Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Map Of Africa

Eddy Nugent and the Map of Africa is now available for purchase. Once more, our discerning clientele can access another 200 pages of military high jinks. As ever, we've had real fun writing it. Some of the earlier stuff was committed to paper way back in 2003, in those heady days of more hair and less beer belly. When we wrote the chapters about Belize, Ian and I were just at the start of our (uncivil) partnership and trying to find our way as writers.

We'd already submitted portions of an incomplete manuscript to several literary agents, who dealt with military authors. The response was less than overwhelming and could have killed lesser men. It seemed like we'd fallen between two stools. The usual military enthusiasts were only really interested in the memoirs of retired Special Forces soldiers or people who were fourteen or fifteen ranks above anything myself or Ian achieved during our service.

"But it's funny!" we implored.

"We don't want funny," they replied, "Give us steely eyed killers in the night and people who can disable you with the top from a pen, for that is what our public desire"

"But quite a lot of that is simply fabricated, squaddies being inveterate bullshitters and all that" we counselled.

"Bowl off, you filthy ex-signallers. The public lap that stuff up. Your tale of mundane hilarity has no appeal to the man in the pub who likes to know the in and outs of sniper rifles despite never having travelled outside his own post code"

Suitably admonished, we realised that the only way ahead was self publishing. It was a moderately tortuous route that we may never have travelled, had we realised it's pitfalls. However, the end result was very satisfying and we had that tangible thing known as a book, that people could finally lay their hands on. For anyone who's never gone into print but has dreamt of doing so, the feeling of having something you have written, turned into the thing you've spent your life borrowing from a library or buying from Waterstones, is a very satisfying one indeed. The cover was pretty basic but summed up our attitude towards the genre. No matter how hard you look you won't find ammo box writing, bullet holes in the letter cavities or a ghostly, subdued SAS capbadge hovering in the background.

We just got somebody (Ian's brother-in-law) to dress up in 80's Army PT kit and do an exercise familiar to anyone who's ever passed through basic training, a star jump.

After a year of the book selling well, a publisher noticed us and decided to take us under his wing. Dan Collins at Monday Books decided, rightfully, that if the book was reissued it would need a new cover, something that said 80s, humour and military. We were all really happy with the result.

It made us laugh, which was it's principal function. The spindly, pale body of the model, with calf muscles that looked incapable of generating forward propulsion was exactly what was required. He was the complete antithesis of the soldier as depicted in most literature and far closer to the truth.

Once again the book did well and has become a much loved tome within the British military community. The publisher hoped for more crossover (thus generating sales and lucre), but it seems that the lovers of Harry Potter and The Bourne Supremacy were less enamoured of stories that showed young British lads swearing as much as they possibly could, whilst being subjected to mildly medieval punishments for transgressions real and imagined.

The feedback we received about the book has been the cause of real pleasure to us both. Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting those horrendous wars with little time to breathe or think, dropped us notes and emails to say, "Cheers fellas, the only fuckin' time i've laughed in six months."

Worth writing a book just for that, really.

Anyway, sorry to have dragged you round our brief literary careers, but we're now at the point where Eddy Nugent and The Map Of Africa is about to be released. We love it. There are a couple of opinions floating around that it might be a little bit too graphic (or coarse) to generate the Holy Grail of commercial crossover, but we can live with that. After much to-ing and fro-ing we came up with another great cover, which definitely provides a flavour of what might be found within it's pages.

As with Picking Up the Brass, we're just hoping it gives people as many laughs as we had whilst writing it. Courtesy of Alison at Clear as a Bell PR, the radio, press and TV interviews will now start to happen and i'll keep people posted on here.

The first one is on Channel M on Friday (teatime). Channel M is Sky Channel 203. Get it SkyPlussed because you'll be heartbroken if you miss it. It'll be the equivalent of walking in from work just after Neil Armstrong's got back on his spaceship, saying "Wow, that was amazing."

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Gaming Baton

On a recent, lazy Saturday afternoon, I took the opportunity to watch my two eldest boys enjoying an extended maiming session on the Xbox game, Halo 3. The game was very interesting. I’m still ‘techno-shocked’ enough to stand there in open-mouthed amazement whenever I watch one of the current titles being played. The vast landscapes and almost limitless arrays of weapons seem like a world away from my own childhood gaming experiences.

Being exactly 40, I pretty much caught the first wave of computer games and avidly embraced their electronic distractions. Thankfully, I was just too late for Pong, but the perfect age for the ZX Spectrum, Atari 2600 and the design classic arcade games, ‘Galaxians’ and ‘Pacman’. Attempting to obliterate the high score on Galaxians in Timmy’s shop on Lloyd Street, Moss Side earned me my first detentions in school. If it was a toss up between being fifteen minutes late for assembly or putting those beautiful three initials up on the board, the choice was elementary.

From that moment on, I’ve lovingly played pretty much every console and format to date. During my time in the army, arguments about guard commitments or other duties were often decided over 18 holes at Atlanta or by attempting to place the best time against Ayrton Senna at Silverstone. When I bought the X-box, it wasn’t really for the boys. I was looking forward to pitting my wits against some of the console’s best games, but life kept getting in the way. My full time job, parenting responsibilities for four children, management of a kids football team and fledgling writing career all conspired to reduce the time I could allot to wrestle zombies or ski in Spitzbergen.

