"A gung-ho Candide with a taste for places it is wiser to avoid. . . the reports collected in 'I Wouldn't Start From Here' are graphic, comic, bemused and properly contemptuous of faith and ideology."
- Jonathan Meades, Books of the Year, Evening Standard
"An utterly sui generis report from the world's plague-spots."
- Michael Bywater, Books of the Year, New Statesman
"I can think of no more entertaining companion on a perilous journey than the ever hopeful, wildly optimistic yet clear-thinking Andrew Mueller."
- Rory MacLean, The Guardian
"A tour-de-force of hilarious, harrowing and ultimately enlightening reportage that will remind readers of the work of P.J. O'Rourke, Jon Ronson and David Foster Wallace."
- The Washington Times
"Unafraid to portray the world's warring people not just as victims and sufferers of legitimate grievances, but also as bloody-minded bastards and ill-informed fools."
- The Kathmandu Post
"A mix of dark humour and incisive political discourse."
- CNN Go
"His sardonic, self-deprecating perspective makes for unstuffy company."
- The Los Angeles Times
"Peppered with trenchant observations that reflect a nimble, cut-to-the-chase practicality, Mueller's interviews with everyone from terrorist warlords to international peacemakers are refreshingly irreverent yet astute."
"Travel writing in the danger zone that maintains its hipness and humanity."
- George Dunford, Books of the Year, Readings Monthly
"An addition to the genre founded by P.J. O'Rourke's 'Holidays In Hell', but it is one that pushes the boundaries."
- The Australian
"Mueller is the embodiment of what can happen with a fire in the belly and a desire to write out loud."
- Australian Book Review
"Mueller's travel writing is as incisive and entertaining as anything he's ever written about music."
- Financial Times
- The New Statesman
"Alternately chilling, funny and surprising, there's some great reportage here as Mueller struggles to reach an understanding of the world, quizzing the highest minister and the lowliest peasant."
- The Glasgow Herald
"His acerbic wit is matched by true empathy. . . we need this kind of gonzo journalism more than ever."
"Mueller spins what could have been the grimmest geopolitics into the finest black comedy. Like a print version of 'The Daily Show'."
"Lively reporting from a gently humorous narrator."
- Chris Ayres, The Times
"Touching, often blackly comic reportage."
"Brilliantly observed, articulate, often funny and immensely readable."
- The List
"Snappy, self-deprecating and sometimes outright hilarious."
- The Age
"Indelibly humorous and heartfelt."
- Sydney Sunday Telegraph
"An instructive ricochet between cities and continents and war zones."
- Time Out
"He brings to his material the mixture of rage and earthy irony that is the mark of a great satirist
. . . rewarding, thought-provoking and ludicrously funny."
"Mueller's book is an excellent example of why today's brave, lucid hacks are forced to admit fear and confusion."
- South China Morning Post
"His reporting is sharp, his experiences terrifying and funny."
- Melbourne Herald-Sun
"If you enjoy your international affairs and politics with a good dose of cynicism and black humour, then this book is one to read."
- Brisbane Courier-Mail
"Often laugh-out-loud funny, the writing is utterly engaging."
- Launceston Sunday Examiner
"Mueller's irreverent reportage from abroad is fundamentally a clever cover for the author's ruminations on race, religion, revolution, rock'n'roll and other important issues since September 11, 2001."
- The West Australian
"As hilarious and sardonic a host as this ridiculous world of ours demands."
"Mueller busies himself with finding the odd, the surreal and the laughable as much as the shocking and upsetting."
- New Zealand Herald
"A real eye for surreal moments of black humour. . . Mueller's work here digs much deeper than the standard newspaper travel essay."
- Sydney Sun-Herald
"His best story, about his brief, bizarre jailing in Cameroon, reads like a 21st century 'Goon Show' script."
- Good Reading
"A rollicking ride through some of the world's scariest scenarios."
- Kalgoorlie Miner
"A strikingly funny book about some seriously unfunny places."
- Perth Sunday Times
"Not bad for a guy from Wagga Wagga."
- The Wagga Wagga Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller's piece about my band's tour with The Hold Steady is my favourite thing ever written about us. The fact that he is a war correspondent (though he claims otherwise) and music journalist and
approaches both with a similar slant makes him one of the most interesting
writers out there to me."
- Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
"The most important critical anthology on popular music from a single author in a long time, its humour and insight equal with collections by Nick Tosches or Robert Palmer."
- KEXP Seattle
"The most enjoyable travel book of 2010."
- Sydney Morning Herald
"Take one part P.J. O'Rourke, a healthy dose of Lester Bangs and a dash of Hunter S. Thompson, and you've got Andrew Mueller."
"This is a wonderful, exuberant and eccentric collection of articles."
- The Sydney Morning Herald
"Sharply observed and wittily constructed."
- Honolulu Star-Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller plays the hapless hack brilliantly, with lashings of irreverence and self-deprecating humour."
- The Age
"New edition of the rock classic."
- NY Press
"Mueller's humour makes for some enlightening reading."
- Biloxi-Gulfport Sun-Herald
"Sharp, witty and sarcastic."
- Chicago Tribune
"Equally hilarious and insightful music journalism and foreign correspondence."
- The Vine
"Gonzo journalism at its finest."
"Really rather good, in a barnstorming, country-punk sort of way. . . a highly capable ensemble."
- The Quietus
"Guaranteed to raise a chuckle, if not a tear."
"A more than capable debut - allusive country-tough songs."
"The Blazing Zoos are undoubtedly fun, but they also have depth. . .
everything from Mueller's extensive use of brackets to the band's loving
recreation of classic country riffs bespeaks sincerity."
- Americana UK
George MacDonald Fraser interview
The Australian, April 2002
“THE Light’s On At Signpost”, the title of George MacDonald Fraser’s new book, is a phrase popular where the author lives, on the Isle of Man. Signpost Corner is a landmark on the track around which the annual TT motorcycle races are run; when the light at the corner is lit, it indicates that a rider is nearing the finish line. “At 77,” Fraser writes in the preface, “my light is on at Signpost – mind you, I hope to take my time over the last mile, metaphorically pushing my bike like those riders who run out of fuel within sight of the finish.” He is as good as his word. Though he appears as definitively Blimpish as some of his politics, he laughs often and generously, and asks as many questions as he gives answers. Over an hour and a half in the tea-room of a London hotel, he is splendidly irascible company.
“Things are getting worse,” he insists, gently working up to speed. “There was a great cry, in the 50s and 60s, that we must have a move towards a permissive society. Once you’ve got that, once these enlightened liberal values have been established, it’s very difficult to go back. This is very frustrating to a great many people, who liked society the way it was. It wasn’t perfect, but my children could play in the street. They couldn’t now.” (Fraser and his wife, Kath, have three adult children – two sons and a daughter, the novelist Caro Fraser).
Some of Fraser’s new book is typically funny autobiography, twinkling with the peerless comic touch familiar from the “McAuslan” stories – Fraser’s semi-fictionalised reminiscences of his time as a young officer in post-war North Africa. In these parts of “The Light’s On A Signpost”, he recalls his experiences in the film trade (Fraser wrote the screenplays for “Octopussy”, “The Three Musketeers” and “Force 10 From Navarone”, among others) and journalism (he was deputy editor of The Glasgow Herald).
He also describes how he came to create one of the most superbly drawn characters to have graced modern literature, and the object of a cult that spans the globe: Flashman, the bully of Thomas Hughes’ Victorian novel “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”, for whom Fraser has written eleven best-selling volumes of meticulously researched “memoirs”, detailing how this monstrous coward, bully, womaniser and drunk survived the imperial upheavals of the 19th century (the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Indian Mutiny, the Taiping Rebellion, and many more) to end up a General, a Knight and a wholly undeserving holder of the Victoria Cross.
The rest of “The Light’s On At Signpost” is scorching polemics, serialised as “Angry Old Man 1”, “Angry Old Man 2”, and so on, which conjure an image of Fraser pounding his typewriter with one hand and waving a walking stick with the other. Fraser rails, with passionate conviction, against Tony Blair, the European Union, modern television, modern newspapers, modern education, women in the military, affirmative action, and any species of political correctness – up to and including the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, which, he complains, neglected the British contribution to Australian history while granting centre stage to “non-British immigrants” and “stone-age barbarians” (“Well,” he grumbles today, “the aborigines shown were stone-age barbarians. And Captain Cook was the only Englishman referred to in the whole thing.”)
