Aspiring author seeks assistance and opinions - INTRODUCTION


Dear all,

I’m currently halfway through writing my first novel, "The High Cliff" (about a former British soldier working as a private military contractor in Baghdad) which I predict shouldn’t take me more than a couple of months to complete after I finish at uni for the year. I’m currently considering various ideas for future projects. Whilst I do believe it’s very possible for me to develop a series of novels in the same vein as "The High Cliff", I’m also looking for other material to write about. I’m mostly interested in writing military/political thrillers. Something similar to "Dog Soldiers" would be fun to write, but I'm planning to hold off on throwing supernatural and/or sci-fi elements into the mix for now until I'm a bit more experienced and sure of myself.

There’s one potential idea that I’m looking into at the moment that seems rather appealing to me. The basic premise is that a political party wins a national election with defence (improving procurement, the way our wars are fought, that sort of thing) as their leading platform. The new PM decides that one way to help him get re-elected easily is to at least be seen to attempt to make good on his promises made during the election campaign, particularly with regard to defence, so instead of appointing a lifelong politician as Minister of Defence, he remembers a military historian he saw on the telly a few years earlier who had some intriguing attitudes and ideas.

The historian (for simplicity’s sake I’ll refer to him as ‘H’ as I haven’t named any characters yet) is thus installed as Minister of Defence, given carte blanche and assurances that he won’t be replaced at any time during the next two years, possibly longer if things go well, and told to get on with it. The PM believes that if everything all goes wrong, at least he’ll be able to fire H and blame him for the mess, and if H does well then the PM will be able to hog the credit. Ideally H should be able to operate for six years in office. (I admit that at the moment I don't know how I could keep the book balanced whilst covering the events of six years without it becoming huge even compared to the likes of Tolkien’s works, but I'll burn that hurdle when I get to it, which will be after I've got a basic plot sorted out.)

The bulk of the plot would revolve around what this H does and why, obstacles faced and so on (rather like Michael Dobbs's "House of Cards"), and various situations involving the Armed Forces or requiring British military action of some sort, which would illustrate how the results of the changes and shake ups would be practically applied, how they’d affect the Armed Forces’ ability to undertake such actions and what have you. There would be quite a few scenes based on the experiences of members of the Forces and a host of sub-plots as a result.

I've come up with a lengthy list of possible things that could be done - equipment that could be procured, possible changes in practices, recruitment and retention policies and other bits and pieces. I've also been working on a document that... well, at the moment it's just a handy way for me to remember everything. (If I ever finish writing it and the book ever gets written, it may be possible to incorporate the document in the text as a fictional white paper or something, possibly in an appendix.) The working title is "The Development of the Forces".

I’ve asked Mr Happy about all this, seeing how he’s the moderator for this forum, and he's approved my starting a few threads here to ask for opinions and advice with regards to my suggestions and theories about the sort of things to portray being done. I’ll aim to do separate threads on each major field. What I’m trying to come up with are policies and operating practices that could be implemented, equipment that could be purchased and structural shake-ups that could take place within no more than six years – ideally I’m interested in kit that either already exists or could be built after adapting the design of something that exists. (Okay, some research and development projects could be started within that time, but many probably wouldn’t yield results within those six years.)

I know that some people (such as Lewis Page) have written various treatises about the state of the Armed Forces, what we should do about it and so on. However, these aren’t very widely read – some members of the Forces, some of their relatives, and the occasional rather odd and rare sort of lifelong civilian (like myself) buy and read them, but for the most part people either don’t take an interest, can’t understand the harsh realities of the Forces and what it is they do, or simply find such treatises too heavy-going for their tastes.

Stories, however, are different. I won’t blather on about this (I refer you to "The Science of Discworld II: The Globe" by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen if you want the in-depth explanation: these worthy gentlemen can explain it far better than I can.) but the short version is that story-telling is a technique humans have always used in order to pass on lessons and information – morality tales, that sort of thing. It’s simple and easy, it combines the imparting of lessons with entertainment which makes it easier to digest, and doesn’t necessarily require an audience to think very much until after the event when they start chatting with their mates about it.

Maybe I’m being ambitious, even too ambitious. I know that at the end of the day it might not result in anything much, if at all (well, if it sells I might make a living out of it) but…well, fiction has occasionally been known to influence public opinion. I know it’s a long shot, but I can't help but feel that it’s got to be worth a try.

I’m not an expert (I've got flat feet, dodgy muscle coordination and reduced capability in all five senses) and I don’t want to try and come across as some lairy walt with an ‘I know everything’ sort of attitude. I just want to be the best bloody writer I can possibly become and write believable fiction involving the British Armed Forces. I definitely want to avoid situations where several years down the line, professional soldiers get five pages into one of my books before coming to the conclusion that it’s total sh1te and a complete waste of their hard-earned cash, and now only useful as a bog roll substitute.

I don’t particularly want fame and I don’t want people constantly singing my praises - I just want to be a damn good writer and be able to make a living from it. I’m no soldier. I never will be, and I know and accept this fact. I’m hardly labouring under any delusions here.

But whilst I’d make for an absolutely crap soldier, I can – at least potentially – become some sort of good writer in the future, with time and experience. I need help doing that - I need to know if I'm making some sort of colossal bodge up, or if I'm on the wrong track, or if I've got the right idea about something. I'm looking for opinions and advice, to know what will and won't work. All I ask is that if I've got something wrong, please explain why that's the case, and the same goes if I've hit the nail on the head - constructive feedback will be invaluable to me.

As I put up more threads (probably a new one every week or fortnight, depending on how busy I am with uni work - I'm usually up to my eyeballs in the stuff, occasionally fitting in food and sleep around my workload) I'll update a list of the various threads and their links: at the beginning of each new thread, I'll include the link to this thread. (Hopefully this should make finding them all a bit easier.)

Part One - The Infantry:



Other (Recruitment and retention, bureaucracy, MOD budget, etc.):

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