Paddy & Billy

The story of how Paddy and Billy kidnapped a German General during WW2 on Crete has been told many times. But each account lacks the perspective of one or more of the protagonists. For decades, Captain Billy Moss’s account was the definitive one. His book, Ill Met By Moonlight, became a major motion picture. Even though the inaccuracies drove Patrick Leigh Fermor, Paddy, to distraction, the movie has become the reality.

But what about the Germans? What about the Cretans? And how far can we trust first-hand accounts? We take another look at one of SOE’s greatest triumphs. How did the plan come about? At this distance, almost a century later, what have we learned about this chapter?

All will be revealed in, I hope, the book: Paddy & Billy, Kidnapping the General, in 2021. And if you cannot wait, you can listen to the first part of my special podcast here.

Book: Orwell’s Nose

George Orwell did not have a nose because he did not exist. Eric Arthur Blair had a nose, and he sometimes used it to smell things. End of review.

This is a short book, by John Sutherland, a literature professor who is highly regarded in both the US and the UK. It came about when he permanently lost his own sense of smell during a bad hay fever episode. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

It’s an excellent idea for a book, but it completely fails to deliver. It turns out that although Orwell did mention smell a few times, it wasn’t nearly often enough to fill a proper biography. So this is mainly a slim biography with the odd nod to the human nose. Or, more specifically, our sense of smell.

For most people, smell is the one sense they think they could manage quite happily without. There are countless scenarios in which not being able to smell anything is highly desirable. As long as you don’t work in perfume or food. It’s probably closely followed by taste in the dispensability stakes.

I now realise that this will be a short review. I learnt vastly more about Orwell the man and writer, far more entertainingly, by reading the excellent compilations of his letters and diaries by Harvill Secker and edited by Peter Davison in 2009. But the comparison is a little unfair. They are different books, and very different ideas. If you’re not a die-hard Orwell fan and you haven’t read anything about him before, but you’ve heard of Animal Farm and 1984 then you’re probably going to get a lot out of this book very quickly. Otherwise, avoid.

Clive James on Writing

You might know that I have been reading the Complete Unreliable Memoirs (CUM) for a few weeks. I’ve been posting updates on Goodreads direct from my Kindle. This is a massive 1,120 pages of ebook-only compendium of all five volumes of Clive’s autobiography. According to Ian Shircore, Clive was writing book six, covering his final illness, but the topic was so dull and macabre that he gave up.

I remember Clive’s ‘review’ of Maria McKee’s Show Me Heaven. My sides split. I remember that he voiced the Formula One highlights videos for many years in the 1980s. He even made Formula One funny. Clive could make anything funny. Clive could make Margarita Pracatan look good. More even that that, he could make her sound good.

I just read a sentence in CUM that struck me as perfectly balanced. When I checked, I found that each of the two clauses, separated by a single comma, had the same number of syllables. Even his prose was poetic. Clive was that rare thing. A polymath with a gut as wide as his library and a head as shiny as the joy he found in everyday life. Clive James was a genius.

Even funnier on the page than he was on TV, he was never off it for the whole of the 1980s. He only threw in the towel around 2000 after his ordinary, but only by his own standards, end of the millennium show. His company, Watchmaker, was named by his friend and producer Richard Drewett, who was a collector of fine timepieces. But it was a clever name: the shows made you watch television.

Clive James taught the teenaged me a few things. He taught me that getting up at midnight on the final night of the year was an error. The only thing to do was watch the entire Clive James show for all the years I remember growing up. Others followed in his footsteps, but nobody was as good. His postcards had me in stitches. They worked because he appeared content to act the fool, but he always had the last laugh. I was a little young for his chat shows, but he got all of the biggest international stars.

Australians in Britain always seemed to do well. At least, the ones you have ever heard of all did well. Imagine how many thousands fell short. They were flying in by the boatload in the decades after the second world war. Clive dismisses the notion that there was an Australian mafia in operation in the British media. Many of the expats hated each other, he implies. Some of them left Australia just to get away from some of the others, who then immediately followed in their wake. There were rivalries and arguments, as you might expect if you thought about it. But we can’t get enough of the Australian accent. In Clive’s day, he describes the reception he invariably received as naked racism. A surprising suggestion for someone who grew up on Neighbours.

