Fraser’s rather Flash library

George MacDonald Fraser’s working library of over 2,500 books, including the resources he used to write the historically accurate parts of his Flashman adventures, is up for sale soon in London. The Heywood Hill bookshop, of which he was a loyal customer, will be displaying the books from Tuesday 20 May until Saturday 31 May before they go on sale in June.

He lived out his final years on the Isle of Man, where Stephen Mansfield took this beautiful portrait in October 2000.

The Flashman Papers which he began in 1969 and finished in 2005 have been hugely popular – and has many fans including Terry Pratchett and Bernard Cornwell – telling the apparently tall tales of Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, KCB, KCIE. Flashman was a minor character, a bully, in Tom Brown’s School Days and Fraser fleshed him out into an endearingly offensive creation thrown into real-life 19th-century historical situations.

“Reviewers and interviewers started describing Flashman (and me) as politically incorrect, which we are, though by no means in the same way.
This is fine by me. Flashman is my bread and butter, and if he wasn’t an elitist, racist, sexist swine, I’d be selling bootlaces at street corners instead of being a successful popular writer.”

According to this report from IOMToday one of the pieces found in his library was “an unpublished typescript in which he writes in depth about his view of the world”.

Plans to publish this by Heywood Hill using Stephen’s portrait seem to have run into difficulties, though, and the project has apparently been shelved. Watch this space, though, as they promise to let us know if it sees the light of day.

It seems it was likely to be a piece similar to that from 2003’s The Light’s on at Signpost which the Mail took great joy in reprinting after Fraser’s death. As anti-PC rants go, that was quite a considered one, and is probably the only one ever to take a pop at poppy appeals.

“It comes in many guises, some of them so effective that the PC can be difficult to detect. The silly euphemisms, apparently harmless, but forever dripping to wear away common sense – the naivete of the phrase “a caring force for the future” on Remembrance poppy trays, which suggests that the army is some kind of peace corps, when in fact its true function is killing.”

Mind you, as in similar polemics, the target is apocryphal. See if you can find any reference anywhere to the use of that phrase in a poppy campaign that isn’t his. His historical sourcing might have been impeccable, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say his contemporary research might have been slightly less so in this case. Maybe he’ll have a copy in his library.

Quartered Safe out Here, his memoirs of his time in Burma aged 19 repelling the Japanese during the Second World War, is one of those books that never had such a high profile as other war writing but garnered critical acclaim and has been a perennial good seller. His military experience (he stayed on in the army until 1947) also informed the volumes of short stories The General Danced at Dawn, McAuslan in the Rough and The Sheikh and the Dustbin which were collected in 2000 under the title The Complete McAuslan, named for the nemesis of Fraser’s autobiographical hero Dand MacNeill. His book on the Border Reivers, The Steel Bonnets, is also mainstay of Scottish history sections.

He was also a journalist for many years and a screenwriter and though I think I knew he wrote the 1970s Three Musketeers films and had a hand in Octopussy, it comes as quite a surprise that he is also credited for the Schwarzenegger Conan sequel Red Sonja. Well, I never. There’s a fact to stick behind your ear for a pub quiz.


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