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The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky were all written by Paul Brickhill, an Australian hero of WWII. 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 25th anniversary of his death.

The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky were all written by Paul Brickhill, an Australian hero of WWII. 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 25th anniversary of his death.

It was 1956 and the writer from Sydney’s lower North Shore had every reason to feel blessed. Former journalist Paul Brickhill was the highest-earning author in the UK and two of his bestselling books – The Dam Busters and Reach for the Sky – had recently been made into blockbuster films. Another of his books – inspired by his experiences as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft 3 in Germany during the Second World War – was attracting Hollywood interest. That book was The Great Escape.

Yet, life for the enigmatic Brickhill was never simple. He was beset with mental-health issues and his marriage to model Margot Slater was tempestuous. He struggled with alcohol and writer’s block too, as his success – and all that accompanied it – threatened to overwhelm him.

In The Hero Maker, award-winning historical author and biographer Stephen Dando-Collins exposes the contradictions of one of Australia’s most successful, but troubled, writers. Brickhill’s extraordinary story – from the youth with a debilitating stutter to Sydney Sun journalist to Spitfire pilot and POW to feted author – explodes vividly to life on the centenary of his birth.

Reviews

Paul Brickhill not only wrote the best-selling war dramas The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky, he lived those dramas, as this engagingly written biography reveals.

Steven Carroll, The Sydney Morning Herald

Solidly researched and readable...paying tribute to the skills that went into crafting Brickhill's heroic stories while questioning the ethos that sustains them.

Tom Gilling, The Australian

Stephen Dando-Collins who has breathed life again into one of the integral storytellers ... How fitting in 2016, the 100th anniversary of his birth and 25th anniversary of his death that Paul Brickhill’s skill and story can be brought to a new generation of readers and this tribute which is a testament to his global acclaim is both perfect and poignant.

Sue Warren, Just So Stories

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9780857988126

    August 29, 2016

    Vintage Australia

    416 pages

    RRP $40.00

    Online retailers

    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • Fishpond
    • The Nile
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • EBook

    9780857988133

    August 29, 2016

    RHA eBooks Adult

    416 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle NZ
    • iBooks NZ
    • Google Play EBook NZ
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia NZ

Extract

At 12.40 pm on Wednesday, 17 March 1943, a dozen pilots of the Royal Air Force’s Number 92 Squadron were sitting in their Spitfires on the coastal desert airstrip at Bou Grara, 360 kilometres southwest of Tunis, capital of Tunisia. On ‘cockpit standby’, with hoods open in the baking heat, they awaited orders. The enemy was expected to be active in strength in their sector, and 92 Squadron had been tapped to intercept them. Some pilots were relaxed as they waited. Others sat tensely behind their controls.

‘Scramble, 92 Squadron!’

Chocks in front of the Spitfires’ front wheels were whipped away, Rolls-Royce Merlin engines roared, and, in pairs, the Spits surged forward, bouncing down the sandy runway as they gathered speed. Buffeted by a strong southeasterly wind, they lifted into the air, their undercarriages retracting beneath them as they climbed. By 12.43, all twelve aircraft were airborne.

Continue Reading
Article
The Great Escape Begins

Paul Brickhill takes notes as the most daring escape plan becomes reality.

Also by Stephen Dando-Collins