Yes, Clive was the real deal. I thought the poetry was by another Clive James, but once you read it, you know it’s the same guy. I can’t believe he wrote for the TLS in the days before it was Stig Abell’s hipster hangout du jour. I dream of getting into today’s TLS. Clive was never out of it. Clive ascended the north face of Soho before I knew what Soho was. When I worked in the office building adjoining Liberty’s, I was unwittingly following him once again. As I walked behind Russell Crowe one lunch time, nodding and smiling with my colleagues, Clive was hiding in a doorway.

You must read some Clive James. Find his shows on YouTube. He’s a one-off. Even his name has two perfectly balanced words of five letters each.

Your Kindle Isn’t a Book, It’s Netflix

Once you realise that Amazon hasn’t made a book, it has made an entire library, you start to understand why Kindle is not just a new way to read. It massively expands your options, if you let it.

I’ve dabbled before. My first time was with an Elonex. It was white, had an actual keyboard rather than a touch screen, and was a protest against Amazon’s decidedly Apple approach to locking out the competition. My Elonex was a dog. But it worked with ePUB, still the only reliable open format for commercial eBooks. It was great until the novelty wore off, then I got rid of it.

I tried a Kobo. Miles ahead of the Elonex, and still an ePUB device. It was great. For a while. Then I got rid of it.

There was something missing. My Kobo stank, yes, but nothing like a real vintage hardback. It was altogether the wrong kind of stink. Just picking up a book helps me to relax, even before I open the thing. The Kobo didn’t do that. Its saving grace was the lack of a usable browser, and certainly no email. It was a touch screen tablet with zero connectivity. It was great. Until, yes… it went.

I managed quite happily for years without touching another eReader. However, as a highly bookish individual and part-time thriller writer, I felt I had to stick with eBooks for the same reason I stuck with Twitter. I needed to keep track of the kids. And I don’t mean my kids, I mean the  kids. The future readers.

In 2017, I plunged back in with the upmarket (but not top of the line) Kindle Voyage. Ho ho, I thought. The only Voyage this thing is going on is a quick one-way trip to eBay. But that’s not what happened. Because the Kindle is totally unlike its forerunners. It does not synthesise a book. It synthesises an entire library. It is the knees of the bee.

It is technically less capable than the best recent Kobo. It demands that you lock yourself into its non-ePUB ecosystem. But I had missed the trick. The reasons why I so badly wanted to avoid the Kindle turned out to be its killer feature.

If you’re a Prime member, and who in the Western world is not, you get free books. It’s called Prime Reading these days. It is better and less constrained than its parents, which went by the terrible name of KOLL: Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. It’s way, way better than that. It includes magazines and shorter works, and lets you borrow more than one at a time.

If you’re running a modern tech-friendly family, then you’ll appreciate how easy it is to share your purchases with spouse and sprogs alike. It’s not that easy to buy Kindle eBooks as gifts, but they’ll figure that out. For some reason, you can do it in the US but not in the UK. No, I really can’t understand why. Maybe nobody bothered, as you can get a gift card in far more places.

Once you have your Kindle, and any version will do, you’re into the fastlane of super speed-reading. I can read faster on the Kindle, and I can lookup words with a single press when I need to. But the real benefit is that I can have any number of books on the go at once. I used to think that would only help me when travelling, and it did help. But it’s just as useful at home.

I am reading a book about Jack the Ripper, a navy novel, a Sherlock Holmes, a book about Alexander Litvinenko, one about the countryside, some kind of chick lit I got by mistake for free, a book about the financial crisis and a spy novel. All at once! And look, no bookmarks.

When coupled with Prime, your Kindle is Netflix for readers. It’s that good. And it is rapidly becoming my favourite reading device. I keep an old hardback in a drawer for when only a sniff will do. And no, this isn’t an advertorial. It’s just that Amazon have finally got the eReader sorted. They realised it’s not about the features, it’s about the content.

