The Beginning

From 1943 onwards, Alistair MacLean was stationed on HMS Royalist which was part of the Home Fleet with orders to escort convoys on the North Atlantic en route to Murmansk. Too many ships and their crews did not make it safely back from that frozen part of hell.

[Foto: http://www.npg.org.uk]

Like so many others, Alistair MacLean, never talked about his harrowing experiences in the Second World War but it surely must have had a lasting psychological effect on him. Although HMS Royalist was deemed lucky – it got through with nothing more than a hole in the funnel – the combination of horrendous weather conditions and the ever present danger of imminent death would result in what is now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) in many a survivor.

Later in the war, HMS Royalist was sent to the Mediterranean and the Far East. Alistair MacLean was apparently wounded during his service because his mother once detected a wound in his back. This injury was never satisfactory explained but a clue can possibly be gleaned from HMS Ulysses, where MacLean described a shell exploding in its barrel, hurling two men against a bulkhead, resulting in terrible injuries. A third man was luckily thrown through an open door behind him and sustaining only minor injuries. Because a similar episode happened on HMS Royalist, there’s reason to believe that MacLean was that third man.

After the war, MacLean got an Honours degree in English at Glasgow University, and taught at Gallowfleet Secondary School. He was described as a taciturn, gaunt fellow who often mumbled.

PTSD can be viewed a continuous depression as a result of experiences of intense fear, helplessness or horror. Symptoms for PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, a general numbing of emotional responsiveness, acute and unpredictable episodes of anger. Heavy use of alcohol is often associated with numbing and forgetting.

It also might explain why Alistair MacLean at first only wrote stories – among them The Cruise of the Golden Girl and The Dileas – about sailing in the Scottish waters. Those settings are far removed from the horrors of the north Atlantic. He would feel safe, secure and at home writing about sailing in these waters.

The success of The Dileas resulted in a request from the publishing company Collins to write a full-length novel for them and he responded six weeks later with HMS Ulysses, based on his own war experiences. The writing must have been both traumatic and a meaningful way of dealing with his emotional problems.

I understand. I’m still fighting my own demons too.

The Mysteries of the MacLones

Several writers continued to write in the wake of the success of Alistair MacLean. Depending on your definition, a total of 16 or 18 novels were written by five different authors. But almost every one of these ‘ghost writers’ constitutes a bit of a mystery. Who were they and what became of them after they finished writing these so-called MacLones.

[1] John Denis
John Denis was a pseudonym of John Edwards and Denis Frost. John Edwards (1938-2012) worked at the BBC and was during the course of his career there a broadcaster, deputy editor of Today, editor of That’s LifeTonight and Checkpoint. Denis Frost (1925), who as a journalist worked for the British newspaper The Guardian, completed the duo.

They were chosen for the task of turning Alistair MacLean’s first two storylines featuring UNACO into proper novels because they had published a now almost forgotten thriller called The Moscow Horse in 1978.

Under the pseudonym John Denis, Edwards and Frost managed to publish Hostage Tower (1980) and Air Force One is Down (1981).

John Denis subsequently published another two thrillers: Zero Plus One (1985) and Goliath (1987).

Then they stopped writing.

[2] Alastair MacNeill
Alastair MacNeill (1960) wrote a total of seven thrillers, based on six storylines and one short story that were left by Alistair MacLean. The novels that were based on these outlines were Death Train (1989), Night Watch (1989), Red Alert (1990), Time of the Assassins (1991), Dead Halt (1992) and Code Breaker (1993). Rendezvous (1995) was an expanded version of the short story of the same name that was published in his collection of short stories The Lonely Sea.

According to the blurb of the first novel and the current author page on the website of HarperCollinsPublishers, ‘MacNeill… having nurtured a keen interest in writing since his teens, [..] returned to the United Kingdom in 1985 hoping to pursue a career as a writer. He submitted a manuscript to HarperCollins Publishers and, on the strength of it, was offered the chance to write a novel based on an outline by the late Alistair MacLean. He eventually wrote seven novels based on MacLean synopses and has also written five novels under his own name’.

The entire author profile smells fishy, the submitted manuscript that started his career was never published and I’m wondering why Alastair MacNeill hasn’t written a novel since 2000 when one reads that he came to Britain to ‘pursue a career in writing’.

His agent at Christopher Little claims (personal communication, June 7, 2013) that ‘Alastair MacNeill has not permanently retired from writing, but he does not have any work that is due to be published in the near future either’ and – rather cryptically – that ‘He has not written anything under a pseudonym’. Which is technically true if Alastair MacNeill is itself a pseudonym.

Curiously, shorty after I had contact with his agents, MacNeill’s profile on their website changed. It now claims that Alastair MacNeill ‘has now moved back to live in South Africa’.

[3] Simon Gandolfi
Simon Gandolfi (1933) wrote his first novel, Even With the Shutters Closed, as far back as 1965. He did write some thriller-like novels and on that basis was contracted to write three novels about an ex-British intelligence agent Trent and his catamaran Golden Girl that were once to be the basis of a movie or television series in the 1970s. When Alistair MacLean divorced his second wife, she had been granted the rights to the script as part of the settlement but had failed to make any progress with it. The rights were eventually bought back by MacLean’s estate in 1989.

