Author Archives: Tom Fleming

Still Has Plenty to Say

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Thomas Keneally could be forgiven for taking it easy. In his mid-sixties, with twenty-plus novels, six works of non-fiction, a children’s book, a Booker prize and three shortlistings to his credit, he has gathered more than enough laurels upon which to rest. To have written the incomparable Schindler’s Ark would in itself be cause for […]

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Cases of Shell Shock

Posted on by Tom Fleming

What does it take to fight in a modern war? Why did some men crack on the Western Front in the First World War and others endure? If 30 per cent of American troops fighting the Italians and Germans in North Africa became psychiatric casualties, what made the other 70 per cent (if they survived) […]

Where Family Values Are Not Encouraged

Posted on by Tom Fleming

There are two views of Sicily. One is that it is a place apart, a bastard land of spectacularly mixed parentage. In Sicilian veins there is said to be less Italian blood than Greek, Arab, Levantine, Norman or Spanish. They do things differently in Sicily, and even the Calabrians, it is said, look upon the […]

The Owl of Minerva Flies at Dusk

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I sometimes wonder what publishers do. They certainly seem to have abandoned the editing function. This is a fine case in point – a thoughtful and important book, which, with judicious editing, could have been less than half as long and more than twice as good. It could also have been at least twice as […]

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Unveiling the Dark Lady of Trieste

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Three presentation copies given by James Joyce surfaced last year. They were copies of his first three books, each inscribed to the same woman, though at different times. I snapped up two of them, while the third went to auction, where it sold well below the price that the vendor had hoped to achieve. Of […]

There Be Giants

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Lissa Evans’s moving, joyous new book for children, Wished (David Fickling Books 254pp £12.99), combines all the most enticing elements of children’s fiction into a confection about wish fulfilment, imagination and the need for understanding between different generations. Ed and Roo are an ordinary brother and sister whose parents are trying to build an extension […]

Alaa Abdel Fattah

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Today, thousands of Egyptians are behind bars, in contravention of their right to freedom of expression. Addressing the human rights situation in Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently called for political dialogue and reactivating the Presidential Amnesty Committee. This was formed a few years ago to consider the cases of political prisoners and those imprisoned […]

Memoirs, She Wrote

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I am running a four-day memoir-writing retreat in southern Spain, and using it as an opportunity to test out my theories. Of the ten participants, nine want to write a book and one is here by accident because she misread the small print. Having thought she would be able to snooze her way through the […]

It Says Here

Posted on by Tom Fleming

That the way through the woods runs out in a blizzard. That the ocean does not, is eternal, And still for a while you may cross the great ice-dome By dog-sled, though at your own risk. That the book you are reading is one of a kind, That its door opens inwards and cannot be […]

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Carnival Spirit

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Very few of us are privileged to leave this plane of existence without unfinished business – the exceptions are either appallingly well organised, or else cannot have had any real business in the first place – and this, ahem, ‘slim’ volume contains the unfinished business of one of the finest and most unorthodox British writers […]

Jim Holt on his Afternoon Pleasures in the Dark

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I love the movies. I am never too busy to go. I usually attend twice a week or so. I especially like going in the early afternoon: it seems a guilty pleasure, with the rest of the world at work, and most of the audience consists of pensioners, who have excellent cinematic manners. The earliest […]

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The Knight Historical

Posted on by Tom Fleming

At the beginning of his career as a television interviewer Robin Day was criticised for being too disrespectful of his subjects. By the end – or rather by the present day, because Sir Robin’s long and glorious career is not yet over – he was criticised for being too chummy with them. This collection of […]

Women Speak Wisdom and Men Flee to the Pub

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I yield to none in my admiration for Professor Roger Scruton. What Brains! And, as the Pimpernel of Prague, what courage! And I quite understand why he has written this fictionalised version of conversations from Greek antiquity between Socrates and his wife Xanthippe, Plato and his mother, etc. As he prompts Xanthippe to say in […]


Posted on by Tom Fleming

Some years ago, when I was working in a tree-nursery, an ex-detective-inspector weeding alongside said he would like to give me some old magazines he had found in his attic. These turned out to be seven editions of Poetry London, from the early ‘40s, in mint condition. Never having heard of the magazine, I was […]

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Jaki Seroke

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘I wrote you letters, in July soon after landing on the island and before that in June from Johannesburg and I have not had a word from you,’ wrote Jaki Seroke recently from his cell in the Maximum Security Prison of Robben Island, just off Cape Town. ‘My status as a political prisoner has not […]

After The Bomb

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I have never encountered any difficulty in responding to the question ‘where were you when President Kennedy was shot?’ On my knees is the answer, trying to get the sick out of the carpet – the eldest son having mastered the art of the fast crawl. It was that balmy time before experience triumphed over […]

No Laughing Matter

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Laugh? I thought I’d never start. Penelope Gilliatt’s To Wit is a promising enough idea – a celebration of comedy and the philosophy of laughter, by an elegant and erudite writer. Unfortunately, elegant and erudite writers tend not to be made of the same common clay as the rest of us. Gilliatt is one of […]

When They Were Young

Posted on by Tom Fleming

We take child musicians, both composers and players, very seriously indeed, but not young writers. Perhaps it is true that no little boy has ever written a novel to rival Mozart’s operetta Bastien und Bastienne, nor a youth of 17 a poem quite on a par with Bizet’s Symphony in C, but Neville Braybrooke’s anthology […]


Posted on by Tom Fleming

In my family the blame for the troubles in Northern Ireland has always been pinned squarely on Great Aunt Mary. She was a dreadful, interfering woman who, having driven her husband into an early grave, set about disrupting the domestic tranquility of her relations. Wherever she went she would act as a catalyst for long […]

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