Once you realise that Amazon hasn’t made a book, it has made an entire library, you start to understand why Kindle is not just a new way to read. It massively expands your options, if you let it.

Five Questions: Author Dheep Matharu

Dheep is an independent author in all senses of the word. Having worked for some of the world’s most famous companies in London and New York, she has returned home to publish her memoirs at 30. Trust us, there’s been a lot to write about. A New York Kind Of Love is her multi-part series about life in NYC, with everything that entails. Drink, drugs, Instagram and a lot of other stuff that you’ll just have to read to believe. It’s an unusually formatted extravaganza of raw emotion that reads like poetry at times. She joined us in a Brick Lane cafe to talk about her life on the road.

Q: Your book is part memoir, part novel. What percentage of each?

Dheep: 98.95% memoir and 1.05% novel. The above 1.05% includes things like giving characters new names and summarising some of the really lengthy scenes. There was also a TON of really interesting off-the-wall events that were sadly excluded, in the interest of breaking down the story into easily digestible chunks.

Q: What do you love most about New York?

Dheep: Charlie. Obviously. I think I made that pretty clear!

Q: Do you think social media is a force for good?

Dheep: There are pros and cons to everything. I used to hate social media because I felt it was like a shiny storefront for our lives but inside, the store was more like a bric-a-brac flea market with all sorts of junk falling off the shelves. But that was back when I used it as merely a way to connect with people I know. Since connecting with the vast, global population “strangers”, I’ve learned it can be more like going on stage at an open mic night where the crowd is actually rooting for you to succeed and not fail. The benefit now, really is, you can be whoever you want to be without fear of being judged – you just need to find the right audience.

Q: What part of the world would you most like to visit that you have not yet had chance to?

Dheep: Truthfully, I’d like to revisit all the scenes in my book and relive them one more time. Particularly the darkest times. There’s nothing like raw emotion and a pinch of hindsight to appreciate where you were, where you’ve come from and what you did along the way.

Q: Who would love this book? It’s unconventional. It feels as fresh as Doug Coupland did 20 years ago – which writers inspired you?

Dheep: For the writing of this book I DELIBERATELY DID NOT read any other writers’ work. Why? Because it needed to be 100% my voice or it wasn’t going to work. Having said that, there was one particular book that encouraged me, not only to persevere but also to REDO the ENTIRE format of the book to the unusual, visual style that you see today. That book was “Do The Work” by Steven Pressfield. P.S. I screamed and cried and threw a tantrum in the car when I realised that I had to rewrite the entire first draft after months of hard work. To answer your first question: who would love this book? Anyone who feels a bit “disconnected” in today’s world and feels like reconnecting again. Come and connect with me.

If you want to read more, you can get hold of Dheep’s memoirs on Amazon in the UK, US and elsewhere. She is also on Facebook.

The Art of the Letter

A little while ago, I got hooked on reading other people’s diaries and letters. Nothing untoward about it: I am talking strictly about published collections. To this day, there is nothing like receiving a letter in the post, especially if it has arrived from abroad, and the rarer they get, the more special the feeling when one arrives. The next task was simply to choose the letters.

Georgia O’Keeffe was a lesson learned, and a lesson that helped me focus. As soon as I saw the book, I knew I was in trouble. It is merely the first volume of her rambling, frequent and typically long letters to Alfred Stieglitz. They started writing to each other in 1915, and he died in 1946 at which point there existed at least 25,000 pages of letters. Make no mistake, this collection is just as fascinating as all the others in this article. I first heard of Georgia O’Keeffe mentioned in Warren Zevon’s song Splendid Isolation and thought she sounded beyond cool. Having read some of the letters, I am even more confident in this view: she must have been supremely cool. But her letters are not for the general reader. Both O’Keeffe and Stieglitz have unusual styles consisting of sentence fragments separated by dashes that are unique yet irritating in equal measure. O’Keeffe went back to the library without detailed consideration. Perhaps one day.

