The Work of Rod Madocks   Novelist and short story writer


"A selection of interviews and reviews" .

WriteLion 5 podcast

WriteLion 5 podcast is now live and includes interviews with Paul Reaney, Rod Maddocks and Megan Taylor.

Crime Writers Association 2009 Nomination of Rod Madocks' work for the Shortlist for the John Creasey Debut Dagger

Judges' comments: 'No Way To Say Goodbye is set in a high security mental facility for the criminally insane. Jack Keyses works there, intent on tracking down the presumed abductor and killer of his girlfriend Rachel who disappeared without trace. The grim reality of sex offenders and their obsessions and histories is authentically and chillingly exposed here. The most frightening thing about the book was the obsessions of Keyses which turn out to be not so very different from some of the patients. A sense of edgy despair pervades this very taut novel.'
LeftLion magazine
Issue 32 Dec 09
Review by James Walker.

In writing his debut novel, Rod Madocks has sacrificed a lot. Firstly, he sold his house to finance writing it and secondly, he has taken the maximum security asylum as his setting, thereby risking alienation from his former work colleagues for exposing the hidden truths of the profession he worked in for fifteen years. Thank goodness he did.

Set over three parts, the novel follows the fortunes of Jack Keyse as he comes to terms with personal loss and seeks vengeance upon the person who has taken her from him, yet this is easier said than done. Consequently Keyse develops some complex relationships with characters which a less sensitive author would simply have demonised and constructed into a simplistic binary narrative of good versus evil. You may not necessarily be able to forgive someone for what they have done but understanding why is part of the healing process. A notable moral indeed.

James Walker
My life working with Britain's most dangerous killers

Article in the Nottingham Evening Post features on ThisIsNottingham website

Rod Madocks has worked in maximum security units housing some of the country's most prolific killers. His experiences provided him with a wealth of material for a fictional account of life on the inside. LYNETTE PINCHESS reports.

Rod Madocks has come into contact with some of Britain's most disturbed and dangerous killers. Working in maximum security hospitals gave him a unique insider's view of life in units like Rampton in north Notts – and the inspiration for a novel.

Visit the website here

"Can I Play with Madness". An interview with James Walker in Leftlion Magazine Issue 53 June 2013. Dig the crazy portrait of the author trapped in a decaying asylum.


"When Art and Life Merge" . June 2013. An interesting review with me and Elaine Aldred for her literary site Strange Alliances. I am in good company as there is a lot of other good stuff on Elaine's site, including a recent interview with my fellow East Midlander - Alison Moore.  Elaine is a perceptive interviewer and fast becoming a fixture in her own right on the literary scene.
Brief reviews of Babbicam .May 2015  Longer reviews can be found on my Amazon entry.

"Babbicam is a terrific read... part fact part fiction it is the reconstruction of a murder mystery and much much more."
Peter Messent author of 'The Crime Fiction Handbook.'

"Ambitous and absorbing: this is the remarkable reconstruction of a legend"
Dave Belbin, author of the "Bone & Cane" novels.

"An unusual and fascinating book." John Martin, author of 'Crime scene: A Readers' Guide'.

The Rising Flame reviewed in London Grip Poetry 2015
"Merryn Williams applauds a new selection of poems by Sidney Keyes edited by Rod Madocks which should help restore the reputation of this nearly forgotten World War Two poet."

