Once again, I’m a bit behind with my blog posts, but I do have a good reason: I’ve been trying to get everything sorted for the publication of Devil to Pay, and it’s been a bit more complicated than Not Only the Ink is Black. More about that in my next blog post!
For now, I want to explain why I suddenly seem to have turned my attention away from the 14th century world of dysfunctional politics and swords, to the 21st century world of dysfunctional politics and guns. It’s not that I’ve abandoned medieval writing – far from it. But, in order to make a decent living from writing I’ve decided to write for a second genre – that of the action thriller, as well as take up the mantle of ghostwriting again (specialising in military and adventure topics). It will mean a lot of work but there again, I like doing it – and it keeps me out of mischief!
To people who have not known me long or do not know me well, it may have come as a bit of a surprise that I have such an interest in modern weaponry and special forces – so I’d better explain how it all came about…
I think the prime influence was my dad, who was completely barmy about aircraft. Back in those days, the local airport (now Gloucestershire Airport) had a fantastic annual airshow which included not just the vintage Spitfires and Hurricanes, but also contemporary fighter jets and transport planes. Most of them couldn’t actually land at the airport, but they afforded us some wonderful displays. My most vivid memory was of a Vulcan suddenly launching into a steep ascent just above my head – every atom in my body felt as though it was being scrambled. But, oh, what a wonderful thing!
My dad also used to take me to the airport every Sunday morning to watch the planes coming and going. In those days there were regular flights to Jersey using DC3s which are still one of my favourite types of aircraft. By the age of ten, not only had I become a seasoned plane watcher and identifier, but I also knew what was in the cockpit of an aircraft, and could recite the phonetic alphabet backwards. I desperately wanted to become a fighter pilot, and my greatest hero (who also became a pen pal of sorts) was the amazing WWII pilot Sir Douglas Bader (the one without legs). Of course, I was soon disappointed in my future aspirations by learning that women could not become fighter pilots and that my dubious maths skills would never be good enough. And then my eyesight became less than 20/20 too.
Throughout my late teens and early twenties, I must admit that military things passed over my head somewhat, although I still went to airshows when I could. At times I even became a bit of a pacifist, hating anything to do guns, armies or aircraft that could kill people. That stage didn’t last long though – not when I really thought about how the world was.
At some point in 1996 I then had a dream that had a huge impact on my life and writing career. It involved a woman (me) running through an abandoned school building seeking cover as bits of wall exploded around me from bullets. I also had some sort of gun which I fired whenever I got the chance and I needed to head towards a perimeter chain link fence which I knew was necessary to my survival. The dream was extremely vivid and I found myself reliving it and adding to it during the day and turning it into the start of a story. From there, my first (unpublished) novel, Hellyon’s Stand, was born.
However, as I was writing it, I realised that I didn’t have any knowledge of guns or modern-day infantry warfare. I started to build up a pretty good library on these things and, in addition, sought out someone who might be able to help me. In the latter I was lucky enough to chance across an ex SAS NCO who not only was extremely helpful, but also gave me my first paid writing work. He became, and still is, a great friend of mine. The next few years saw me becoming pretty well clued up – if only in an armchair way – on special forces, weaponry and survival. I was hooked. In fact I was so hooked that I applied to join the TA, even though I was basically at the top edge of the age limit (and was old enough to be the mother of some of the other recruits!). It never worked out though as, although I was pretty fit in other ways, I could not (and still can’t) run! In fact I injured myself trying and three weeks later was also diagnosed with asthma. So that was the end of that!
After my dad’s death in 2001, I took the chance to go to university to study English Literature and Creative Writing at BA and MA level. With the courses mainly concentrating on literary fiction, I was drawn into writing more ‘literary’ pieces, although now and again a harder edge managed to sneak in – such as a piece I wrote about the genocide in Rwanda from a victim’s POV. By the time of my MA, I was so bored with trying and failing to write something literary and clever for my thesis, that I amused myself with what I termed a ‘guns ‘n’ mayhem’ story just so that I wouldn’t get completely creatively blocked. I only ever intended it as a little distraction, but it became so much fun to write that it ended up as my main piece, even though doing so risked me not getting a good grade because: it was genre fiction; it was hard to fit literary theory to for an analysis, and my mentor/marker was a pacifist! Even so, it went on to get a grade that was just a point under distinction.
After uni, I hit the doldrums for a bit as I didn’t get the teaching job that I wanted and couldn’t afford to go on to do a PhD. What rescued me from this was the medieval fiction/fact – medieval history being another old passion of mine. And so, for quite a few years I focussed on that to the exclusion of all else. A few months back I decided to bring out and rewrite/repackage some of my old work and publish it myself. One of these was the former MA piece (now renamed The Devil to Pay). Extensive rewriting and editing followed and I found myself enjoying the ‘guns ‘n’ mayhem’ just as much the second time around. And then I began to wonder: could I actually write more of this kind of stuff? And could I write it alongside the medieval fiction?
It was a big question. I knew I had the writing skills and some technological knowledge, but I was worried that it wasn’t enough to make any story convincing. As it was I had someone from the army look over Devil to Pay for obvious glitches (the wonderful Colonel Richard Kemp to whom I am so very grateful). But I really needed to build up my knowledge again and perhaps find a few new friends in the military/ex-military camp who might be kind enough to put up with probably blindingly stupid questions about weaponry and tactics.
And so, that is where I am now – starting to build a new network of friends and contacts (using a second Twitter account so that the military people don’t get bored with medieval/writing tweets and vice versa). I suppose what I would like, in an ideal world, is to team up with someone with the necessary experience, knowledge and ideas for stories – but who can’t write or doesn’t have the time. Maybe between us we could formulate a damn good plot for a novel which I would then write and they could advise and suggest. That would be fun! I also hold a dream of getting on a proper firing range in a country that still allows the use of automatic/semi-automatic weapons and actually experience what it feels like to use them.
And in the meantime my books on swords, Edward II and medieval life are going to have to share some shelf space with weaponry guides and ex-SAS biographies!