Thanks for the Squaddie reviews and some rambles on writing

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by Steven_McLaughlin, Sep 27, 2009.

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  1. To all of the blokes who’ve posted reviews about Squaddie I just want to say a big thank you for taking the time and for your kind and supportive comments; as a first time writer I can’t begin to tell you how much your praise means to me. I place particular emphasis and attach great importance to the views of the military community, because in my heart you represent my core constituency, and I hope that the words I have written will resonate and chime with your own experiences of being in uniform.

    For me, writing Squaddie was all about chronicling the lifestyle and adventures of a typical ‘Infantry bod’, albeit from a decidedly untypical background. I wanted to portray a side of military life that had never really been touched on before (or so it seemed to me), and in a level of forensic detail that was new and unfamiliar to the general reader. So I focussed the core of the narrative on the journey through basic training and the CIC, the everyday experiences of the Private soldier in his peacetime UK battalion, and then the emotional rollercoaster and personal introspections that we’ve all faced on operational tours; those times when we at first face that fear and begin to wonder ‘What if it’s me that doesn’t come back and why am I really here…’

    Basically, I wrote the book that I’d like to have read before I became a soldier, so that I’d have known EXACTLY what those first few years would’ve been like, for better or worse. I was also trying to construct a text that anybody outside of the military, with only the faintest interest in our world, could pick up and say ‘Now I know exactly what it’s like for those guys, at home and abroad. I understand how and why they live the lives that they do.’ My greatest wish is that a parent or serving soldier will one day pick it up and pass it to their loved ones, simply saying ‘This is what I do and this is who I am’.

    Anyway, whether I succeeded or not only time will tell. All’s I can say is I did my very best to accurately portray my life as a squaddie and I tried to be as objective as I could - although as an individual writing an autobiography it’s damn hard not to be subjective at times! Indeed, how can one not be?

    I’m often asked for tips and advice from soldiers’ who’re interested in writing their own stories but are a little unsure of where or how to begin, so here’s my answer: begin at the beginning, because all stories, however great or small, have to start from the same point. There are no magical remedies or shortcuts, and in any case who the heck would want them anyway, because you’d be depriving yourself of the magic and joy of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and seeing YOUR story drink in new life. It took me four years of blood, sweat and tears to write Squaddie and it devoured every second of spare time that I had, but the rewards are worth it and I can’t recommend the experience highly enough to you.

    So if any of you are thinking about writing then for God’s sake stop thinking and start doing! If you can spend a solitary hour at your PC for five days a week, writing perhaps 500 words a session (just a couple of sheets of A4 or a long arrse post!), then you’ll be producing 2500 words a week on average. Do that for a year and you’ll have the first 100,000 word rough draft of a book. But that first draft represents only the rough beginnings and you go back over it line-by-line several times, adding, subtracting and editing as you go along in order to sharpen, correct and hone the text. Have gallons of hot coffee on standby and be prepared to burn the midnight oil until your eyes stream and your fingers ache and you’ll get there in the end.

    Anyway, I think you get the picture so I hope the above’s been useful.

    A final word regarding Squaddie: it’s not War and Peace and I’m no Tolstoy (oh if only!), nor am I a former member of ‘the regiment’ who’s been schooled in diving through windows over a twenty-plus year career. But what it is, is quite simply the best of me and what I could produce by my own efforts – both in literary terms and military service.

    So thanks again gentlemen for posting such thoughtful remarks which have brightened my day – and thanks for taking the time to read my story when there are far better writers and soldiers than me in this world.

    It means a lot to me.
  2. Personally, although I am still in the selection process, I found your book witty, honest and very readable.

    It was quite genuinly one of those books I simply could not put down. Well done!
  3. Thanks a lot Mazur - your comments are greatly appreciated my friend and I'm glad that you got something out of the book, because you're exactly the sort of lad that I wrote it for.

    Good luck with the selection process and keep your chin up no matter what. I was quite lucky in many ways because when I went through basic I knew that the best way to survive was simply to do what you were told and NEVER question anything.

    So when your pal screws up and it's you that gets punished DON'T point this out to the NCO; and when your rifle is superbly clean but someone in your section's looks as though it's been dipped in raw sewage don't grumble at the collective beasting you'll receive either. It's all part of the mind-game and they're just trying to get you gelling as a team, and nobody's picking on you or bullying you. Just get your head round that and you'll be fine, no matter how much muck they throw at you!

