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His Own Executioner: The Life of Nigel Balchin Paperback – 1 Sep 2015
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Nigel Balchin looked like a film star, designed the Black Magic box and wrote some of the greatest novels of the Forties, including the classic The Small Back Room, which was translated to the screen by no less than Powell and Pressburger. Yet few remember him as well as they do his contemporaries Graham Greene and Eric Ambler. Derek Collett states that his aim is to resurrect this brilliant and troubled man from history's amnesia and here's hoping this riveting and revealing biography will place him back where he belongs, on the bookshelves of immortality. --Cathi Unsworth, author of 'Without The Moon'
About the Author
Derek Collett was born on the western fringes of London in 1965. He was brought up in Oxfordshire and still lives in the county today. Educated at his local comprehensive and at Southampton University, he obtained a degree in Chemistry and has worked in scientific, technical and medical publishing for almost 30 years, latterly in a freelance capacity.; Derek read his first Nigel Balchin novel, The Small Back Room, in 1991 and has been obsessively reading and re-reading the author's works ever since. In recent years he has used his love of Balchin's fiction as the springboard to launch a new career for himself as a literary writer and 'His Own Executioner: The Life of Nigel Balchin' represents the first significant fruit of those labours.
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Balchin was very intelligent and hard-working and an acute observer of human nature. His books about “people at work” in the armed forces or factories or research labs are comparable with those of Nevill Shute. However, Balchin had few close friends and he was not part of any literary circle . He hated the idea of being “a literary gent”, out of touch with real life and real people.
He was married twice. His first marriage broke up when his wife left him for a more sympathetic artistic type. Soon afterwards he met a Yugoslavian lady (Yovanka) about 20 years his junior; they had an affair, which led to an intermittently happy marriage. Yovanka survived him and she has provided considerable input to Derek Collett about Balchin’s rather fraught personal life. Collett has woven all these strands into a readable book that is of interest to anyone who remembers Balchin’s books and life in post-war England in what is gradually becoming a forgotten era. At this time there was full employment in manufacturing industry and television was making inroads on the film and print media. There was no such thing as the internet. The customs and values in the forties and fifties seem strange today, but they should be remembered. This was the background evoked so well by Nigel Balchin.
It also evokes this time when a very capable man could be a highly successful market researcher for Rowntrees Black Magic, make a major contribution to the assessment and allocation of human resources for the army in WW2 and become a successful novelist and a screen writer .
Nigel Balchin's best novels are truly insightful into how ordinary men can behave in extraordinary situations that can suddenly occur - due to war, accident, changes in relationships. The author of this terrific biography has given a great service to those who have been fortunate enough to encounter Balchin's novels and to provide both them and those still unfamilar with Balchin with a superb source to navigate these gifts.
Collett has clearly been meticulous in his study of his subject, but also knows how to wield the material to engage the reader - this is no dull catalogue of facts (and, indeed, I particularly like the way Collett looks forward and back at different points to draw connections in the author's life story). As with any interesting novelist's life, there's a good story in it - complicated relationships and alcoholism are part of it, for example. What one also learns from a book such as this is how diverse someone's life can be- Balchin wasn't just a novelist, but wrote a series of quirky books about business, wrote numerous film scripts and was even the creator of the Black Magic chocolate branding.
Hats off to the author for finding such a rich seam of literary history, surprisingly unmined hitherto.
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