It was on a cold winter’s night that it happened. The distant whistle growing louder through the howling December blizzard by the second. The nice big, fat, juicy puffer train steamed pell mell towards its destiny, the hapless driver little realising that the track had just been ripped up (probably by pikeys, but that’s just conjecture).
Like the best train wrecks, it happened in slow motion. However, from the forest, ravenous eyes espied the smoking, twisted carnage. What followed was a classic ARRSE outing that ticked all the right boxes: denial, apology, furious back-pedalling – and in (almost) real time. Read on.
Meet Mark Powell. Mark ticks several boxes too: public speaker, security specialist, author, high-flying banker, and er… ex-SAS. Here’s the blurb:
Mark Powell was born in Sevenoaks Kent in 1963. His life to date has been one of International Assignments which best describe him as an extremely covert individual. Whilst his own dynamic and extraordinary life would provide the context for any action thriller, he chooses to write fiction with threads of fact. “Faction”. The latter part of his career has been spent as an executive for a well known International bank.
Mark Powell spent 12 years with the British Army, most of which served with the SAS. As such he is an expert in Anti-terrorism and Intelligence. He is a published author and has had an International career in Finance. In addition he is an accomplished and recognised entrepreneur, having appeared frequently on CNBC Asia.
Powell is a man of many talents, amongst them he is an accomplished artist and entrepreneur. This is Powell’s first novel and his second novel in the McCabe series is already underway. Powell lives in Singapore and has a home in France. In his first novel ‘Quantum Breach’ Mark uses his first-hand knowledge of the financial services industry, military manoeuvres and counter-terrorist operations to weave a spellbinding action thriller unique in the way it blends the uncertainties of the current financial world with terrorism and crime.
Mark is currently completing his latest novel, entitled Deep Six, which is centred on piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Recently Mark completed Anti-Piracy training in Oman with British Special Forces.
Quite a feller as I’m sure you’d agree? Based out in Singapore, Mark has carved himself out a nice little business and has even appeared on television as a talking head anti-piracy expert. He cuts quite a figure and is smart and articulate. What could possibly go wrong?
Let the Train Wreck Begin
It all started when ARRSEr somme883 brought Mark’s rather polished website to the attention of ARRSE. The site’s owner had apparently served with 3 PARA between 1979-87, seen service in the Falklands and also with Them. So far so good - and all perfectly feasible. The site had a number of galleries one of which was entitled ‘Parachute Regiment Days’ – containing images presumably taken by the site’s owner during his time with the Parachute Regiment. To the experienced eye, however, they appeared to have been ponced from other sources and were more recent in vintage, with a notable lack of SLRs, '58 pattern webbing, puttees… and any pictures of Mark himself. One or two images depicted individuals known to the airborne denizens of ARRSE (notably Jack Daniels) and one was of an individual since deceased. Basically, all the excuses the Waltenkommando needed to start digging. They didn’t have to dig very deep.
First stop: Facebook. Let’s ‘face’ it, Facebook is a monster and it’s used by billions of people – quite a few of them ex-paras who use it as a medium to keep in touch. Mike’s page was noticeably devoid of muckers. By now the Outrage Bus had been FP’d and a works ticket had been raised.
Mark was then contacted by certain individuals related to those who had featured in his gallery. Let the back-pedalling begin. Furious site editing ensued and he very quickly issued an explanation and apology for the photo usage and said that all further comment regarding these should be addressed to Major Paul Blair DSO, OC The Red Devils. Quite what the good Major had to do with this is unclear.
The pictures that were on this site under the folder ‘Parachute Regiment Days’ contained pictures that caused offense to members of the family and regiment, related to one of the people in the picture. It is with regret that this picture caused offence. The pictures were provided to me and used for the purpose of tribute to a regiment I have and hold in high regard. I do in fact support the Airbourne Charity with royalty donations from my books. Many of the characters in my novels are based on this regiment and that is why I used them. I further state that one of the pictures was not used to portray me, rather a character in my book. Sometimes the two get confused in the public eye. I hope this clarifies. All and any emails with threats are not justified as this was used with good intent. Public domain pictures often get used and I was not aware of the history. I have removed them so as to not cause further issues. All further enquiries on this matter please address to Major Paul Blair DSO, OC Red Devils. Thank you.