My eldest had been round to the house of a pal and had come back wide-eyed and jabbering about Halo 3 and the breadth of it’s gameplay. Coming from a kid that had recently spent most of his time on Lego Batman, it warranted further investigation. I bought a cheap copy from a local shop and placed it in my boy’s grubby mitts. It seemed like it was in the machine before he’d actually opened the box. I left the two of them to it, but was interested to see what all the fuss was about.

Though the game itself was clearly fascinating, it was much more interesting to watch the two boys playing it. They morphed into individuals entirely at home with the machinations of intergalactic politics and they had no problem with manipulating complex weapon systems, taking time to compare their effectiveness in the despatch of alien organisms.

For the first time in my life, I felt out of my gaming depth. My input was entirely redundant. When I could see trouble brewing, I made the occasional suggestion. I was almost exclusively ignored, but every now and again I was treated to an exasperated, “I know, Dad!” the phrase I used to use when my dad was telling me how far he had to walk to the shops in rural Ireland in the 1940s.

With a game like Halo 3, the staples of old fashioned gameplaying are scarily absent. You can just wander about if you feel like it. You’re not on the clock or being chased by an end of level boss who can only be defeated by the insertion of tomorrow’s dinner money, as well as todays.

I then committed the sacrilegious act of asking for a go, the modern day equivalent of the popular 80’s refrain, ‘Give us your last man, mate’ After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I was given the handset only to be quickly overcame by a being, brutish in name as well as nature, who promptly battered and killed me. I sheepishly handed it back, feeling like a Penny Farthing rider at a velodrome.

A generational baton has been passed. I can still dip into the classics and have a go on the newer games when no-one’s looking, but my days of weekend long sessions to master a backswing or tight bend are long gone. That’s fine and it did make me chuckle to watch my two lads using terminology about plasma weapons and magnetic fields with such ease. It seemed like they would have had no problem blagging their way into a job at a British Space Academy, if such a thing existed.

The increase in the complexity of games has seen the gradual erasing of the line between reality and make-believe. I have no doubt that there are thirty-eight stone people who haven’t seen the light of day for a year or two, with fingers like a Woodbine smoker, from the constant ingestion of Wotsits, who firmly believe that playing golf is, ‘A piece of piss.’ How hard can it be, for they have mastered most of Britain’s championship courses in a couple of months. In fact, they’ve achieved more than an actual golfer, because they did it in semi-darkness, whilst drinking from a three-litre bottle of Irn Bru.

Pubs up and down the land are filled with military experts, who’ve gained all their qualifications and credentials from marathon sessions on the Call of Duty series. It is no stretch to imagine an actual soldier returning from Afghanistan only to be abused in his local, by a gargantuan, pisstank warrior for using incorrect nomenclature when referring to equipment or operations.

“So it what was it like in the ‘stan, mate?”

“I’d rather not talk about it if that’s alright?”

“I bet you used loads of Claymores, eh?”

“I’m in the Royal Engineers, we were trying to build a school”

“That’s not proper soldiering!”

“Oh, sorry. Are you in the infantry?”

“Well, no. I drive for Eddie Stobart, but I’ve played Medal Of Honor Airborne, so I know all about, it.”

“Isn’t Medal of Honor Airborne set in the Second World War though?”

“Yeah, but don’t tell me that you can’t employ tactics used successfully in built up Dutch towns equally successfully in a post-apocalyptic Helmand province. I should know, pal, I’ve got a HGV licence.”

Maybe my boys will never have to do an actual job, but can simply treat themselves to online occupations where there are simply no limits. Like George Formby, they too can win an FA Cup Final, become a boxing champion and ride the winning bike in the TT Races. Unlike George, they won’t even need to master a musical instrument or sing mildly suggestive lyrics to help ease their path to success.


Thursday, 20 August 2009

How the 'Other Half' Live

Being a published author isn't generally all it's cracked up to be. Whilst I'm eternally grateful- not to mention hugely surprised- that someone would be willing to part with their hard earned shecks, to read anything I've written/co-written, I, like almost everyone else, still have a normal day job out of utter necessity.

I'm the late 30s fattish, balding dude, with the work ID pass around his neck, buying a fizzy drink, packet of crisps and sandwich from Sainsburys.

I really am your John Q Average in your average job, it just so happens that my job is in telecomms.

Now I'm a great believer that wherever you work, you will come across generic workplace characters. Boring bastards, bullshitters but predominantly decent folk.

It just so happens that I have the ever present, modern day snob in my vicinity.

She will wrinkle her nose in disdain at anything from a car with the wrong badge, to the wrong postcode. A young Hyacinth Bouquet- ever ready to pounce on something she believes incorrect from a mis-pronunciation to someone expressing a liking for instant coffee.

For the sake of saving blushes I won't mention her name but the other day I was treated- through the medium of being within ear shot of her phonecall- to a startling insight into her life.

I don't know if I'm suffering memory loss as one might find in a head injury victim, but I really can't remember anything she said before or after the following line, and it went something like this,

"and you'll never believe it, but he touched the dog's tuppence......"

I think my mind shut off at this point, but the next minute she was extolling the virtues of Waitrose supermarkets.

Now, I joined The Army at 16, travelled the world with some of lifes greatest and most colourful loons, but I honestly don't think I ever witnessed such an act.

For once in my life I aired my socks on the moral high ground.