Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter dated October 2015

Letters to the Editor

FROM John Anderson

Changes to Foundation Board

Heather Mayfield, Foundation President and Nevil Shute’s elder daughter, has decided to step down from an active role. However she has accepted the honorary position of President Emeritus which will keep her in touch with Foundation activities. At our Board meeting in Oxford I was elected as President and Laura Schneider as Vice President. We owe Heather a great debt of gratitude for all her work over the years in promoting her father’s life and work and freely sharing her knowledge and memories. I feel very honoured to take on the role of President. I, and all the other Board members, will do our best to continue the work of promoting and expanding awareness of our favourite author.

After a period of understudying David Dawson-Taylor , I have now assumed responsibility for maintaining the website as webmaster. Since 2007 David has maintained and expanded the website. It is one of the best of its kind for an author, with a wealth of information and material. Thank you David for your excellent work.

FROM Joy Hogg

Here are some suggestions for contributions from our readers:

  Which book got you "hooked" on Shute and why did it have that affect?

Which book did you like the best and why?   

When you give Shute books to non-Shute readers, which one do you like to start them with? (I never start them with On the Beach) 

Who are some of your favorite Shute characters ?

What do you do to promote Shute in this day and age ??

             FROM Andy Burgess

Earlier I took a trip to the Royal Aeronautical Society library to look into what they had related to Nevil Shute. I discovered the following:

   At a meeting of the Council held on the 13th May 1924 Nevil Shute Norway was elected as an Associate Fellow of the RAeS. I believe this was the equivalent of the current 'Member' status. He was, of course, made a Fellow later on for his work with Hessel Tiltman on retractable undercarriages.

   In the November 1924 edition of The Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society a paper was published by N. S. Norway B.A., A.F.RAeS on "The Case For the Revival of the Water Channel". In this Shute argued for reintroduction of the water channel that had been abandoned as a method of visualising fluid flows around aircraft when the wind tunnel had been developed. He argued that the water channel provided a method of studying the qualitative nature of the flow as opposed to the quantitative measurements made from the wind tunnel. In particular the study of eddies and their effect on the stability of aircraft and for the investigation of where struts and wires meet aerofoils. He provided design details of a potential water channel with estimated costs. The design was not a minor structure as he indicated that the measuring section should be not less than 20 feet long and he suggested the use of a 160 hp Beardmore engine for powering the water flow. It would be oval in plan form in order to recirculate the water. He specified the use of dye introduced into the water to visualise the flow. 

   This water channel arrangement was, of course, used by Stephen Morris in the book of the same name to study the flow around an aircraft that had stability problems. Art imitating science, or vice versa ?

   I was interested in how Shute got his job on the R.100 and looked through copies of Flight and The Aeroplane for an advert that he may have responded to. I was surprised to find that there were none of the large adverts of today, but just small 'situations vacant' columns. Some notable firms identified themselves in adverts, but many were anonymous. There were none specifically for the Airship Guarantee Company or Vickers in the time frame necessary. However in the August 13th 1924 edition of The Aeroplane was an advert stating: "Skilled Aeronautical Stress Merchant required - apply, stating experience and salary, box no 5213". This seems to fit the requirement for a 'calculator' and is in the right time frame for him to be interviewed, resign from de Havilland and take up the position at the AGC in the October of that year. We know Shute advocated personal initiative when going for jobs and the R.100 project was very well known generally, not just in aeronautical circles so he may well have simply made an unsolicited approach to them. However the contract for the R.100 was not signed until just before Shute joined them, so seeking to join a company without a contract would seem a bold move. Unless we can find out whom box no 5213 was identified with, we will never know.

FROM John Douglas

I'm pretty sure that the first Shute book I read was ON THE BEACH and I can't say that it got me hooked. Excellent in its way but pretty tough stuff and although the characters were wonderfully engaging, they all died along with the rest of the world. Not really a cheery place to get to although rigorously prepared for and explained through the course of the book.

I think the book that really got me hooked was NO HIGHWAY. I had watched the Jimmy Stewart movie and figured out from the credits that there was a novel on which it was based and tracked it down out of a desire to get deeper into the characters I had met on screen. I loved it and wanted more. I think it was because of the narrative voice, representing normality and reason and fitting in, portraying a truly odd and essentially unlikeable-appearing character who turned out to be very sympathetic and relatable and who did what was right at the necessary moment without worrying about the personal cost until after the fact. At the time I read the book, Ballantine Books in the U.S. (and Canada where I grew up) was publishing an extensive list of his titles and I tracked down copies of all that they had in print and the few other titles that were also available, mostly from another company called Lancer. The Ballantine Books editions all had a listing of other titles by Shute and I worked through the list and found almost every one that was on the list. I still have the slightly-to-seriously worn copies of those editions plus the extras I've bought over the years as replacements, loaner copies, ones with interestingly different covers, etc. You can never have too many copies of a Shute book, just in case you've loaned one out and then you decide you want to re-read it right now yourself.

