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Gazette and Herald 23rd December 2009 - Newspapers and ReviewsReview by Bill Spence

(also known as best-selling author, Jessica Blair)

Mark Flitley is a successful lawyer with his own boat which he is racing with a new crew member, Carol, who seems slightly familiar to him.

She is intrigued as he tells her that as a young man he was a lonely youth with no friends and who had to see a psychiatrist in order to help him to stop stammering and gain confidence.

He relates the story of his life, his unhappiness at school and university during the 1960s until joining a potholing club started to change his attitude and future.

Dances, parties, alcohol and close shaves with the law all contribute to his story and at the end of it Carol tells Mark about herself and reveals where they met before.

This book, by a local author, is a pleasant read with characters that came alive, though it takes a little time to become familiar enough to care about them.

The reminiscences of the sixties are strong, though atmospherically probably rely too much on the music, and as the book is set in Liverpool, there could have been more about the music from that city, rather than from America.

Nevertheless, the feeling for the period comes alive through Mark and his friends and I am sure that this will be a popular book with readers from that generation.

Author Harriet Vyner says:

"Having once been persuaded into potholing in China (the language barrier having allowed our hosts to think me an expert) I was curious to see whether the shock and awe of that experience would be captured in Paul Andrews' novel  ‘The Loner’ – it was in abundance. The descriptions of the caves almost made me want to attempt the experience again – especially as the lead character Mark, was attempting it from a similar position of terror.    I thought it was clever and convincing to have this lead character be somewhat unsympathetic at times, whilst I could only empathise with his lack of confidence. Student life in sixties Liverpool was amusingly described – and like the descriptions of potholing – it almost made me nostalgic for the all night parties of youth. However, nowadays, I prefer a good read – which ‘The Loner’ very much was."

Harriet Vyner author – ‘Groovy Bob’ and ‘Among Ruins’ (both published by Faber and Faber)


Descent, The Cavers' Magazine April 2010

The Loner




Matador/Troubador, Leicester. 2010. xviii+408pp, no illust. Softback, 138mm × 216mm. £7.99


ISBN 978-1-84876293-0


DESCENT (212) briefly mentioned a new title to be released: The Loner by Paul Andrews. Its genesis in print began with Lulu, the online publishing company that prints copies as ordered, but Matador (which takes a different approach to self-publishing) had picked up the baton and was bringing out a new edition. With the onset of April, Matador’s edition is now available.

      The Loner is a work of fiction, though based on a background set among the caves of the Yorkshire Dales and the sixties world of Liverpool where students were as students were everywhere. As a novel, it sets a scene and lets the characters (which are wholly made up, though characterised with the sort of personality traits that cavers will recognise) take the story where it will. The project was begun some twenty years ago, but dabbled with and only rewritten and finalised over the past two years. For the author, it was one of those stories that just refused to go away.

      In basis, Mark-the-nervous-student falls to pieces in the presence of girls, but fancies Fiona and realises he requires a whole new approach to life. Bob takes Mark under his wing and introduces him to caving, where he can (perhaps) overcome his fears. Thus we find a group of students heading for the Ingleton of yore and breakfast at Bernie’s when it was only a cafe, camping under real canvas and drinking in the local pubs. Caves fall to the club, from Kingsdale Master Cave to Simpson’s Pot, seen from the perspective of Bob, Mark and other group members as they use ropes and make ladders, fumbling into early SRT.

      And this is where things are interesting: The Loner isn’t a dramatic story with gut-wrenching action sequences; it is more a quiet tale of how loner Mark slowly progresses through his years of study, trying to gain confidence in himself and overcome his stammering. If anything, it is a tale that when finished you can look back across and wonder yet again why we all go caving. The question arises in the novel, though without (as there never is) any satisfactory answer to this elusive query. But now, consider the manner in which Mark has overcome his fears and how this is only due to Bob’s influence and that of caving itself. Perhaps because the author is a solicitor, you might even learn something of the approach taken by that side of the law through Mark’s studies.

      If you already have a copy of Lulu-published The Loner, you won’t benefit by buying this edition as it has only minor edits to the text. Some of those corrections to punctuation actually remain incorrect, while others have not been altered. Elsewhere, I spotted some errors of fact (example: flashpowder is not made from magnesium alone and the date for its first use is incorrect) but, as the tale unfolds virtually entirely through speech between characters (which incidentally lends itself to fast reading), they can say whatever they believe to be true – including this.

      That said, the Matador edition is vastly superior in typesetting and readability; it’s a thicker book with a larger, clearer font and a much nicer production, as you would expect from the company.

      The final word? This is a highly enjoyable piece of almost-escapism into a world of caving now gone with the decades; you may even recognise some of your own fears, thrills and escapades. If you were around in those years, the feeling of reliving an era will come flooding back, from student demos to college parties and of wistful references to Woodstock instead of Glastonbury. The read is worth your whiling away a few hours between trips, so for further information head for a bookshop or the author’s website at: (where you will find some caving photos and genuine trip reports). But muse over the theme of The Loner – it carries more than the obvious message.

Chris Howes


Copyright material published in Descent (213), April 2010, reproduced here by kind permission of the author and Wild Places Publishing

Lt. Dan Bull, Royal Artillery, Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.

"Speaking of paperbacks, just finished Loner by your man Paul Andrews: whilst it was badly edited (refering to school rugby team as the First XI and not the first XV in the first chapter grated through the rest of the book) and some of the passages were exceptionally long and dull (his Greek Class, some of the pot hole descriptions) I actually quite enjoyed it and wanted to get to the end and find out how Mark sorts himself out.  Quite an undertaking writing and getting a book published and whilst it probably won't win him a Pullitzer you have to be impressed."

Tom Tyson, Barrister-at-law, Leeds

"The Loner captures the bizarre blend of humdrum punctuated with intervals of exhileration which comprise the early stages of a carreer in the law. A sharply observed, thrilling and suitably comic court scene is both authentic and entertaining - from the nerves of the accused to the brash self-confidence of the dapper barrister, culminating in the excitement of the eventual verdict which I will not spoil by revealing here"