Then it started to get rather shouty, with all manner of individuals screaming ‘cock’, ‘fake’, (unsurprisingly) ‘walt’ and threatening this, that or the other – including death threats. That simply is not on. One could understand some slight irritation on the behalf of some, maybe some mild outrage from others - and a rustled newspaper and some harumphing from the likes of Blue Sophist and Cuddles. But calling for the bloke’s head on a plate is borderline psychotic – especially from a bunch of Army Cadets. Surely there had been some terrible misunderstanding?
The Inevitable Books
Mark is an author. That alone should lend him some credibility, even if he’s only written two books: Quantum Breach and Deep Six. The former a sneak peek in to the murky world of corporate banking and dodgy deals, and the latter throwing a spotlight on the even murkier world of piracy in Somalia – a subject that Mike specialises in. Mike even went as far as traveling to Mogadishu, the very heart of the viper’s nest, whilst researching Deep Six - surely an act bordering on insanity for anyone with a face as white as a swan’s arse in a snowstorm. [It was. And don’t call me Shirley.]
Life in Mogadishu
November 29th, 2009 by Mark Powell – Note from my diary
It was early morning and the sun was on the up in a blaze of orange when I stepped out of the safe zone. This being the AUA (African Union Army) compound. The streets were already busy, people going about their business.
The two men who were with me were nervous, I could tell by looking at them, their eyes darting around, taking in the many people that were now looking right at us. The grip they had on their automatic weapons was overly tight. A fact that made ME nervous. It meant they were on edge, never a good trait for someone holding a loaded weapon. They were in fact just boys, 19 at best, dressed in faded camo gear. But I guess in their land they were indeed men. We may as well have painted Army on our heads and a target on our backs. I had asked for a walk-about, covert, not a marching band.
I tried to walk a few yards behind them, just in case something kicked off. Like the day before, in the back of my mind is every kidnapping, every car-bomb, every western shooting – every morbid possibility.
As we rounded the corner, it happened, a loud crack, the sound of screams and people running in all directions. A young Somali, no more than a few yards in front of us went down hard. His blood soon staining the street as so many before him. I was pulled back and we headed back fast towards the compound.
As I later found out, today was not the day to venture out. The Al-Shabab had sent a warning, today they controlled the streets. The young Somali had simply been selected as the messenger of death. Life in the Mog is cheap.
I noted down, a typical day in the Mog, another dead body sadly meant a normal day.'
Anyhow, both Mark’s books are the predictable rip-roaring rollercoaster rides of action ‘faction’ – Mike’s trademark mixture of fiction laced with fact. This is also a literary trait of top action author Cyril Clunge and Mike’s writing style is almost identical to that of Clunge. The plot-lines for Quantum Breach and Deep Six are virtually word-for-word copies of Clunge’s bestselling works Hollow Point and Dead End. Coincidence?
Mark is the creator of Mark McCabe, a fictional character who appears as the central figure in his novels – again, not unlike the Jack Small character created by Clunge. McCabe is apparently based on a ‘real person’ who periodically contributes to Mark’s blog. For that read: McCabe is Mark Powell – or rather his alter ego, as McCabe’s writing style is suspiciously identical to Powell’s, right down to glaring grammatical errors. Oddly, there is a McCabe character in the 1994 classic actioner Kilo Two Zero - again by Clunge. Another coincidence?
Unimpressed of Haughton Regis
Read Margaret from Haughton Regis’s book review of Quantum Breach:
I was expecting a testosterone-fuelled, right of centre thriller - based on the blurbs/ previews and that's not really my cup of tea, however, a page-turning throw-away novel is just the thing for flights - or train journeys in my case.