In the end, Simon Gandolfi wrote five novels featuring Trent but only the first three are considered true MacLones: Golden Girl (1992), Golden Web (1993) and Golden Vengeance (1994). Hardly anybody knows that the sequels, White Sands (1995) and Aftermath (2000), also have Trent as their main character. These thrillers can be considered rogue MacLones.
Simon Gandolfi now writes about his travels around the world on his motorbike.

Any mention about his five books about Trent has been carefully removed from both his site and weblog, though his website retains some small images of the covers.

[4] Hugh Miller
The website of HarperCollins mentions that ‘Hugh Miller was born in Scotland. He is the author of the best seller Ambulance, as well as the highly acclaimed Mike Fletcher crime novels. He is an acknowledged expert on forensic medicine and has numerous TV credits’.

Hugh Miller (1937) wrote more than a dozen tie-ins for popular television series such as Eastenders and Ballykissangel. His crime novels about DI Mike Fletcher, Skin Deep (1991) and An Echo of Justice (1992), earned him the honour of writing the two final books based on Alistair MacLean’s UNACO: Prime Target (1997) and Borrowed Time (1998).

Hugh Miller has no known website and, since then, veered away from thrillers and after that only wrote books about forensic medicine.

[5] Sam Llewellyn
The next author to tackle the stories of Alistair MacLean was Sam Llewellyn (1948). Llewellyn is an avid sailor whose interest in the sea and sailing is reflected not only in his thrillers but also in his books for children. No wonder then that he was asked to write two sequels to The Guns of Navarone and Force 10 from NavaroneStorm Force Navarone (1997) and Thunderbolt from Navarone (1999).

What is a bit of a mystery is why these novels do not feature on Llewellyn’s website. He does seem justly proud of all other books and articles he has ever written.

[6] X is for Unknown
As there is renewed interest in the stories of Alistair MacLean, the publishers HarperCollinsPublishers may be considering contracting an author to write a new novel.

Maybe HarperCollinsPublishers or David Brawn, publishing director for estates at HarperCollinsPublishers, should contact me because I should be able to write the next MacLone.

Keep visiting this website to be informed of the latest developments.

THE FUTURE

Alistair MacLean wrote 29 thrillers (including the collection of short stories in The Lonely Sea). Other writers, such as John Denis, Alastair MacNeill, Simon Gandolfi, Hugh Miller and Sam Llewellyn, created novels out of story lines, short stories and ideas from Alistair MacLean.

The last novel to reach the bookstores in 1999 was Thunderbolt from Navarone, a story by Sam Llewellyn and a sequel to Alistair MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone and Force 10 from Navarone.

But not everything Alistair MacLean has ever written was put into print or made into a movie.

If we try to collect the rumours that were made public piecemeal in the years after Alistair MacLean passed away we come to some surprising conclusions.

  • [1] Comments made in 2009 by David Brawn, publishing director for estates at HarperCollinsPublishers, reveal that ‘there are around a dozen of MacLean’s unpublished works that could be adapted into new titles by other authors‘. At the moment, these works are simply collecting dust in the offices of that publisher but this renewed interest in Alistair MacLean might be a great opportunity to start hiring a writer.
    BTW: I am able to contact David Brawn and am willing to forward any requests or questions to him!

 

  • [2] In 1995, Alistair MacLean’s friend and literary executor, David Bishop, made a search of the cellars of MacLean’s mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva and found three short stories that were unknown to anyone but the author. Two of these short stories we know; The Black Stormand The Good Samaritan. Both short stories were added to a new imprint of The Lonely Sea. The title of the third story remains a mystery.

 

  • [3] The above mentioned search also revealed a complete 153 page long screenplay titled The Swashbuckler, a pirate adventure and it was written in 1968. This manuscript can also be turned into a exiting new novel.

 

If there was ever a time to publish these stories it is now. These days there is rekindled interest in the novels of Alistair MacLean. It would be a shame and a loss if readers cannot enjoy all that he has ever written. The future is now!

THE LEGACY

The Scottish novelist Alistair MacLean passed away in 1987. During his life he produced some thirty highly successful thrillers. Around 1980, MacLean was commissioned to write a series of story outlines to be subsequently developed for television and the first story would become Air Force One is Down. MacLean managed to write eight storylines featuring a fictional UN agency called United Nations Anti-Crime Organization (UNACO). Though MacLean owned the rights to those outlines, he decided he personally did not want to develop them into full-blown novels.

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[1922-1987]

In the end the production company decided that it was probably better to introduce the series with the second storyline, Hostage Tower. The movie, starring Peter Fonda and Maud Adams, was broadcast in the USA in 1980.

No further movies appeared until Death Train (1993) and Night Watch (1995), both starring Pierce Brosnan and Alexandra Paul, were broadcast.

But now, almost 20 years after the release of Night Watch, the world can still be entertained by Alistair MacLean because his Air Force One is Down is now made into a mini-series featuring Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) as President Harriet Rowntree. If deemed successful, the production company Power – a name itself worthy of an Alistair MacLean novel – has announced that they plan to serialize Puppet on a Chain and The Dark Crusader too.

For Linda Hamilton this adaptation of a novel by Alistair MacLean is kind of a reprieve because she also starred in the movie The Way to Dusty Death.

I suppose you might think that this is just some sort of quirk but no, it really looks like the stories of Alistair MacLean are given a new lease of life. Warner Bros. has recently announcedplans to remake the movie Ice Station Zebra. The original aired as far back as 1968 and starred Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine.