Hi friends. I had a long chat with Angus of the WW2 podcast recently about Ethiopia, mercenaries, Haile Selassie, and my book Lost Lions of Judah. He trimmed it down and tidied it up and now you can hear us discussing the Italo-Ethiopian war in glorious stereo through iTunes, Facebook, as well as the WW2 website. It’ll probably turn up on Youtube some time soon.
Tune in and take a listen, then get your hands on the book itself [or amazon.com]. It’s about the crazy gang of adventurers who helped Ethiopia fight back against the Fascist Italian invasion of 1935.
It was a war between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosive, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Emperor Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a bunch of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.
Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion tells the whole colourful, blood-stained story.
Texan winters are unpredictable. Rain turns the state into a soggy mess one day then blazing sun bakes it hard the next. This changeability is especially pronounced in the state capital of Austin.
‘If you don’t like the weather,’ say seasoned Austinites, ‘just wait five minutes.’
On Saturday 8 January 1938 they had their usual dose of fickle climate. The sun shone intermittently through the day but by late afternoon grey skies ruled and a chill wind chased commuters out of the downtown business district into the suburbs. In an upscale part of town a young man called Thomas H Markley jnr celebrated his twenty-first birthday with a gang of college friends outside his parents’ house.
He had a case of beer and a revolver to keep him warm.
I was a teenage Indie kid. Dark blond hair cropped short at the sides and a fringe over one eye. Black jeans. Shirts the closest thing to psychedelic you could find in Ilford’s charity shops. Some army-surplus hooded jacket. Sneakers. You get the idea.
This was all back in the late 1980s when Margaret Thatcher ruled the land and indie music worshipped at the altars of The Pastels, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and the American noise scene. I smoked Rothmans, bought a lot of records, and sneaked into pubs that didn’t ask for ID.
It was the days of cider and black; lumps of dope in matchboxes; flicking through the LPs in HMV and the Virgin Megastore, Oxford Street; watching gigs at The George Robey, the Astoria on Charing Cross Road, the Town and Country Club; sitting on the floor next to girls at parties; wandering round Camden Market and buying Velvet Underground posters and bootleg cassettes of indie gigs in photocopied covers on bright coloured paper. I had a metallic red guitar I couldn’t play very well.
My school friend Simon Ward taught me the chords to Revolution by Spacemen 3 and I daydreamed about being in a band. Simon had already made that leap.
You are shown into a large room. You’re nervous. Your heart races, your palms are sweating lightly. Your chair sits facing a long table. Behind the table a panel of faces look at you coldly. One gets up and stands next to you.
‘We are going to play Russian Roulette,’ he says.
Is he crazy? Do they expect you to risk your life for a job? You look at the panel. They are serious. You look at the speaker. He forms his fingers into the shape of a gun.
‘This,’ he says, ‘is a six chamber revolver.’
He puts his finger to your temple.
‘It has one bullet in it.’
He jerks his finger.
‘Click. No bullet in that chamber. I’m going to pull the trigger again. Before I do that, do you want me to spin the cylinder of the revolver? You have three seconds to answer.‘
The panel are looking at you intensely, analysing your reaction. Welcome to the favourite situation of high powered job interviewers. Answering complex questions under pressure. Can you give the right answer?
Anarchist terror gangs stirring things up in 1960’s Spain. A mercenary whose service in the Congo conceals a dark past. A washed-up journalist in post-war Catalonia trying to solve a murder that powerful men would prefer left alone.
Antonio Padilla is a Barcelona native with two novels under his belt. La mano del muerto hit bookshops back in 2014 and Serás imbécil arrived in the summer of 2017. Both take a deep dive into the violent underbelly of recent Spanish history and come up missing a few teeth.
When he’s not writing crime thrillers, Padilla has translated everyone from Graham Greene to Jim Thompson. We had a conversation about his influences, the Catalan scene, and what keeps him hitting the keyboard every day.
A few weeks back I wrote a post about a Serb mercenary who fought in Ukraine and died in Syria. Someone got in touch with more information. An interview came out of it.
My interviewee is a well-informed Serbian observer of the events in East Ukraine. He prefers to remain anonymous. His opinions are his own; feel free to comment or message me if your own views differ.
In the first part of the interview we talked about Bratislav Zivkovic’s activities in the Crimea and the media storm when he returned home. In parts two and three we looked at Serb sniper Dejan Beric who became a celebrity with his YouTube videos. Part four dealt with Zack Novak and other English-speakers working on Novorossiya’s propaganda campaign. Part five looked at the various motivations that drove Serbs to Novorossiya.
We’re coming to the last few sections of the interview. Here we talk about how media controversies, rumours of assassination plots, and mistreatment by separatist authorities led to many Serb volunteers returning home.
The interview continues. Someone who knows a lot about Serb mercenaries got in touch to talk about the situation in East Ukraine.
In the first part of this interview we talked about Bratislav Zivkovic’s activities in the Crimea and the media storm when he returned home. In parts two and three we looked at Serb sniper Dejan Beric who became a celebrity with his YouTube videos. Part four dealt with Zack Novak and other English-speakers working on Novorossiya’s propaganda campaign.
In this part of the talk we discuss the motivation of Serb volunteers. My interviewee prefers to remain anonymous. His opinions are his own. If you have anything to add or correct then please get in touch.