Troubador Shute

Released: 28/08/2017

ISBN: 9781788032575

eISBN: 9781788030489

Format: Paperback/eBook

Review this Book


The engineer who became a prince of storytellers


Nevil Shute was a writer whose books were frequently looked down on by literary critics and yet when he died in 1960 he was one of the best selling novelists of his day. Today, books such as A Town Like Alice and On the Beach continue to attract new generations of fans. However there was more to Shute than his books, a great deal more.

Richard Thorn explores Shute’s personal and professional life, drawing from extensive research carried out using archives and sources in the UK, USA and Australia. Nevil Shute Norway began his professional life as an aeronautical engineer working on the outskirts of London for the newly established de Havilland Aircraft Company. He quickly went on to play a key role in Britain’s ill-fated and final airship programme, before co-founding an aircraft manufacturing company at the height of an economic depression. All the while, using the pseudonym Nevil Shute, he spent his time writing for relaxation in the evenings. 

After the Second World War, he flew a single-engined aeroplane to Australia and back in search for new material for his novels. Fascinated by the new world that he had seen, the novelist sold up and moved his family to Australia, buying a farm in a small town on the outskirts of Melbourne. For the remainder of his life, Australia was his home and the inspiration for many of his best-loved novels. 

Shute tells the story of the life and times of an extraordinary man who made a significant contribution to twentieth century popular literature. This book will appeal to fans of Shute’s work, those interested in his background and personal life or to readers interested in the early years of the aviation industry in Britain.

Mail on Sunday

Self-Publishing Review

Tall and True

Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Nevil Shute (Norway) writing ability is timeless. I first started reading his works in the late 1950's and continue to read till now.
Every ten years have read all his books again and find new slants to the stories. Took a long time before I realised the words on the pages stayed the same, my maturing mind read a new story slant. I look forward to reading Richard Thorn's book

by Robert Lambkin

I rank Nevil Shute among my favourite authors; his are often moving stories of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations. Shute’s books have all proven to be eminently re-readable down the years.

Having read Shute's autobiography (“Slide Rule”) I thought I knew it all, but I knew nothing. Thorn’s biography gave me a fascinating insight into his life and times.

This is a thoughtful and very readable book. I was particularly interested to see how each of Shute's books evolved from some real-life adventure or experience that he'd had.

I guess the only negative for me was that Nevil seemed to be the typical Edwardian father and husband; he didn't seem to fit wife and family into his travels and time as much as modern husbands would. Different times.

by Andrew Skinner

Like a lot of people, I suspect, I thought I knew more about Nevil Shute than I actually did. If asked, I could have named a handful of the most famous novels — A Town Like Alice, No Highway and, of course, On the Beach — and I was aware that there were filmed versions of many of Shute’s books, including the three to which I have just referred, but there my knowledge of Nevil Shute, his life and his work, pretty much came to an end.

So Richard Thorn’s recent biography of Nevil Shute came as something of an eye–opener, I must say. I had no idea that Nevil Shute Norway (to give him his full name) was such an interesting character. Not only was his life full of interesting episodes — who would have guessed that as a teenager he had been caught up in the Easter Uprising or that he had worked alongside the redoubtable Barnes Wallis (the man and the bouncing bomb he created are both immortalized in The Dam Busters) or that he had once flown a single–engine aeroplane from England to Australia and back in a cramped cockpit with a single companion — but, without any qualifications, it would seem, other than a compulsive desire to write stories, he managed to become a highly successful popular novelist and a very wealthy man. His output was prodigious and, as Thorn makes clear, the discipline and dedication with which he approached writing, especially once it had become his full–time occupation, were extraordinary.

Thorn’s biography clearly benefits from his own background in engineering — Shute’s first career was in aeronautical engineering — and he manages to bring the subject of this biography to life with a meticulously detailed and carefully paced account of Shute’s metamorphosis from a physically unprepossessing young man with a mediocre academic record to a highly skilled and respected engineer who went on to become one of the best–loved storytellers of his generation.