    Another top tip is that fitness is king, especially in the Infantry, and it can be a bit of a ‘get out of jail’ card in basic and battalion. Basically, if you’re fit enough you can really impress the hell out of the training team watching over you – although they’d never be so kind as to say it to your face, it’s just a primal quality that they love to see in soldiers. On the downside, if you’re not truly fit then they’ll be all over you like a pack of hungry jackals, and life will seem cruel for a while. Unofficially, lots of scores get settled on long tabs and training runs; if they think you’re a good lad but unfit then they’ll encourage you; if they think you’re a slacker and not fit then they’ll make your life hell and seize upon it as an opportunity to grind you down.

    Here’s a nice little pre-joining routine that worked wonders for me, even though I was 30yrs old at the time:

    Three good runs a week between 5 and 10 miles; the short ones sharp and fast, the long ones slow and steady.

    100 press ups a day Monday – Friday; do them in sets of 25 at a time if you struggle at first.

    Two intensive weight lifting sessions in the gym focusing on building core-strength: Bench presses, Squats, dips and chins.

    Do the above for three months and you’ll be one of the fittest lads when you join, guaranteed.
  4. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    I’m often asked for tips and advice from soldiers’ who’re interested in writing their own stories but are a little unsure of where or how to begin, so here’s my answer: begin at the beginning, because all stories, however great or small, have to start from the same point.

    "I like a story with a beginning, a middle and an end - but not necessarily in that order.'

    Luc Besson (IIRC)
  5. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    How does one go about getting a signed copy then?
  6. Biped if you want a signed copy I think that you’re probably best trying to pick one up off Amazon, or just popping your head into a random Waterstone’s and seeing if they’ve got one available. I don’t have an agent and I’ve had to do all my own promotions for the book, so whenever I pass a bookshop, wherever it is, I nip in and sign any copies of Squaddie that they have. I have a small cadre of store managers in certain Waterstone’s branches who’ve been incredibly supportive and kind enough to allow me to conduct regular signings, so if you’re ever around these areas there’s a chance you’ll find a signed copy:

    All Manchester stores,

    I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding one because I kid you not when I say I’ve signed literally thousands, so there’s a lot of copies kicking about. I’m based in Lancashire so that’s my core area really, but I do get about a bit and I always check on every single shop that I pass. Anyway my friend, as with young Mazer, I can’t thank you enough for expressing an interest and posting on this thread.

    It’s a strange feeling when you write a book that I’d say is almost akin to giving birth to a child; you care about it deeply, irrationally even, and desperately want it to succeed. One of the reasons that I do so many signings and try to forge a connection to my readership is not only to sell books, but also because I feel profoundly grateful and responsible to them – like I owe it to them almost.

    When you think about it, for many people £8 (the cost of Squaddie) is actually an hour’s hard work for them, and as a working-class lad I know that it’s spare cash that they can ill-afford to spend on non-essentials like books. So to me, I think that the least I can do at a book signing is have a chat to them and sign something meaningful and personal. I’m actually deeply touched and flattered that anybody would want to read my story, let alone pay out hard cash for it, so the fact that I was merely published at all is something I never take for granted and am extraordinarily grateful for.

    I’ll never forget that a few years ago I went to a signing an author was conducting who’d had several best-selling books published, and whom I’d long admired for his sensitive literary prose. Well my God, how mistaken was I? – he was a complete tosspot and pretentious you-know-what! He barely even acknowledged me and actually yawned when I asked him how many hours a day he wrote for. I walked out of that shop more than a little crushed and I remembered the old saying that you should ‘never meet your heroes’, because inevitably they’ll disappoint. I also vowed that if and when I ever sat in his high chair, I’d make damn sure that I gave readers a lot more than a subtle nod and phoney smile. Anyway, I’m still no where near his position (although I am trying!) but I’ve never forgotten the lesson he taught me.

