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Nevil Shute

Author Nevil ShuteNevil Shute Norway was born 17th January 1899 at Ealing, London, the youngest of two brothers and the son of a senior civil servant in the General Post Office.

At an early stage it was obvious that his interests lay not in things academic as did his brother's but in things practical, having been caught playing truant from school only to spend his time studying the mechanical exhibits and early flying machines in the Science Museum in South Kensington.

The family moved from London to Dublin in 1912 when his father was appointed Secretary to the Post Office in Ireland. Nevil Shute had attended various schools in England including Shrewsbury and it was whilst on holiday from there that he was in Dublin during the Easter uprising in 1916, and acted as a stretcher bearer.

In June, 1915, his older brother Fred had died of wounds in Flanders during WW1. He was quite fatalistic about his future at this stage, having seen many of his seniors at school killed in the fighting in Flanders as well as his brother. His stammer, from which he was to suffer to some extent throughout his life, probably saved him from this fate as it prevented his earlier attempts to obtain a commision in the army and then the new Royal Air Force. After enlisting in the ranks of the Suffolk Regiment he was posted to the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary for the last three months of the war.

After the war he was demobilised and secured a place at Balliol, Oxford, where he studied Engineering, graduating in the summer of 1922. During the vacations he became acquainted with boats by acting as crew on a sailing cruiser and had already started his connection with the aircraft industry, working unpaid at De Havillands where it was Geoffrey de Havilland himself who gave Nevil Shute his first experience of flying. His first full time work was at De Havillands near Edgware in January 1923 where he was employed as a performance calculator.

He started writing in his spare time in the evenings, first poetry and then a novel, and in the spring he learned to fly. Finishing his first novel later in 1923 he sent it to three publishers and was turned down by them all. A second attempt followed in 1924 with the same result. Later that year he left De Havillands to join the Airship Guarantee Co. at Howden, Yorkshire, a subsidiary of Vickers, as chief calculator on the R100 airship project.

This was the private enterprise project while the Air Ministry would build R101 in competition. The Chief Engineer at the Airship Guarantee Co. was Barnes Wallis, later to become well known as the designer of the 'geodetic' aspect of construction of the Wellington bomber and the 'bouncing bomb' used on the dams raid.

His next writing attempt, 'Marazan', an aerial drug-smuggling adventure was accepted and published in 1926. At this stage he decided on his peseuodonym of Nevil Shute, not wanting his writing to undermine his credibility as an engineer.

As the R100 project continued he carried on with another novel, 'So Disdained', an aerial spying story, published 1928 (US 'The Mysterious Aviator'). By November 1929 the airship R100 was complete and ready for trials in 1930. Shute was by this time Deputy Chief Engineer under Barnes Wallis and after the first flight of R101 effectively in charge of the project. The trials were successful as was a proving flight to Canada and back and the airship was then hangared whilst the testing of R101 was supposed to be carried out. In the event there was very little testing and R101, en route to India on a proving flight, crashed in France killing 48 of the 54 passengers and crew, ending all development of airship travel in England.

Nevil Shute had become engaged to be married to Frances Heaton, a doctor at York Hospital and at the end of the R101 project, when he found himself unemployed and newly married, he decided to start an aeroplane manufacturing company (as one does!). Aviation was booming and with a senior designer recruited from De Havillands and the backing of Sir Alan Cobham, Airspeed Ltd. was formed, based first in Yorkshire, and held its first board meeting in 1931 with Shute as Joint Managing Director.

'Lonely Road', a novel of gun running and political revolution, was published in 1932 and selling the film rights brought an additional welcome income but the next novel, 'Ruined City', did not appear until 1938, a reflection of his concentration on the fledgling company. Producing gliders to earn some quick income, eventual success came with multiple orders and a move to a new factory at Portsmouth but still little, if any, profit.

The Airspeed Oxford, a twin engined trainer, was used to train most bomber command pilots and 8751 were built (most under licence by other manufacturers). The peak for Shute was selling one of their aircraft, an Airspeed Envoy, to the King's Flight in 1937 but this had been at the cost of little home life with his wife and two daughters except for occasional weekend cruising in their yacht, Skerdmore.

In 1938, with war brewing and orders for aircraft for the RAF in the hundreds, the Board of the company dispensed with Nevil Shute's services, an action which he says in his autobiography 'Slide Rule' (1954) was probably quite right - his forte was as a starter of companies and not a runner. With a generous settlement from Airspeed Nevil Shute could now reassess his future.