Americus Times Review of Babbicam by Beth Alston , September 2015

This is one of the strangest books I've ever read and one of the most irresistible. Madocks is a genius, not only in the story he relates but the way he presents this bizarre account. It's not surprising that Madocks has a history of working in maximum security psychiatric institutions. According to information on the book's back cover, the Crime Writers' Association calls Madock's fiction, "chiilling and authentic". Quite so,  Told by a young American poet, it weaves the curious and frightening tale the poet unravels after buying an obselete wire recording machine and a box of spools at some junk shop or yard sale. The poet gets the machine working again and starts listening. What he learns will haunt his days and nights forever. The recordings are of a long dead doctor speaking with one of his patients, John Henry Lee, also known as "Babbacombe Lee" named from the part of England he was from, Devonshire Beach, which the locals call Babbacombe. Madocks brings Lee to life and it is unsettling. Lee's voice, for instance. “I’d never heard anyone speak like Lee. It sure was a weird accent. Real hard to understand his creepy way of speaking. There was another voice on the recordings. A flat Midwestern voice that cut in now and then. It had a sort of indistinguishable accent, a bit like Walter Cronkite's  I guessed that voice must have been Doctor Kaiser's” Babbicam's  twisted story begins in England in 1878, and the descriptions of place will also give you chills. It's pure drear; it's  mostly poor; it's a hard life for most. The poet complements his review of the spools of recordings with a lot of Internet research and travel to England and other places,  and the story begins to consume him. But he can't stop, not until he gets to the bottom of it. It is in his quest for answers to the Babbicam conundrum that the poet learns much about himself and his own family. He begins to see parallels. I love the way Madocks has crafted this story. It is complex, multi-faceted and disturbing, and I could simply not stop reading it. The book's cover itself will stay with you for awhile after you read the last page. Those eyes, those penetrating yet empty, soul-lacking eyes. This is one of the absolute best books I've consumed this year. I highly recommend it. I plan to let it ruminate for a few months and read it again, maybe during the long, cold nights of January. I also plan to read more of Madocks, whose background is also tantalizing. He was born in Rhodesia, has lived in France and Texas, but mostly England. - 


 A really sympathetic and insightful review of my book - understanding it as a homage to the WW2 poet Sidney Keyes and an acknowledgement of my father who served with Keyes during the War and who urged me to make sure Keyes' name lived on.;hilite=keyes

This review is taken from Stand 215, 15(3) October - November 2017.


Rod Madocks, The Rising Flame: Remembering Sidney Keyes 

(Shoestring Press, 2015) 

Rod Madocks’s The Rising Flame, Remembering Sidney Keyes,

 can be regarded as a homage to one of the Second World War’s

 ill-fated young poets, written by a man for whom Keyes was, and is,

 far more than what remains of his work.   

As Madocks explains in his introductory chapters, his father, J.E. Madocks,

 trained with Keyes as part of the same ‘A Company’ at Number 125 Infantry Training Centre in Omagh, and the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) in

 Dunbar. As Madocks and his father often spoke about KeyesThe Rising Flamebenefits from unique personal insights and recollections, lending the

 book considerable poignancy, and allowing us to understand Keyes’s poetry

 as being that of a sensitive undergraduate, who was deeply affected by the

early loss of his parents, his unrequited passion for ‘the young refugee German

 artist, Milein Cosman’, and his not wholly satisfactory relationship with

Renée-Jane Scott. 

Understandably, anything but objective, Madocks’s contribution to our

awareness of Keyes also constitutes a defence of his work against criticisms

 based on its romanticism and its lack of realism. Such criticism is equally understandable, however, given that among Sidney Keyes’s contemporaries

 were Keith Douglas, Alan Ross, and Alun Lewis. In contrast to Douglas, in particular, Keyes does seem archaic and overly reliant on mythologised conceptions of war and battle as means of acquiring nobility in death,

and entering a Second World War variation of Valhalla, ‘from the Norse Poetic Edda, a favourite that Keyes liked to read’. While Clive James describes Keyes

 as ‘mooning’ and ‘immature’, Madocks argues that he was a work in progress: ‘Despite the archaisms, his style experiments, the echoes of Yeats and Eliot and

 the occasional youthful stumbles, the poetry Keyes gave us is remarkable

enough and presaged even greater things.’   

While this contention is reasonable, Madocks also goes on to ascribe a 

first-person significance to Keyes’s work, reinforcing the view that 

The Rising Flame is a tribute, rather than a piece of literary history:

 ‘Sometimes, reading and re-reading Keyes, I feel his powerful yet intimate

 voice is reaching out as if he is speaking to me alone.’ Subjective, rather than impartial, Madocks’s affection is also refreshingly authentic, a characteristic emphasised by the use of primary source material, such as interviews with

 Milein Cosman and others of Keyes’s acquaintances, personal letters,

and the Notebook that he kept with him throughout his military training,

and until he was killed in action in Tunisia, in 1943. These sources, along

with the anecdotal evidence provided by Madocks’s father, ensure that

the book is rich in fascinating and intimate detail. 