The next shortlisted letter writer to be dropped was Jane Austen. Of course it was fun reading some of her stuff, seeing how the language has changed since her day and some other things besides. But her letters, as for O’Keeffe’s, are not for the general reader. Even someone who has read a couple of Austen’s novels would be hard-pressed to make it through this tightly-spaced tome. Onwards and upwards.

Graham Greene is where this whole project began, and his are the first letters I could spend a lot of time with. Aside from being a famous writer, he was an interesting man: Greene worked for the security services during the war and knew everybody who was anybody. This makes certain periods in his life gripping reading, a celebrity before the concept as we understand it today really existed. This is the only collection I bought to keep rather than just loan from the library. Although Greene is not known as a travel writer per se. Yet he did some serious travel. He clocked up the air miles before they were invented, and professed a love for flying machines as early as 1934, very early days for commercial air travel when the dangers far exceeded today’s paranoid sanitized equivalent. This is also the man who discovered Mervyn Peake, the genius creator of the Gormenghast trilogy. He pretty much ripped into Titus Groan. That letter offended Peake but he eventually calmed down, as all true writers must, made the edits recommended by Greene and the rest is history.

George Orwell’s egg-laying letters are not much fun, but they are the exception. This is a man who voluntarily rolled up in Spain to fight Franco and got a bullet through the throat (20 May 1937, with hand-drawn illustration of the bullet’s trajectory) for his trouble. I had already read his diaries before embarking on the letters, and both books reward detailed reading. No need to mention his fiction too much (we may be looking at letters written in yesteryear but you have the internet to your advantage) but his essays and nonfiction are worth remembering. Whereas Greene was never a political writer as such, Orwell most definitely was. Whatever you make of his politics, and of course all politics need to be placed in the context of the times, his skill for argument and polemic is clear. Both Greene and Orwell (and Bruce Chatwin as you are soon to find) were not well. They all suffered long periods of ill health. Keep that in mind for later.

I found Chatwin’s letters just as frustrating as his other books, and indeed his whole life story. Never a totally well man, he died very young at the age of 48. Chatwin died before my time as it were, and I can testify from a distance that this was one of the great losses to English literature. His publisher Tom Maschler expressed it thus: Of what I call “my lot” – Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Salman Rushdie – Bruce was the one I was most anxious to know where he was going to go. I think had he lived he would have been ahead of all of them. So there. Other than Amis who got close twice, all of those men have won the Booker Prize, and Chatwin was nominated in 1988, his last full year on earth. And, according to Moleskine themselves, Chatwin was one of the proponents of the faux leather elastic-bound notebook. That’s right, without him, they wouldn’t be here. Say what you like about Bruce Chatwin (and very many including Alan Bennett and Michael Palin have) but he was a genius. Not a truly great novelist or plot master but a truly great writer yes, and at his best when on the road. Sure, he had some crazy notions about medicine, especially in his later years, but that can be excused by sheer unbridled optimism for life and humanity. A polymath in the arts if not the sciences, he had an eye for all forms of art including paintings and the very many artefacts he found when working for Sotheby’s and on his later travels.

The compilation by Charlotte Mosley called In Tearing Haste is a very specific project: the letters between WW2 hero and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and his lifelong associate, Deborah ‘Debo’ Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire. For anyone not acquainted with these two, your life would be richer if you dipped into this one. The name Mosley will put a chill through any older spine, and anyone who has studied WW2 in Britain even slightly. Charlotte married a son of Oswald Mosley, who started the infamous Nazi-inspired black shirts in Britain. He married Debo’s sister, Diana, which brought infamy and a little shame to the entire family. Thus the Mitfords became immortal, and each of the sisters were irresistible to any who met them. This collection reveals Debo to be funny, even towards the end of her long life, and a very keen correspondent of the gifted Leigh Fermor, whose writing about Greece is still ranked in the top tier.