Sadly it's too poorly written for that. I can't get into it because I keep picking out examples of really bad prose. It would definitely benefit from some judicious editing. The writing is generally mediocre except when it is poor, and it tends to be repetitive. The main character is apparently a glamourised version of the author - he only bothered changing the surname. He's supposed to be James Bond, sex-on-legs and is profoundly unattractive. Unless, presumably, you're turned on by people who drop everything in their get-away-from-it-all heaven on earth to murder someone in cold blood as revenge.
And the women? Well, obviously they are all sexy glamour pusses that have no interior lives or much connection to the real world. Bad Luck for Mr Powell that the name Pussy Galore has already been taken. I think Mr P must have read some 'writing for dummies' book that told him to put in colourful metaphors to spice things up because he throws in these ludicrously clunky lines all over the place. Still they do provide some light relief amongst the macho bull feathers.
Still I do have another 45 min train journey home this evening - maybe the last 200 pages are riveting! _______
No they're not - not by a long chalk. Powell never tells you anything once if he can tell you 5 times. Or more. The story is too slow-moving not least because he keeps tracking back to explain something - usually something that does not need explaining - or to fill in pointless details about something that's already happened.
He clearly wants you to side with the good guys. You can tell who the baddies are because they abduct & torture people. Unlike the goodies who interrogate people - by putting them in the boot of the car, driving them somewhere out of view, beating them, knee-capping them, sticking a steel rod into a bullet wound & then shooting them. I think the important differences are a) the goodies only ever torture and shoot bad men whereas the baddies slap a woman around and b) the goodies shoot their victims instead of slowly torturing them to death. But perhaps it's just the colour of their hats & Powell forgot to mention it?
Someone needs to explain to him the difference between infer and imply - the fact that this sort of thing jumps out at me is indicative of how gripping I found the plot. I'll ascribe the use of 'peaking' instead of 'peeking' to a typo in the print process.
He has a chick as 1 of his main characters. She's ethnically Chinese, 26 years old, beautiful, brilliant and good at her job. Naturally therefore she is also sexually available to random Englishmen 20 years her senior and after providing these services she makes everyone dinner. Presumably she gets busy on the housework whilst the manly men eat. She is so good at her job that someone insists she comes with him to Mumbai although her job apparently requires access to a computer and perhaps a phone - physical location being pretty much irrelevant. But the plot requires that she should be sent to Dubai & then Mumbai at short notice and thus great expense to her employer. Having got there she knocks off early & goes shopping. At least twice.
Er… so that’s a no then?
Storm in a Teacup?
The ARRSE walthounds are a dilligent bunch. Once they smell a rabbit, they’re off! Once they sink their teeth into that succulent rabbity flesh they seldom let the bunny go. And so it was that the by now obligatory YouTube trawl yielded a real pearler: Mike demonstrating his SAS survival skills for all to see. Ray Mears it was not. It lasted less than a day before it was pulled.
Even better was to come. Up crops a television item on CNBC where Mark’s expertise on Somali pirates is being used on an item concerning the effect of piracy on overseas investment. Mark had only recenty been on an anti-piracy course with British Special Forces in Oman funnily enough. The anchor introduces Mark as a former SAS soldier and Mark nods sagely. After all, it’s only a little porkie – and nobody this side of the Jahore Straits is going to notice are they?
Up until this point, there was quite some sympathy for Mark being hounded as he was by the usual suspects. But that little nod pretty much undid all the back-pedalling. If only he’d been introduced as a former REME Tiffy, and his website had a gallery-full of overturned Lannies and 4 tonners on jacks. Oh well.
And then this little gem was unearthed - complete with murdered grammar:
I often tell this story when i need to be reminded that humour can save the day. It is in fact not a story at all, but an actual account of what happened.
June 1982. Falklands
Close your eyes and imagine for a second a land far away – the wind is blowing hard around your ears. Its cold, bitterly cold. Your cloths are wet, so wet in fact you start to shiver and all you can feel is the numbness in your fingers and toes. The fox hole you are sitting in (Man made trench) has a few inches of muddy water sitting in squelchy pools around you. Three other guys are with you, suffering the same level of discomfort. The hole is not that big, maybe 9 feet by 3 feet deep. More a scrape than a hole. A few jaggy rocks around it give further cover.