by Peter J D Adams

I read Richard Thorn’s: “Shute the engineer who became a prince of storytellers” with great interest. I have liked Shute’s novels for many years and believe I have read all of them. This biography brings to life many interesting facts about, and associated with, Nevil Shute Norway. It shows how many of the novels were based on experiences in Norway’s life.
The book describes the life of Nevil Shute Norway. His childhood, middle-class upbringing, schooling and education prior to the first world war demonstrate a world where aircraft are only just removed from being novelties and their use is an exciting and possibly dangerous adventure. This is alien to the modern day where almost everyone flies. This early experience shows where the knowledge and some of the inspiration for his writings comes from.
Reading it you can see how the Norway the engineer is developing, initially as a stress analysist on aeroplanes, then the R100 airship and finally into the full-blown aircraft designer in his own company. The work done in these areas is used to provide technically correct information for some of his novels.
Reading the book shows how he built experience and broadened his viewpoint. You see immediately how some novels arose, and one feels (very erroneously) I could have written that with that knowledge. This experience provides the reader with a greater understanding of many of Shute’s novels

by Bob Green

Airship Heritage Trust
Facebook Page
Published 5th August 2021

One hundred years ago this month Airship R38/ZR-2 plunged into the River Humber, killing 16 American and 28 British airshipmen. That event affected designers of the next generation of airships significantly. One such man was Nevil Shute. I got interested in the great dirigibles in my youth. Naturally, this book appealed to me. Nevil Shute, never afraid to tell it the way he saw it, was highly critical of the designers of R38/ZR-2 and then later of R101. His opinions on many subjects ruffled more than a few feathers and Richard Thorn goes into this aspect of his personality in detail.
I was sorry when this book ended, so I knew it was an excellent read. Nevil Shute’s stories fascinated me from being a teenager—especially his book Slide Rule, which told of his time growing up in England and playing truant to avoid his tormentors at school—he possessed a bad stutter. And then his time in Dublin, Ireland, when is father was the postmaster and where ‘the Troubles’ suddenly erupted on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. On that violent day the young Shute bravely acted as a stretcher bearer. He was seventeen.
Then he moved on to study engineering at Oxford, later joining the De Havilland Aircraft Co as an aeronautical engineer building aeroplanes. This led to him joining Barnes Wallis as his No 2 man at Vickers building and flying Airship R101’s nemesis, R100. When all that literally blew up, (well R101 did, R100 was smashed up in her shed on government’s orders), Shute built his own aircraft company, which grew so big and successful that the board fired him. This is not uncommon apparently, clever people can only take a company so far. After that period, he went to work for the government, developing special weapons for use in WW2.
Richard Thorn did a great job with this biography. His writing style is pleasing. There was much I learned about Nevil Shute Norway that I did not know. I’d done a lot of research on him and written about him. He was much tougher than I thought—formidable indeed! But then, he would have had to have been, bearing in mind all he’d achieved. He was no shrinking violet. Anyone who flies a plane from England to Australia with only a few hours under his belt and with a copilot (I should say co-traveler) who could not fly or navigate a plane, could not have been a shrinking violet—pretty crazy perhaps! But not that.
Shute was always thinking ‘outside the box’, his topics original and fresh, controversial. Aside from love, aviation and sailing, he brought into his stories, politics, race, religion, spirituality and war, from every corner of the globe. His work was cinematic and easily translated in movies—and many were. His books were often snapped up by film companies even before they hit the book racks.
Richard Thorn tells us more of Shute’s time in Australia where a whole new, important chapter of his life began—a chapter I was not familiar with. Thorn also gives us real insight into where the ideas for each story came from as well as progress, writing and publishing of each book.
A great read, one I’d thoroughly recommend.
David Dennington, Author of The Airshipmen Trilogy and The Ghost of Captain Hinchliffe.

by David Dennington

Richard Thorn

Originally from Slough, Richard Thorn studied Electronic Engineering at Bolton Institute of Technology before completing a Masters Degree and PhD at Bradford University. He then moved to Bergen before emigrating to Australia where he joined the University of South Australia. Since then he has been a Professor and Head of School at the University of Derby, Victoria University, Melbourne, and most recently the University of West London.

Now retired he writes on subjects that interest him. In 2017 he published a biography of Nevil Shute Shute - The engineer who became a prince of storytellers. His latest book When Cricket and Politics Collided deals with another of his lifelong obsessions - cricket.

  • Buy as a printed
  • £10.99

  • 5 customer reviews
  • Buy as an ebook
  • £4.99
  • Find this ebook at your favourite retailer
Also by Richard Thorn / Related Books