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Review of Sky Talk by Michael Riley

Truth stranger than fiction? It certainly can be, but retired flyers need not worry. Sky Talk distils a wealth of detailed experience from the Golden Age of airline flying that can only be recounted by one who was there. These very readable, well-written stories reflect a perspective that is much broader than that of a cockpit-focussed pilot, and the variety of subject matter and its treatment suggests the understanding of a shrewd yet kindly observer looking on, rather than that of a cockpit specialist looking out.

Personal experience is the natural start for storytelling, it’s the writer’s raw material. But to progress beyond this autobiographical beginner stage and become the wise and sympathetic observer looking on requires the true writer’s understanding and detachment.

Sky Talk by Philip Hogge is a collection of stories about the experience of being a crew member of a bygone and fondly remembered era, whose sense of authenticity convinces in a way that cannot be merely invented by a writer of novels: it is too true and real. Yet this is fiction, based on a compendium of fact and personal experience, which benefits from the writer’s freedom to modify or create personalities, their thoughts and voices, in a way that makes them seem real, yet remain images in our imagination. Unlike ‘I did that, then I did this’ autobiographies, these stories are written from different viewpoints. Even if written in the first person are we reading about Hogge, or someone else? We don’t know: this is convincing fiction, but fiction none the less.

Phil Hogge has managed to seamlessly bridge this gap between the raw material and a comfortably readable, interesting and colourful depiction of the people, places and events that arouse curiosity, and the sense of involvement that goes with them. Many readers will think they recognise individuals and circumstances, but were you really there - was that really you? Almost, perhaps, but not quite. Are the rumours true? Read on . . .

But this book is not just about crew parties and the lifestyles of million dollar girls; far from it. The stresses and strains imposed on reliable flight crew by a clumsy and industrial 6 month checking system features, as does a detailed insight into the reality of the hijacking experience - a sobering experience if ever there was one . . . but I’ve given away too much already . . .

A good read, especially accessible to the student of human nature, including those who have never worked for an airline, know nothing about aircraft, but are interested in what they think these fabled and glamorous employees used to do.

This review can be found on Michael Riley's blog:

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