Oh, I forgot to mention that you are surrounded by the enemy, 1km behind what is now their ground. Your coms are out, you are but for the grace of god, alive, but cut off and alone. Your only hope, stay calm, trust in your mates and keep your head down.
Moving at night is the safest way. Slip out under the cover of darkness. But add in here the fact we are not that experienced, four young lads who had no experience in real combat. Hollywood this is not.
As hope of rescue faded, and the enemy drew closer to where we were. Somehow the rest of our group had pulled back, during the day and a bitter battle. We were cut off. Darkness now our cover.
Tony, not his real name, flipped out, stood bolt upright and screamed. ‘We are dead, f…ing dead’ It took but a few moments to drag him down and shut him up. But it was clear we were all about to loose it. Panic is a beast that will kill you faster than any bullet. As the so called leader, I had to do something and fast, we had to move or die trying.
At that moment, Brian, stood up, he looked down at us all shivering and asked as calmly as you like ‘Who wants a beer, mars bar or even some dry bog paper’ he then broke a smile. ‘Brian, get down for Christ sake’ my words drifting off with the wind. ‘I’m off to the corner shop’ with that he vanished. Shouting after him was hopeless, we were in enugh trouble. Brian in my view had lost it and gone mad.
What seemed like eternity, maybe no more than 15 mins in reality, Brian jumped back in the hole and scared us all half to death. ‘Where the f did you go’ I asked. ‘The shop i told you’ he paused. ‘it was closed.' With that the four of us rolled around in fits, no one cared. It was the release we all needed.
The end, we finally escaped off into the dark and found our group. But we never forgot what Brian did for us. He knew also that he had to do something, his cheeky nature and the joke he played was enough to save us. You may not think it that funny, but to us it was the best humor anyone could have injected. He never did tell us where he went, but we didn’t care.
Quite. Now that little dit - from his (now defunct) website really grated with a few people - especially when it was plainly obvious it was all cod. Anyhow. By now the thread had degenerated into the usual melee of pie throwing and in-fighting, instigated by the usual suspects. But hey ho, c'est la vie.
And then, quite out of the blue... an apology. It must be stated that, in the history of ARRSE, apologies are rarer than live train wrecks. If the poster is indeed Mark then it received mixed reactions.
Thought I would join you to just offer a few comments. I apologize to all of you for allowing this to get out of hand. 1) The pictures on my web site were obtained from a stock image company and used to reflect some ideas around my character McCabe. I did not ever use to reflect they were me. They have been deleted and apologies sent to the families. I had no way of knowing who they were of.
As for CNBC and other media clips, yes I was indeed caught on the spot. To be frank I have never been on tv and I was stunned and could not hear. They give you an ear mic that feeds constant chat. I had been on some SF training courses as part of my research and thought they were talking to that fact. You see I take pride in the fact I do my research and go to places used in the books. Somalia being one example. It all got out of hand. I wrote to them after and told them never to use that term. I also told the media not to use the term spy, spook, SAS and all the other things I have been called. I even fired my PR company who played up on it.
At the end of the day all I wish to do is write my novels and hope you can find it in your hearts to accept this apology for how it all got blown out of hand and to be frank, some of you have jumped to the wrong conclusion. I actually do a lot to support the army and hope you see the god in that. Maybe one of you can help me, just be my technical advisor my my books. That way some good will come of t all. We can agree to donate some royalties...
Read All Abaht It!
On New Year's Day 2011, the Daily Mirror ran the sorry tale after (obviously) poncing it off ARRSE. Usual story: Outraged Heroes Unearth SAS Fantasist etc. Still, mustn't grumble. Another swastika under the cockpit for the Waltenkommando.
Yet again we have a saga that was entirely avoidable and there are obvious similarities with the Bob Spour affair and even shades of the Tom Carew mess. The internet is a double-edged sword and the ARRSE tentacles sprawl far and wide.
It's now June 2011, six months on and Mark seems to have reinvented himself as top action author [Yawn] Mark Knight. Mark apparently 'does' comedy too. No shit? Devilish perception Holmes!