AW, Alfred Wainwright, is our last correspondent for a very good reason: his letters are the best by a long way. Could that be because he never was a professional writer? I am certain of it. Perhaps his robust, healthy character are also part of it. This is an ordinary guy, and I’m being careful with my adjectives, who had a full career at the local council before one day deciding to document his tramps around Lakeland. He developed his own handwritten style, such that every page of every guide to the fells appears handwritten. That’s because they were. His sketches of the walking routes are also idiosyncratic, and amazingly they focus on almost timeless features so that they don’t need revising every five minutes. The routes he developed in the ’60s are still followable today. And follow people do: millions of them. AW is also famous for creating a coast to coast route in the ’70s from Lakeland in the west to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire to the east. Opinion on the length is divided, but it is around 200 miles in all. Such was (and is) the popularity of these guides that there are hotels which only survive due to coast to coast pedestrian traffic, and he is surely one of the reasons why the Lake District is as popular as it now is. With Wordsworth, that is.

A random look at collections of letters would not be complete without a final section considering the letter and the written word. A truly Royal mail began before most people realised: it was Henry VIII’s idea in 1516. But most, including myself, consider the railways and ocean liners the great enablers of the truly international letter post. Somewhere in the mid nineteenth century saw the advent of gummed stamps, letterboxes and a truly national delivery network. Somewhat amazingly, the early days of the post in London saw anything from six to twelve mail deliveries every day. Yes London was smaller then, but think about that. What does that freedom, the freedom to receive and send multiple letters to the same recipient in a single day, sound like to you? What it reminds me of is email. Surely email is nothing more than a novel way to conduct written conversations in short bursts, and it turns out this is nothing new. Yes, email is truly international, but it was possible before the computer and even before the railways arrived in Britain. Surely the humble and now defunct telegram is just a tweet to a single recipient, a sort of instant message?

This article was written many years ago, before COVID-19 and many other recent disasters.

Oxford Twentieth Century Verse

Poetry, to the rest of us. Every so often I’ll take a look at a book in the library that is not for sale. Sometimes it is not for sale because it means something, sometimes because it has no market value at the moment. This one was £1 (less than $2) and is worth perhaps a little bit more. But it looks nice on the shelf and means a little to me.

Is this a leather binding?Is this a leather binding?

Is this a leather binding?

Photos can lie. This one has been done on a very basic mobile phone camera, and I can see it looks leathery on my screen. It’s not, it’s cloth or board and there is no dust jacket. Not great for value, but it could trick you as an online buyer. Caveat emptor, said the Romans. With good reason.

So it has little to no value. Who even buys poetry any more? But look, who chose the poems? Yes, Larkin himself, best known as the librarian at Hull University, but he also wrote a few poems.

Chosen by the Bard of HullChosen by the Bard of Hull

Chosen by the Bard of Hull

Larkin was not from Hull, but Hull adopted Larkin. Hull, my home town. Could someone from Hull really become poet laureate? Not yet, so Larkin is as good as it gets for us.

Hull has a toad parade now. Larkin is represented by the toad. His poem, Toads, reveals that the toad is a metaphor for work and particularly office work. His work apparently consumed six days out of seven. If you add up the hours, most private sector office jobs consume the equivalent of 48 hours a week anyway. Plus commuting. Yes, work is the toad.

And so, a book with virtually no commercial value sits on my shelf. Discovered by me in a National Trust used bookshop, it sits alongside more valuable works. In my mind, if not in my pocket, it carries its weight.

Five Questions with Writer Sam Jordison

Sam Jordison keeps a low profile, but he’s something of a renaissance man. A highly regarded journalist and literary book publisher, he also turns his hand to writing. From writing about Crap Towns, to contributing to an adult spoof version of the famous I-Spy series, he is also an H. G. Wells aficionado. We forcibly stopped his bicycle to ask him about his latest book, Enemies of the People. And no, we don’t have any links to Amazon, which is relevant later on.

As one of the founders of Galley Beggar Press in Norwich, he has had amazing success bringing new voices to the British literary world. We door-stepped Sam in-between his three jobs. And no, we couldn’t resist mentioning that half-formed girl.