Readers who know Fraser only through his alter-egos – the kindly, bemused Lieutenant Dand MacNeill who narrates the “McAuslan” books, the resolutely amoral Flashman – may find this stern and convinced voice jarring. Those who’ve read “Quartered Safe Out Here”, Fraser’s unsparing account of his service as a 19-year-old infantryman fighting the Japanese in Burma towards the end of World War II, will have heard some of this before. These are not, he happily agrees, fashionable views.
“They’re not. But I know they reflect the feelings of a lot of my generation, and it seemed better to articulate it than let them think they were alone.”
In “The Light’s On At Signpost”, Fraser describes himself as “a liberal, as well as a reactionary”. In conversation, he defends the resulting contradictions with the benign humour of someone who enjoys nothing better than a good row. He takes a rigorously dim view of illegal immigrants – or, as he describes them in print, “alien scroungers, bums, criminals, layabouts and riff-raff” – but believes in the free movement of some: “If it’s a place where we asserted British rule – India, Pakistan, the African colonies – then yes, they have a strong case, if they want to come to this country. Christ, we went to theirs.” He opposes, with bitter vehemence, Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan (“I couldn’t care bloody less who runs Afghanistan. It’s their business. Not ours. We are no longer the world’s policeman.”), but if one theme permeates his work, it is a defensive nostalgia for Empire.
“That’s true,” he says. “The socialist revisionists have said the Empire was a very evil thing, and that is the way the teaching is going. In fact, it was bloody marvellous. Without it, where would Australia be? There wouldn’t be one. Or a Canada, or a United States. Okay, the British were pirates, but they did carry along with their buccaneering tendency a desire to improve things. They didn’t always succeed, but they tried.”
The palpable embarassment that today’s British middle classes feel, and teach, about their imperial past, vexes Fraser more than most of his vast menagerie of betes noire. He is especially infuriated by the modern vogue for governments issuing apologies for the actions of their predecessors, and defends this from a personal position which is difficult to broach.
“God knows, I don’t like the Japs. But this demand for an apology from modern Japan for what happened during the war? Forget it. They didn’t do it. And if you think modern Japan should apologise for what their grandparents did, you are a blatant, out-and-out racist, because you are implying racial guilt.”
Which brings us to Germany – where, it is safe to assume, Fraser does not often holiday. Chief among his grievances against the very existence of the European Union is the prospect of seeing, as he writes, “our British laws and life influenced by the children of those wonderful people who gave us Belsen and Dachau.” Is that not imputing racial guilt?
“No,” he says. “I’m not holding the present generation of Germans responsible for Belsen and Dachau. I am merely reminding people that they are the grandchildren of those folk, and it would behove you to look very carefully at German history. Maybe this is a racist attitude, maybe I’m saying the British are different, but we have no love of tyrants – we only put up with Cromwell for ten years. And we shouldn’t view, without misgivings, countries which have a historical tendency to welcome dictators.”
FRASER admits, indeed emphasises, that his opinions are those of another age. When challenged, for example, on his assertion that “Everybody is racist, to at least this extent: they like their own folk better, or they’re more comfortable with their own folk,” he happily concedes that subsequent generations’ definitions of “their own folk” are much broader than his (“Oh, absolutely. It’s just that for people who’ve grown up with one set of conditions, when those conditions alter it takes some time to adjust.”)
As we both know, however, there is only one question that most of his millions of readers really want answered: will the next Flashman novel be the full story, frequently alluded to in other Flashmans, of the great bounder’s misadventures in the US Civil War? For Australian fans, there is bad news and good news, in that order.
“I’ll be honest,” sighs Fraser. “To me, the American Civil War is a colossal bore. It was a rotten war, it’s been done to death and I’m not terribly interested. An American wrote to me urging me to write it, saying it had to be the high point of Flashman’s career. I wrote back saying son, it’s a foreign sideshow. The Crimea, the Indian Mutiny, these were the important things in Flashman’s life. Your Civil War? He was so disinterested that he fought on both sides. But there is a Flashman story kicking around about Australia and the South Seas. It’s very vague in my mind at the moment, but it’s certainly a possibility.”
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