    Thanks again for your interest!
  7. Hi Steven,

    I am afraid I haven't read Squaddie, however, I'll buy it for my hubby for Christmas. I just wanted to echo your sentiments about giving birth to a child and writing because I feel exactly the same. I felt like Immediate Response was my baby that I had nurtured and worried about it, but unlike my children who I am not planning to send out in the world and be judged and reviewed by the GBP, I then I have to wait with intrepid anxiety to see if everyone has enjoyed the fruits of one's labour. I think like yourself, I have had to fight for the right to be a writer. Publishing is a nepotistic business and it's not always what you know, or even surprisingly the calibre of your manuscript but who you know and how you communicate with them.

    I think writers like the one you met can be arrogant, nonchalant and dismissive about the readers and they take their privileged position for granted, which is what happens when you are not living dreams you have fought for.

    Even now after such success you are only as good as you next idea until you become an established brand with a loyal readership. Then they get them ghost written by writers who need the work and writing is their talent so that they can keep up with the churn and the demand and continue to feed the lucrative brands.

    Publishing has sadly become about money - more than it is about literature. The charts in the bookshops are paid for by the publishers, mass retailers dominate the supply chain and dictate a books success or failure, the general public demand a window into the lives of coveted celebrity. The independent bookshops are fading away.

    Books are dying a little every day as we are bombarded by information and technology and have less time to devour words when there is so much else to do which is easier to receive.

    I am trying to be savvy - I am pitching ideas that have commercial merit for publishers looking for the next big thing but it can be a bit soul-less all this formulaic writing. It means that new literary talent doesn't stand a chance unless it's commercially viable at the same time.

    Good luck Steven and continue fight the good fight. In my mind your perspective is on the nose and I hope that you are duly rewarded for your positivity and openness.
  8. Hi Arrse –Bandit,

    Thanks a lot for your thoughtful message – I can see that you’re rapidly falling pray to arrse-addiction too. (God I’ve just re-read that and realised how awful if sounds; I am straight – honest!) Anyway, my hearty congratulations and salutations to you for writing what you rightly say, is an important book for our times that ought to be celebrated: Immediate Response. For sure, this book has gone right to the top of my reading list and I’ll be devouring a copy ASAP.

    It’s funny but the recent spate of helicopter memoires has brought back many happy, and some not so happy memories for me: whenever we went up in a Chinook in Iraq I was one of those unfortunate souls who was always sick; it got so regular that the pilots used to joke about it ‘oh bloody hell, not him again!’ It didn’t help that the pilots always had to perform evasive manoeuvres and would rapidly swing the juddering contraptions about like giant bloody fairground rides, to stop anybody from locking on. I’ll never forget too how your helmet would bang and vibrate against the metal skin inside. So more often than not I was sick. I always passed it off as an upset stomach or travel sickness – but that was only partly true – because it was raw and naked fear that also caused me to spew.

    So as far as I’m concerned we can’t sing the praises of men like Major Hammond DFC too much, and it’s good to see that the flyers are finally getting the reward and recognition that they deserve – and not just the blokes on the ground.

    But aside from the sickness and fear aspect I loved flying around in the choppers and it’s the aspect of army service that I miss most. I particularly liked going up in the Lynx’s in Northern Ireland and it didn’t play with my head quite as much as Iraq did; probably because the threat level was lower and the air a lot cooler and fresher.

    Happy days indeed, and I miss them…

    Regarding becoming published and all that entails, I’m writing a second book at the moment and then I’m planning to attempt fiction. I’ve got a loose idea for an anti-hero type who REALLY turns against society big time, after he’s subjected to a great betrayal by the system. I daren’t give too much away on here save to say that this man will hopefully be an unforgettable figure from the first page, and as soon as you read the prologue you’ll desperately want him to succeed.

    Anyway my friend, as with all things, we shall see…

    At the moment I’m working as an ESOL teacher and trying to get down about 3000 words a week, but it is hard and to be honest sometimes I don’t hit my target and do a bit less. As I’m sure you’re now aware, unless you’re selling well into six figures every single year then you’ve got absolutely no chance of making a living from writing books and nothing else because the returns are simply too low. So aside from making your name and enjoying a little piece of ‘fame’, however you define that, nothing really changes.

    Bur hey, we write for love, right? That’s the main thing that makes us put pen to paper and whatever else comes along is merely a nice bonus. For example: here’s me with all these big ideas and I haven’t even got a contract for my next book yet. But what the hell – I’m still going to write the damned thing and enjoy the ride come-what-may!

    Thanks for dropping me a line Arrse-Bandit