Prior to the outbreak of war in 1939 his novel 'What Happened to the Corbetts' had been published, an account of Britain under aerial attack and which his publishers, Heinemann, issued in a special presentation edition to the newly formed ARP (Air Raid Precautions) personnel. By 1940, deciding to give up engineering research to take part in the war, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Within two weeks Sub. Lt. Norway was seconded from his training ship, still in civilian clothes, by the Admiralty's Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development where they wanted someone with aircraft experience to work on combatting air attacks on shipping. This Department of highly qualified scientists and technicians evaluated numerous proposals for aiding the war effort, some highly successful and others less so. Amongst them was a project inititiated by the Petroleum Warfare team of a large flame thower firing a mixture of diesel oil and tar as a shipboard defensive weapon - an idea familiar to those who have read his novel 'Most Secret' (1945). He wrote the foreword to the history of the work of the department, 'The Secret War 1939-45' by Gerald Pawle.

His novel, 'No Highway', 1948, covered the problems of metal fatigue and sudden in-flight failure of structures in aircraft, almost as if he had prior knowledge of the Comet disasters of the 1950's. Prior knowledge and second sight were themes that recurred and he also uses them to effect in 'An Old Captivity, 1940, and 'In the Wet', 1953, set in the rainy season in Australia. 'Round the Bend', 1951, a story of diligent aero engineer is set against the background of the development of a commercial air freight company.

After the war, disillusioned with political changes and the financial restraints of post-war Britain, Nevil Shute settled in Australia and his later novels reflect this change of domicile. Probably his most famous was 'A Town like Alice', 1950, a love story set firstly during the Japanese occupation of Malaya and the East Indies and later in Australia.

Throughout most of his books, however, you can see him drawing on his personal experiences whether in the aircraft industry, wartime or his sailing but, authentic as they are, these are only background settings. He had a natural ability to tell a story, to build sympathetic characters and write in such a way that grips the reader from an early stage.

It seems from his autobiography that he spent his life as if each day were of 30 hours instead 24, in his engineering days doing a full days work before starting his writing in the evenings. Such a pace would wear down even a physically fit man but he had a long history of heart problems which finally caught up with him and he died 12th January 1961 at the age of 61 years.


The following is a list of the UK works of Nevil Shute in date order, not a list of the books we are offering for sale. For the the titles we currently have in stock see here

Original works

 

	Image of Pan paperback issue	Marazan
First issue date: 1926
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Cassell, London
Synopsis: A story of an air crash with an escaping prisoner rescuing the pilot, and drug smuggling via airplane, escape by sailing cruiser, the interception of the cargo and the capture of those responsible using another airplane.
Notes:
US Title (If different):
US Publisher:


	Image of Pan paperback issue	So Disdained
First issue date: 1928
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Cassell, London
Synopsis: A story of espionage by aerial reconnaisance in the days shortly after WW1 and the eventual capture of the espionage ring.
Notes:
US Title (If different): The Mysterious Aviator
US Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap, c1928


	Image of Pan paperback issue	Lonely Road
First issue date: 1932
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A story of a wealthy shipline owner and a dancing girl, gun running and an attempt to rig the general election in 1930's Great Britain.
Notes:
US Title (If different):
US Publisher:


		Ruined City
First issue date: 1938
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A merchant banker risks his banking house, fortune and reputation to start a shaky company to bring work to a shipbuilding town during the depression.
Notes:
US Title (If different): Kindling
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1938


		What Happened to the Corbetts
First issue date: 1939
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A novel relating the experiences of a British family suffering aerial bombardment in some future war.
Notes: Written in 1938 and published in 1939 before the outbreak of WW2, an edition of this book in paper covered boards was distributed free to members of ARP (Air Raid Precautions) personnel as a warning of what they could expect.
US Title (If different): Ordeal
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1939


		An Old Captivity
First issue date: 1940
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: An expedition to Greenland to investigate a possible Viking settlement leads to dream sequences by the pilot of the expedition aircraft as he retraces the discovery of North America, 'Vinland', with the Vikings.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1940


		Landfall
First issue date: 1940
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: 1940 and an RAF pilot in Coastal Command is acclaimed for sinking a German submarine in the English Channel and then falsely accused of sinking a British submarine in error.
Notes:
US Title (If different):
US Publisher:


		Pied Piper
First issue date: 1942
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: An old man holidaying in rural France after the death of his RAF pilot son is overtaken by the German invasion in 1940 and he tries to return to England with a group of children gathered on his journey.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1942