It's hard to pick an absolute favorite among his books. My two top picks are usually ROUND THE BEND and TRUSTEE FROM THE TOOLROOM, the first because it's such a heart-wrenching story about loss, self-imposed penance and redemption and because it has one of the most amazing resolutions I've ever encountered in a story and the second because it puts a man of limited larger-world experience and ambition in a situation of almost unlimited challenge and shows how he finds a way, just as Theodore Honey did, to do the right thing no matter what the cost to himself. I'd follow those two very closely with A TOWN LIKE ALICE, PASTORAL, NO HIGHWAY, IN THE WET, THE CHEQUER BOARD, KINDLING and THE RAINBOW AND THE ROSE with THE FAR COUNTRY, AN OLD CAPTIVITY, THE BREAKING WAVE and BEYOND THE BLACK STUMP close behind them. There are a small handful, maybe five, of his books that I consider relatively minor but nonetheless re-readable and nothing that I'd say comes even remotely close to being a dud.

I'd probably try to get a bit of a sense of someone's taste before I picked a starter Shute and make a specific recommendation based on that although I wouldn't hesitate to recommend almost any of the ones on my favorites list above as a way to get acquainted with his charms and strengths as a writer.

Characters? Tom Cutter, Theodore Honey, Keith Stewart among many others. Genuine people struggling in challenging circumstances for goals both moral and practical, with good hearts and an unlikely attractiveness buried under sometimes prickly, sometimes just plain strange exteriors. Almost any of his narrators, not even always named or fully-developed, for the matter-of-factness of how they end up telling us marvellous things and for the plain, unadorned way that they speak from the page.

I don't think there's any practical method for promoting Shute in a major way to a wide audience in the world as it exists today but I think the books deliver as a reading experience that almost absolutely guarantees conversion to fans among people who come to them with the right spirit and the right expectations and that can almost always be sensed and then set up with a one-on-one pitch in personal conversation even with a relative stranger, as long as that person is a reader at heart. Sadly, it's all-too-rare these days to find actual readers which limits the opportunity to make those converts. It doesn't hurt to be able to hand over a copy as the starter and that's why all those extras come in handy.

A personal aside. I had been re-reading Shute regularly for well over twenty years and was familiar with the alternate U.S./UK titles on a number of his books and has alternate editions of most of them. I fell into a conversation with a woman who may be an even more dedicated fan of his work than I am and learned that VINLAND THE GOOD, which I had assumed was an alternate title for AN OLD CAPTIVITY, was a completely different thing and, bless her, she had two copies of perhaps the rarest of his titles. She sent her spare copy to me and I'll be forever grateful for that and for her enlightening me about the fact that it was a different book entirely. How often does a lifelong junkie get an opportunity to try an absolutely new fix of a drug that he's convinced that he's thoroughly familiar with? I still owe her a dinner for that gift and, if we're ever on the same side of the continent at the same time again, I intend to find a way to give her one of the great meals of her life.

FROM Sherill Anderson

Hi there! I have recently started to reread my Nevil Shute collection. I'm happy to say that I have them all. I picked up many in the late 1950's and early 1960's from a couple of used book stores and bought the last ones new.

I just finished Lonely Road. It has been so long since I read it that it was quite new to me. I see that Nevil had it published in 1932. Here's the Author's Note:

"This was the third of my books to be published, in 1932, when I was thirty-three years old. It took me about a year to write it, in the evenings after a day spent on other work, and it was written twice through from start to finish. I was evidently still obsessed with police action as a source of drama, but with the growth of experience in writing, the character studies and the love story appear to have smothered the plot a bit, and these aspects of the book now seem to me to be the best.

"The first chapter was quite frankly an experiment, and one which pleases me still. It was a dangerous experiment, however, for a young writer to make in the first pages of a book, for it defeated a good many readers who might have enjoyed the story if they had been able to read on. In spite of this the book did moderately well in this country and in America. In 1936 a film was made from it at the Ealing Studies, starring Clive Brook and Victoria Hopper. Nevil Shute"

I would love to see that film and think that it could be remade now and be a fine success. The story has action and romance and is so poignant. What a fine writer Shute was. I wish he could have lived longer to write more for all of us "Shutists".



Not a lot of copy this month. That is why I have taken the liberty to use some older entries to the newsletter. May I ask you to have a look at what Jay Hogg has written? Get inspired and send me those emails.
Starting November, or possibly December this year, we will change the format of the newsletter.  It will be made more modern, and pictures and video’s can be included in the newsletter.

From the Netherlands, where it is autumn now, but still lovely weather, see you next month