Interview by Carl Marsh - January 2015
Your book reading fan base, especially those that have been behind you for a very long time, what message do you have for them?
I just want to say thank you, a very big thank you, to all the readers of my books old and new. I know there are some fantastic books out there for you all to read and enjoy, and so I have to get my finger out every time I write to make it the very best I can do for you.
Why do you feel it is important that people, and especially young people, should read more?
I regularly visit schools, young offender institutions and adult prisons pushing home this very point. It's a simple fact, the more you read the more knowledge you gain. The more knowledge you gain, means the more power you have to do the things that you want to do. But it just isn't power that reading gives you, it's empathy and imagination. Reading about different people, different worlds and different situations not only lets you understand things and events outside of your world, it also generates imagination, the world of the possible. How do you think the Apollo space missions or the iPhone happened?
If I could ask you about your favourite books that you have read, and why are they?
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Roman Emperor and scholar. While he was leading the Roman army on a ten year campaign against Germanic tribes, he wrote Meditations. How this guy decided to live, love and fight is so inspiring that even though he has been dead for nearly 2000 years, he has over 2 million hits a year on his website and he has his own hashtag. US gangs even use Meditations as a way to consolidate their cultures and take the fight to their enemies. Just like he did.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
For me Twain’s best. A slave and a homeless street kid on the run in American’s deep south.
Twain’s take on racism and slavery in ‘real talk’ was banned upon publication and stayed that way for decades and still remains controversial in the US. It gives you the real life ‘Django Unchained’ and being a Twain novel, it’s both moving and very funny.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Any book which has the influence to have coined terminology commonly used around the world should be read. Set in Italy during the closing months of World War Two with a US Airforce bomber squadron. The ‘catch’ is simple. If you want to fly the increasingly dangerous bombing raids you are crazy. But if you don’t want to fly, you must be sane and so fit to fly just like the crazy guy. War, money, sex and lunacy - simply brilliant.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
London in the year 2540 and "Community, Identity, Stability" is the motto of this Utopian World State. Babies are born in laboratories and humans are clinically detached from each other. But on the good side, you are able to fly to Sydney for an evening out. This is a classic science fiction work that continues to be a significant warning to our society today.
Have you been reading anything recently, if so, what is it and was it a good read?
I have just finished reading 1776 by David McCullough. No wonder this guy has won the Pulitzer Prize twice. It's a fantastic insight of the beginning of the American revolution. All the major players are there: King George, George Washington and just as importantly, soldiers accounts from both sides across all ranks.
Of all the books you have written, which one is your favourite, and why?
It was a 10,000 word story for the Quick Reads literacy initiative. ‘Last Night Another Soldier’ was the story of a young infantrymen in Afghanistan. It originally was a play that I wrote for the BBC, based on a Rifleman that I met on one of the trips I took to Afghanistan during the war, on behalf of the MOD. I guess it is my favourite because I got an opportunity to not only write about the war but more importantly about the young men and women fighting it. Since the book's publication, I've had hundreds of soldiers wives, parents and friends thanking me for giving them an insight into what their loved ones have been going through. That's a really good feeling.
Obviously we the readers know about your military background, and obviously your books have such detail in them that only a certain trained military person would know. So, when did you decide that writing was the choice for you?
After 18 years in the army, I got a job offer to work for a Private Military Company (PMC). With only four years left of my Army contract, I decided to take the job. That's when I was approached by a senior officer in the Army who suggested writing about what happened to me and my patrol in the First Gulf War. It had been three years since the war ended and there was so much conjecture about what this eight-man patrol, call sign Bravo Two Zero, had got up to. So I thought, why not? I was in Colombia working for the PMC when the book was published and it quickly became the biggest selling war book of all time. The publishers called me and said ‘You fancy writing another one?’. I had just come off a two-week patrol in the rainforest, full of zits and insect bites, and didn't think twice!
And what is the craziest/maddest non-military thing you have ever done?
It's going to happen this year. I was at a friend's house about eight months ago and as you do, we were talking a load of old shit. Then my friend said ‘Let's walk to the South Pole, it'll be like going into space!’ As I normally do when he waffles on, I said ‘Yep, let's do it.’ And thought no more about it. In fact, I forgot all about it until just before Christmas, when he called and said the trip is definitely on and he has even persuaded a few more mates to do the tab (army slang for covering distance on foot) with us. We are going at the end of the year. We have no kit at the moment and we need to start training fairly quickly, especially as a couple of our team suggested we also climb Mount Vinson on the way to the Pole too. Crampons and ice axes all-round! Next time I'm ever at my friend's place, I will keep my mouth shut.
What advice would you be able to offer anyone considering writing as a career choice?
It's simple, get writing! I've met many people who want to write but haven't actually sat down and got on with it. They tend to think too much about it instead of doing it. If you've got something down to read you have something to criticise. From there you can say ‘that’s crap, I don't mean that, what I mean is…’ That's what, for me anyway, gets the ball rolling. Only when you have something, that you can get something published. GOOD LUCK!
Do you miss the military, and if so, why?
I don't miss it at all because I always knew that it would end. My length of enlistment was for no more than 22 years so I always knew that I would be out of the army at some stage whether I liked it or not. For ten 10 years now I've been what is known as a ‘Talking Head’ for the MOD and military have kept connections since leaving and involved with military education as well as the advisory work that has been asked of me. I am also very proud patron of ‘Help For Heroes’ who continue to do brilliant work for our injured servicemen and women.
What will the next 12 months hold for you?
This year looks like one of the busiest ever. I am about 70,000 words into the next Tom Buckingham book and need to get my finger out as it's published in June. As soon as I deliver Tom I'm straight into the next Nick Stone which will be published in October. On top of that I have two films that are going into pre-production (fingers crossed) this year. One of them Buckingham, the other Stone, and of course there is the Antarctica tab…
I always end with a literary theme, so if you can give me your answer as if you were writing it in one of your books, “If you were an animal, what would it be and why?”
“I kept on turning the pages of ‘Cat Magazine Monthly' whilst keeping the trigger on the dental surgery's exit door. I felt sorry for him sat in the dentist's chair getting his molar drilled so that the silicon chip could be buried amongst the filling. I was sure there was an easier way for him to take the information from here to The Yemen but maybe he liked pain...
I was hoping he did because things were going to get a little worse for him this afternoon when I got to work on that tooth with my pilers. Maybe next time he'd think of stuffing a memory stick down his sock instead.
I waited and turned another page of Cat Mag. It was becoming pretty clear to me the animal who had got his life best squared away, was the cat. That’s what I now wanted to be - a big, fat, lazy cat, preferably owned by a doting little old lady. Cats just do what they do best - eating and sleeping. They don’t give a fuck about anyone or anything, and people love them all the same anyway.
The door burst open and my target darted across the hallway out into the rain. He had a flight to catch.
I reluctantly put down the magazine full of pictures of my hopeful reincarnation and followed him out, checking my jacket pocket for the pliers.”
Thanks Carl for the opportunity to be part of your website and I really like this cat thing. I think Nick Stone will be thinking this at some stage of his messed up life.