To be published on 15 November 2022
The Welsh author John Llewelyn Rhys (1911-1940) published The Flying Shadow in 1936, The World Owes Me A Living in 1939 and England Is My Village in 1941 (also reissued by Handheld Press). Reviewers routinely compared his writing to the work of the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, for his lyrical response to flight and its technology.
Robert Owen is the only son from a Welsh vicarage, now a brilliant pilot and flying instructor, recently of the Royal Air Force. He has taken a new job at the flying school at Best, a prosperous cathedral town in the south of England.
Flying has never seemed so alluring and so terrifying. Human frailty is tested in the drilling and repetition of hours in flight, and Robert’s skills as a pilot and in diplomacy with pupils with delusions about their competence are tested to their limits. And then he falls in love, risking his heart as well as his body in the air.
The Introduction is written by Luke Seaber and Daniel Kilburn, both lecturers at University College London.
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‘They climbed another two thousand five hundred feet before he spoke again. “That was quite a good show, but you’re still inclined to be a little stiff on the controls. Try to relax and take things a little more easily.” As he explained the theory of spinning, with engine throttled down so that the aircraft was hanging on the slots, his eyes searched the empty sky. Below, the clouds were flat as beaten snow, dazzling white in
the brilliant sunshine, undisturbed except for the shadow of the Moth which slid easily, silently, over their even surface. For scores of miles there was no movement, nothing but the sunny emptiness of the sky and the hard, white floor of the clouds, the enormous silence pricked by the stutter of the engine. For the hundredth time the beauty of such a scene hooded his mind, the sense of overwhelming desolation intensifying his realization of individuality. Nothing in the world, he thought, was as lonely as this, no scene so static in beauty, so expansive in monotony.’
In the 1930s, flying was all the rage. All over Britain women and men had grown up watching WW1 flying aces perform aerobatics in the sky. Now they too were learning how to fly.
The Flying Shadow was Rhys’s first novel, written before he was 25 years old. He was born in Abergavenny in 1911 and died in an RAF training accident just before the Battle of Britain in 1940. His last book, England Is My Village, a collection of short stories assembled by his widow, the novelist Jane Oliver, was posthumously published in 1941 and won the 1942 Hawthornden Prize.