For instance, there is the bullying that Keyes endured at the hands of

 his instructors, and the actor, Trevor Howard. There is also the respect that Keyes earned as an officer at the front, due to his coolness under


 his broad general knowledge, his love of darkness, and the manner in

 which he would ‘pad about in rather elaborate crepe-soled fur-lined

 boots and tend to appear noiselessly at awkward moments’ for the

 men under his command, earning him the nick-name ‘Puss in Boots’.

It is through these sources that we learn of Keyes’s love of folk music,

and particularly ‘Greensleeves’, the song that Milein remembers him

singing to her: ‘Sidney seemed happiest in nature and we often went

for walks – the first one … to the churchyard near Longwall where he

 introduced me to “Lady Greensleeves”.’    

Madocks relates his intimate character study to Keyes’s poetry, and

 to what he considers to be the major themes of his work. Thus, Keyes’s

references to Valhalla are seen as part of his consciousness of ‘the time

of terror’ anticipated by the ‘big-boned’ and ‘sworded’ sleepers of

 ‘Troll Kings’. Similarly, Keyes’s ‘gloomy sense of prevailing menace’

is explored through ‘Ulster Soldier’, in which ‘Rain strikes the window.

Miles of wire / Are hung with small mad eyes.’ Keyes’s apparent

empathy with the those who had died in battle before him, is

 regarded as the psychological and emotional context of

 ‘Two Offices of a Sentry’, as ‘the poet weeps’ for soldiers

‘whose eyes are full of sand’, and ‘who gave themselves to

 every moment’. There are occasions when Madocks’s

analysis goes awry, but this does not detract from the value

of his portrayal. For example, the claim that Keyes and Madocks’s

father shared the same ‘mordant wit’ in the face of death, is

 not reflected in his poetry, or, at least, not in comparison to

 the ironic exposure of traditional notions of bravery that occurs

 in Keith Douglas’s ‘Gallantry’:    

Was George fond of little boys?   
We always suspected it,   
but who will say: since George was hit 
we never mention our surprise.   

Again, it is hard to escape the impression that Keyes was less closely

 attuned to the ‘cynicism and the careful absence of expectation’,

that Douglas regarded as being ‘a true reflection’ of the ‘state of mind’

 shared by many others to whom he had spoken, ‘not only civilians

and British soldiers, but Germans and Italians’.   

Nonetheless, the inclusion of eighteen of Keyes’s most effective

poems immediately after Madocks’s portrayal, does highlight

the poet’s most effective qualities, beginning with the lyrical

 compassion of the closing lines of ‘Elegy’, ‘We shall never forget

 nor escape you, nor make terms / With your enemies, the

swift departing years.’ Keyes’s affinity with folk song is

another trait that becomes obvious in these poems,

not least in his use of full end rhymes and elegiac,

or balladic stanzas, as in ‘The Cruel Solstice’: 

Tonight the stranger city and the old 
Moon that stands over it proclaim 
A cruel solstice, coming ice and cold 
Thoughts and the darkening of the heart’s flame. 

Ultimately, it becomes impossible to disagree with

 Madocks’s conception of Keyes as an exiled lover,

in harmony with nature, but at odds with the violence of

 his time. The same is true of the suggestion that Keyes was

 one among many young soldiers to have felt the fatalistic

weight of history, and who thought of ‘others’ 

who held 
Their stinted plot of mind with awkward courage 
Against the logic of historians 
And women’s quick contempt. And were not forgotten. 

So far as the latter condition is concerned, The Rising Flame serves

 as a reminder of Keyes, the man, and Keyes, the poet.

Rod Madocks, therefore, exceeds his own father’s wish,

by remembering both Keyes, and the impact that the young

 poet had on his fellow trainee officer, J.E. Madocks, the man

who ‘was given a bunk next to Keyes’, who ‘wanted Keyes’s

name to live on’, and who ‘took care’ to share, with his son,

the pleasure he took from his comrade’s The Cruel Solstice.

Buy these books:

Ship of Fools book cover

No way to say goodbye book cover