Q: Hi Sam. We’re here to talk about your latest book, Enemies of the People. Why did you write it?

Sam: I think, like many people, I felt angry and hopeless in the face of world events. I felt things weren’t making sense, that the truth wasn’t being told and that my voice wasn’t being heard. At all. I’d spent a lot of time feeling like I was screaming into the void… And so when the chance came along to write this book, I jumped on it. It was an opportunity to try to make sense of what’s been happening (if ‘sense’ is the right word…), to try to work out where all the crazy came from… Also to right a few wrongs. To try to help other people understand that – for instance – the extreme free market economics we’ve all been subjected to isn’t necessarily the natural way of things. That in fact it’s largely based on crazy economic theories from people like Milton Friedman who had no good evidence for changing the world in the way they did – and who did not have good motives… I’m going off on one already, aren’t I? But that’s the other thing about writing this book. It was cathartic. It helped me release some tensions – and my hope is that does a similar job for its readers.

Q: Of those enemies you have highlighted, who is the most dangerous one?

Sam: Oh my. Where to start? I guess it depends on how you define danger. Chairman Mao is in there, for instance, and Hitler and you don’t need me to spell out the kind of evils they rained down on the world. But there are also people who are dangerous even though they’re less overtly threatening. People who approach you with a smile, but still kick you in the balls. The chapter that probably made me feel most like I was crawling through a sewer when I wrote it was actually Boris Johnson. He was someone I’ve been charmed by in the past. I’ve laughed at his jokes. But as I came to understand the extent of his lies about the EU (and how long he’s been inventing nonsense about bendy bananas and similar), and also to understand the viciousness in his character, I really began to feel queasy. If you want to have an unpleasant five minutes, Google Boris Johnson’s Guppy tape (link below) and listen to the UK Foreign Secretary help his friend arrange to get someone beaten up. It’s personal and it’s horrible.

Q: As someone who makes a living out of the written word, is Jeff Bezos the saviour of reading and newspapers or an enemy of the people?

Sam: I should preface this by saying The Washington Post has been doing some tremendous work since Bezos took over. He’s also – unlike many of the people in the book – a fantastically intelligent man who has done some brilliant and creative things. But that makes it all the sadder that he has been such a scourge for writers, publishers, and ultimately readers. He seems to enjoy crushing competitors for sport – and has undoubtedly made things much worse for the book industry worldwide, as well as building up dangerous monopolistic powers and undermining the social fabric of our world by failing to pay a fair share of taxes and failing to treat workers with basic respect. I wish he had used his considerable powers for good rather than not… But, alas…

Q: Are you a writer who does a bit of publishing or a publisher who does a bit of writing, and is that actually a choice or can someone do both, like T. S. Eliot?

Sam: What am I?! I sometimes feel like I’m straddling three failing industries. I’m a writer/journalist, a publisher and also I teach in a Higher Education sector, which is looking increasingly precarious post-Brexit… But I also feel tremendously lucky. I’ve been able to follow my passions in three different and tremendously fulfilling ways. So, to come back to the question, I think comparing myself to TS Eliot would be obscene… But I do at least think you can both be a publisher and a writer. It’s not either/or and the different jobs are complementary. I hope I’m a better publisher because I understand the (often painful!) process of bringing a book to completion and the compromises you have to make on the way. I also kind of hope that exposure to the geniuses I’ve worked with at Galley Beggar Press might one day rub off on my own writing. I guess, ultimately, I’ll be remembered as someone who associated with writers like Alex Pheby and Preti Taneja… But who knows? Maybe future historians will stumble across my tirades against Jeff Bezos as a result of my illustrious friends, and have a few extra laughs…

Q: Although we’re talking about Sam the writer today, you first came to my attention as the publisher of Eimear McBride’s incredible debut, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. How did it feel to have one of your first books win all those prizes?

Sam: It felt great! Hahaha! It was tremendously fortunate for us that one of our first books did so well. It felt like justice was being done. Eimear’s book was amazing, after all. But still. It was wonderful to have our belief validated and to have all the work pay off. My co-director Elly (who worked especially hard) and I threw everything into bringing it to publication. We sweated bullets over that book, we sank a lot of our own money into it and we loved it. So seeing it shine like that was a very special thing. Obviously, at the time, we were also caught up in the nitty gritty of riding a wave that had grown suddenly huge. But still, it was marvellous – and it’s helped us go on to publish many other superb books. I’ll always be glad.

Sam Jordison was talking about Enemies of the People, available from all the usual.

Book Review: They All Love Jack

They All Love Jack is a song by one Stephen Adams, one of the most celebrated songwriters of Victorian England. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Victorian London’s most celebrated serial killer, Jack The Ripper. Or does it?

Improbably, the director of Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson, has delivered the definitive work on the case, or the most recent definitive-ish work. It’s a gripping read. Stephen Adams did not exist. It is the pen-name, or legal writing name, of one Michael Maybrick. Even now, experts cannot agree on which Maybrick brother, if either, was the Ripper. This summer’s news is about the diary of James Maybrick, who was murdered in May of 1889. Robinson’s book instead fingers his brother Michael, the songwriter, who mysteriously disappeared to the Isle of Wight in March 1893.


Modern serial killer wisdom has it that such men never stop, unless they are forced to. If the killer was James, his violent death by poison in 1889 would provide a good excuse for him not killing anyone afterwards. The last of the ‘canonical’ five Ripper victims died in November 1888. However other murders carried out as late as 1891 have been deemed Ripper killings. If these later murders were done by the original Jack, then James Maybrick cannot be Jack.

Some say that the brothers killed a few each, a theory that doesn’t really stack up under the weight of information provided by Robinson. Incredibly, an otherwise thorough Wikipedia article, naming the many men who have been suspected either then or since, omits the name Michael Maybrick completely.

This book is not an easy read. Even for Bruce Robinson fans, and his other films include the Rum Diary with Johnny Depp, it is long and dense. His argumentative style, while refreshing in a nonfiction work of this type, can frustrate. However the ends justify the means. Anyone who has heard of Jack The Ripper should read a little of this book: Robinson unpicks the lies and deceit, and approaches the Victorian police as cynically as they tried to conceal the identity of Jack The Ripper.

The book being reviewed is They All Love Jack by Bruce Robinson, Fourth Estate, 2015-16.

Why Don’t Writers Retire?

In January 2002, a very sad announcement was made. Stephen King, author of The Shining, would write no more. In 2013 he released Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining and one of his best works. It is to be made into a film. In April 2013, Stephen King retired. In June 2013 he released Mr Mercedes, the first of a trilogy which he completed in 2016. A collaboration with his son will come out in 2017. What is going on?

In his afterword to The Secret Pilgrim, written in a Penguin paperback of 2001, John le Carré confirms, 11 years after it was first published, that this is the end of George Smiley. I had, he writes and I paraphrase, found a need to finish Smiley’s life story. The themes of le Carré’s life had not been tied off to his satisfaction. All that stuff about moles, traitors and slip-ups. On 5th September 2017, we will see another George Smiley novel. What is going on?

Let me tell you what is going on. Writers do not like writing. They like promoting their writing even less than they like writing it. Writing is bloody hard work, thankless work, and for most of us the pay is awful. We write because we must.

Once you understand that writers only write because they must, you will realise that they cannot simply retire. Look at John Mortimer. He lived to 85, leaving us in 2009. In 2007 he had written his last book. He did retire, but not from writing. He left his legal career in 1984. He had created Rumpole for BBC Radio in 1975. Much like John le Carré before him, he had nurtured a double life as a writer and ditched his day job at the earliest opportunity.

And that is the real truth. To a writer, nothing else really matters. And worse, for you, the fans, family and friends, everything is material. Nothing is sacrosanct. But it’s all fiction. No harm done, dear thing.

So never believe a writer who tells you he is finished. Believe me, nothing is ever finished. Until the bitter end. And after that, your children will bank your royalties for another 70 years. Triples all round!

John le CarréJohn le Carré

John le Carré