If you’re only going to write one book, make sure it’s a good one. Margaret Mitchell did just that in 1936 when she published her sole literary offering, Gone With The Wind (Pan, £7), a sprawling epic that charts the struggles of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a Southern plantation owner, to survive the fallout of the US Civil War. It was America’s favourite novel in its year of publication, and has since sold 30 million copies. Unusually the Oscar-winning film adaption – starring Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett) and Clark Gable – is almost as good as the book. But you can’t beat the written word, or classic lines from Gable’s character (Rhett Butler) like: ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’
There seems to be a resurgence of interest in the Vietnam War at the moment (don’t ask me why), with a book on the 1968 Tet Offensive by bestselling US author Mark Bowden, and a BBC series by legendary producer Ken Burns. Far and away the best factual book I’ve read on the subject is A Bright Shining Lie (Picador, £10) by Neil Sheehan, an award-winning journalist who covered the conflict for United Press International. Initially a supporter of the war, Sheehan traces his and America’s gradual disillusionment through the eyes of John Paul Vann, a former field advisor to the South Vietnamese Army who blew the whistle on what was going wrong.
Book of the moment:
The surprise literary hit of the autumn is Uncommon Type (Heinemann, £16.99), a collection of quirky short stories by movie star and producer Tom Hanks. The object linking each story, and the reason for the title, is a typewriter. Apparently Hanks hasa room full of them at home – each to his own, I say. But what is not in doubt is Hanks’ ability as a writer. The Guardian describves his authorial voice as ‘so fluent, convincing and confident that you forget it belongs to Tom Hanks’.
In the news:
The big literary news of the year is the publication of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage (Penguin, £20), the prequel to his multi-million bestselling His Dark Materials series of fantasy adventure. It’s going to be hard to outdo his previous success, but already the critics have given the thumbs up to this first instalment of a new trilogy. ‘Pullman’s immense powers of kinaesthetic visualisation,’ notes The Guardian, ‘keep the story pulsing on an epic scale.’
Research for my new WW2 book ‘The Force’ is going well: I’ve visited archives and interviewed veterans and their families in the USA and Germany; more research trips are planned to Italy and Canada in December and January respectively. In February 2018 my new novel The Prince and the Whitechapel Murders (Hodder, £18.99), the third in the Zulu Hart trilogy, is published. Then a month later the feature film ‘Entebbe’, which used my last book Operation Thunderbolt as source material, is premiered in London with Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl as the stars. It’s going to be a busy, and exciting, few months.