		Pastoral
First issue date: 1944
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A story with a background of life on a wartime RAF Bomber Command station in rural England, the fragile relationship of a bomber crew and the love story of their Captain and a local WAAF.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1944


		Most Secret
First issue date: 1945
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: 1941 and a venture by a small combined services force to aid the people of a coastal village in Brittany using a fishing boat mounting a flame thrower.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1945


		Vinland the Good
First issue date: 1946
Genre/Series: Drama
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: Based on the premise of the discovery of America about 1000AD by Leif Ericsson
Notes: New edition published Paper Tiger, USA 1998, and reprinted 2000
US Title (If different):
US Publisher:


		The Chequer Board
First issue date: 1947
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A man dying from an old wound received in a war-time air crash seeks out his three crash victim companions.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1947


		No Highway
First issue date: 1948
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A suspense novel of aircraft and metal fatigue, when a scientist discovers that a new aircraft in public service is likely to fail at any time.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1948


		A Town like Alice
First issue date: 1950
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: The experiences of an Australian soldier and a woman, separately prisoners of the Japanese after the invasion of Malaya and their attempts to find each other again after the war.
Notes:
US Title (If different): The Legacy
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1950


		Round the Bend
First issue date: 1951
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: Tale of the early days of flying, from the flying circus to a small commercial airline, and of an aero-mechanic whose concientious way of working and living led to a cult following,
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1951


		The Far Country
First issue date: 1952
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A 'new Australian' immigrant Czech doctor working as a lumberman is called on to operate on two men in an emergency. Helped by an English girl they save one life but are then accused of manslaughter of the other,
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1952


		In the Wet
First issue date: 1953
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: The wet season in Australia and a strange tale of a sight of the future via dreams by a priest ministering to a dying man under the pain relieving influence of opium.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1953


		Slide Rule
First issue date: 1954
Genre/Series: Autobiography
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: Subtitled 'The Autobiography of an Engineer', an account of his life and work.
Notes: Both hardback and paperback editions (Pan Books, 1968) illustrated with photos.,
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1954


		Requiem for a Wren
First issue date: 1955
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: The story of a Wren on armament duties for the impending invasion of 1944, her fiancee, an Australian Royal Marine on mine clearance of the proposed invasion beaches and his brother, an RAF pilot.
Notes:
US Title (If different): The Breaking Wave
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1955


		Beyond the Black Stump
First issue date: 1956
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: The clash of cultures when an American oil drilling team set up an exploration well in the sheep farming country of Australia
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1956


		On the Beach
First issue date: 1957
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A futuristic tale of the aftermath of a nuclear war when Australia finds itself one of the few remaining centres of population.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1957


		The Rainbow and the Rose
First issue date: 1958
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: A flying rescue story set in Tasmania with dream flashback sequences re-telling the life of the crash victim and his potential rescuer.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1958


		Trustee from the Toolroom
First issue date: 1960
Genre/Series: Novel
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: After the death of his sister and brother-in-law, a modelling engineer and trustee for his niece journeys to the Pacific to protect her inheritance.
Notes:
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1960


		Stephen Morris
First issue date: 1961
Genre/Series: Two novelettes
Publisher: Heinemann, London
Synopsis: Two short novels linked with the same main character, Stephen Morris, and themes of flying and sailing.
Notes: Published after Shute's death
US Title (If different): As UK
US Publisher: Wm. Morrow, 1961


Associated works


		The Secret War 1939-45 by Gerald Pawle
First issue date: 1956
Genre/Series: WW2 non-fiction
Publisher: Harrap, London
Synopsis: A history of the Royal Navy's 'Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development' at the Admiralty during WW2, which examined and tested ideas for a variety of weapons and aids to warfare, producing successes like the Hedgehog weapon thrower and the Mulberry Harbour and also failures such as the Panjandrum,
Notes: Lt. Cdr. Nevil Shute Norway was a member of the Department and wrote the foreword to the book,
US Title (If different):
US Publisher:


Airspeed Aircraft since 1931 by H. A. Taylor
First issue date: 1970
Genre/Series: Aviation history
Publisher: Putnam, London
Synopsis:
Notes: A detailed history of the aircraft produced by Airspeed Ltd., the company of which Nevil Shute Norway was one of the founders.
US Title (If different):
US Publisher:


Airspeed by D. H. Middleton
First issue date: 1980
Genre/Series: Aviation history
Publisher: Terence Dalton, Lavenham, Suffolk
Synopsis:
Notes: A history of the company and those who worked at Airspeed Ltd, co-founded by Nevil Shute Norway.
US Title (If different):
US Publisher:


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