13 thoughts on “Where Authors Dare”

  1. Well, before look­ing in dictionary.com, I’d have said a son of the manse was a Presbyterian minister’s son, the manse being the equi­val­ent of a rect­ory or vicar­age.

    But, hav­ing now searched in dictionary.com, I’ve also dis­covered that it refers to a man­sion house, or, in the archa­ic usage, to the dwell­ings of a house­hold­er.

    Which sug­gests that a son of the manse is either a) from a poor clergy fam­ily, b) from a middle-income householder’s home, or c) the son of the man­or. Or in oth­er words, any­one.

    The bio­graphy of AM sounds v. inter­est­ing. I think you did the right thing to give up Brick Lane and turn to some­thing a bit dated instead.

  2. Thanks for your com­ment, James. To be fair, it was explained in the book some­where, but I for­got. Since MacLean was a minister’s son, that could well be it.

    Better get back to Brick Lane, then…

  3. Your com­ment at the end about the value of story reminds me of an anec­dote told about Tolkien. A plumb­er doing some work in Tolkien’s old col­lege — very dusty, very august, very Oxford aca­deme — noticed the bust of Tolkien sit­ting on its ped­es­tal among all the oth­er dis­tin­guished pro­fess­ors, went up to it, put his arm round its shoulders and said “Thank you, Professor! You’ve writ­ten a rat­tling good yarn.” I think Tolkien would have been pleased with that, and MacLean should have been too.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve always under­stood ‘son of the manse’ to mean a Scottish Presbyterian minister’s fam­ily. I have no clue what a Mod is, gold or oth­er­wise.

    I haven’t read either ‘Brick Lane’ or ‘Life of Pi’, phil­istine that I am, but I did like ‘HMS Ulysses’, and the first pages of ‘Ice Station Zebra’ were used by our school English teach­er as an example of how to write a grip­ping begin­ning.

  4. Thanks for your com­ment, Carla. I think we’re slowly com­ing to a con­sensus on the ‘son of the manse’ issue! Ice Station Zebra cer­tainly has a great open­ing…

  5. I adored Alistair Maclean at age 15 and read the lot. I remem­ber I was doing my GCEs as they were called then, and I just had to stay read­ing until 2 am, I was totally hooked!
    I think he did go off later on, after about “Force 10 from Navarone” but before that he wrote a dozen fant­ast­ic books, I thought they were far bet­ter than James Bond, Modesty Blaise and all those oth­ers of the genre being pub­lished at that time. There is one you don’t men­tion which I enjoyed a lot, about some people on a jour­ney some­where very cold and icy — not ice sta­tion zebra, but one where someone was a secret bad­die, someone was ill, the food all ran out, etc. Forget the title but it was brill (to a 15 year old any­way).

    Of course I had com­pletely for­got­ten my addic­tion until I read your post.

    Interesting to read your com­ments on Pi and BLane, two more books on my book­shelves I need not feel guilty about not hav­ing got around to read­ing yet! My Dad really enjoyed Brick Lane, though, he is 80 and read it a couple of years ago.

  6. Thanks for your com­ment, Maxine. I’m not sure which is the oth­er icy one — you’re right, though, MacLean’s nov­els cer­tainly trail off in the late 1960s.

    I’ll try to qual­i­fy my com­ment on Brick Lane with a later review post. That is, if I get round to read­ing it!

  7. I think MacLean should have taken a page from Mickey Spillane, who was happy to admit that he wrote for the money and nev­er wanted to be called an author (pre­ferred “writer”).

    I just picked up my old copy of Stephen King’s On Writing, and at the start of sec­tion 2, he talks about how people nev­er ask pop writers about the CRAFT, or the lan­guage. It’s funny how many people don’t real­ize the tal­ent in the writ­ing when the author is so pop­u­lar.

    Doesn’t seem to both­er King much though… There was a bene­fit read­ing by King, John Irving and J. K. Rowling last night in NY, and King said, “they pay me to make this up… and it’s the BEST JOB in the WORLD.”

    Like Maxine, I was a MacLean addict as a teen­ager, and had for­got­ten about this addic­tion until read­ing your post. Thanks for remind­ing me!

  8. Hi nrkii — glad to remind you of MacLean again. Enjoy his books. Great post on the King/Rowling/Irving night, by the way.

  9. I am writ­ing from mid­w­est America. Last night we saw a Hollywood movie named Heartbreak Pass from 1976 star­ring Charles Bronson. Book and screen­play both by Maclean.
    Took place late 1800’s in American West, most of the action on a troop train going to Humboldt, Nevada. Lots of action. Very sus­pense­ful. You just nev­er knew what was really going on or what was going to hap­pen. Very good end­ing shot. (He did not get the girl.) I remem­ber hear­ing about Maclean years ago. Will have to look him up. Am a nov­el­ist myself, maybe I should read the begin­ning of Ice Station Zebra. Louise PS: I hated Life of Pi. Lots of self-indul­gence and a screwy story.

  10. Thanks for your com­ment, Louise. I heard that the later films weren’t quite up to the stand­ard of the earli­er ones, but Heartbreak Pass sounds inter­est­ing. Ice Station Zebra is a great story, if you can get over the prose style. Let me know what you think.


  11. Mr. Hocking,

    Although I read/listen to a range of lit­er­at­ure on audio books, I am very fond of MacLean, for above all being fun. Nor is he mean-spir­ited, as oth­ers, like Fleming (who is non­ethe­less good, but in a much dif­fer­ent way.) are. MacLean’s prose it thought­ful, his dia­logue may be dated but remains vastly enter­tain­ing, and his char­ac­ters worth root­ing for. As you say, he writes a good story. His self-efface­ment brings to mind the con­tinu­al debate as to why Beowulf is con­sidered art, but Tolkien is not. I remain, des­pite my post-gradu­ate edu­ca­tion, a fan.

  12. Thanks for your com­ment, Anon. I expect MacLean is great on audiobook — doubt­less a good author will make a lot of his (often) first-per­son nar­rat­ive.

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