden for 13 years! The one novel I dislike and rarely re-read is 'On the Beach' - I just find it very depressing. 'Sliderule' was a revelation as well as inspiration for my e-mail address many years ago, and I enjoyed John Andersons biography immensely.



That’s it for this month. Some very good reading I think. 

From the Netherlands, where we are enjoying beautiful, but rather cold weather. See you all next month.