I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Friday, January 4, 2013



This blog is something of a new departure for me for it is primarily addressed to the good people of the State of Montana. It really is one of those bizarre realities of our brave new online world that you can crash out words into a computer and sling them out into the ether in the general direction of a place many thousands of miles away. I am afraid I one of those who is at an age where all this stuff still seems way too weird to get the head around. Whatever!
So. Background. Why should a middle aged guy sitting in a clapped out cottage in the South of Scotland be sending out an open letter to inhabitants of the Big Sky Country?

I will do my best to be brief.

I do two main things with my life. I am an author and over the last ten years or so I have written seventeen novels. When the Amazon Kindle store asks me to categorise them, I tend to choose the options ‘Thriller’ and ‘Urban Life’. I guess most readers would consider me to be somewhat hard bitten and cynical. Most of the subject matter that fills my novels tends to come from the darker corners of our modern world - drugs and terrorism and the murkier areas of the State.

Why is this?

It is probably down to the second big part of my life which is running a small charity in the town of Dumfries. Most of those who come through our doors find their lives in a pretty bad place. We issue 2500 emergency food parcels every year. We help out families pulled apart by drink and drugs. We try to steer young women at risk of violence as a result of drug addiction clear of the dangers they face.

And then we support veterans from the wars our country has fought over the last half century and here is where the blog starts to point towards Montana.

About a year ago we lost one of our guys. He was called James and he was a fine a young man as you could ever wish to meet. He was six and a half feet tall and as strong as an ox: one of those big, quiet guys who would do anything for anyone. More than anything else, he had a steel core of decency running through his heart that was probably his undoing. Many times I could sense that he was on the verge of talking about things that had happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, but every time he eased himself back into his own private world. I never pushed him. To have done so would have been the wrong thing to do. Such memories need to be allowed to crawl out from the depths of the mind in their own time. I told myself there was no hurry.

I was wrong.

On a cold, cold morning last January my phone rang with the news that James had hung himself. Why? We will never really know for he left no note. All we do know is that he must have figured his life had reached an impossibly dark place for him to have taken such a path. On a few occasions he had touched on events he had been involved in which clearly troubled his sense of decency. Things he had done. Orders he had followed. Things that had made sense in the adrenaline fuelled insanity of combat: things that seemed questionable and abhorrent in the normality and calm of Civvy St. Did it all become too much on the wee small hours of a bone cold January night? Maybe. Probably.

It seemed like half the town attended his funeral and his loss is still felt. As a writer I felt that one day I should attempt to come up with something to recognise and remember James. A couple of weeks ago I suddenly remembered a story I had written three years ago with a main character that resembles James in many ways. The character in question is Nathaniel Kane and here is where this blog at last meanders its way to the point for Nathaniel Kane is a rancher from Montana who signs up to be a weekend soldier with the Montana National Guard only to find himself put on a plane to the raging war in Helmand Province at the time of Operation Panther’s Claw.

James often talked about times he had spent with American soldiers both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like all British squaddies, he was hugely envious of their top of the range equipment and he took any opportunity he could to tuck into food shipped out from the other side of the pond. He always spoke with great respect and affection of the young soldiers he had spent time with, both and in and out of the combat zone. I guess this was when I first made the connection between real life James and my fictional Nathaniel Kane.

One of the things that prompted ‘Brief Encounter’ was the dim and distant memories of the Sunday afternoon movies of my boyhood. My dad was an absolute devotee of two particular genres: anything about World War Two – his boyhood – and cowboy films – which he had come to love as a boy. A standard World War Two film from the 60’s almost always showed the Brits and the Yanks standing shoulder to shoulder against the Nazi tyranny. Looking back, there was nothing so very far fetched or fictional about this. We did indeed stand together in a war that was absolutely right in every respect. I have spent two of the most searingly gut wrenching afternoons of my life looking round the camps at Auschwitz Birkenau and Dachau. Time spent in those manifestations of Hell is enough to make anyone respect each and every soldier from all corners of planet Earth who came together to see off Hitler.

We have both stood together many more times since 1945. Sometimes the wars we have fought as allies have been broadly supported – Korea, Desert Storm and Kosovo. However, in more recent times this has seldom been the case. There are not many left who support what both our Governments have gotten us all into in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And so it was that my mind drifted back to those movies from my youth when John Wayne and Rob Mitchum and Burt Lancaster hooked up with John Mills and Richard Burton and Sean Connery, and everyone was more than happy that we were allies.  Next came the question of how to work this into a story without it being tacky and pathetic. Two characters would be required, one from either side of the Atlantic. I live in a wild, rural area of hills and valleys with a long and proud tradition of raising cattle, many of which have made their way to the cattle country of the States – we both share a love for Aberdeen Angus. So Character Number One would hail from Galloway, Scotland. So how about Character Number Two?

I have visited the States twice and once visited a cattle lot in a one horse town in Texas called Plainview. There were certainly plenty of cattle – about 30,000 if I remember rightly - but the whole set up was dismal, bleak and industrial. I have few fond memories of Plainview. So Character Number Two would have to come from cattle country I had never visited in person. Here is where I was drawn to Montana thanks to the books of Nicholas Evans. I loved each and every one of his books, most particularly ‘The Loop’ which I have done in both a paper and audio format. Where is the movie by the way?

So here’s the thing. All the Montana sections of ‘Brief Encounter’ are care of Nicholas Evans and Google. The Afghanistan sections are mainly care of listening to James. Whenever I write about events or places I have not actually known in person, I am always interested to hear from readers who have. Hence this blog which is aimed out west. Is the Montana in ‘Brief Encounter’ a decent reflection?

Once the ‘place’ side of things was squared away in my mind, it was time to move onto the ‘Who’? Two characters, but what characters should they be? How would they meet? How would a bond be forged? What kind of bond? This of course is standard author’s fare and it has been so for centuries. It is the way that fate can throw people from different worlds together in the most random of ways. And much to my own surprise, it seemed absolutely right that the Scottish character should be a female and all of a sudden the story became a romance.

This certainly came as something of a surprise and any readers familiar with my books will be frowning and scratching their heads. It is fair to say that romance plays a very minor role in my books. Why on earth had this unfamiliar road appeared? I thought about it a while and realised that it was once again down to those dimly remembered movies of my youth. It was once upon a time pretty standard Holywood fare for trans- Atlantic romances to be at the heart of Second World War films. Let’s face it, such story lines were hardly far fetched either. There was a pretty major coming together between British lasses and American lads during the long build up to D Day and many British lads were not exactly happy about it!

So the threads came together, the bones of the story took shape and I knuckled down and wrote the thing. Which only left the issue of a title. In the end it was a no brainer.

‘Brief Encounter’. 

For me, David Lean’s 1945 classic with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson comes in at number three on my all time list of favourite romantic movies. So why not name the book after either number one or number two? Well to be honest calling it either ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Doctor Zhivago’ wouldn’t work at all. ‘Brief Encounter’ on the other hand worked perfectly, so ‘Brief Encounter’ it was.

The story then sat for three years buried away in the files on my D Drive and to be honest I had all but forgotten it until recently. This of course is the absolute beauty of the Kindle. Publishing. A story no longer needs printing presses and ink and delivery trucks. And there is no longer the insurmountable problem of how on earth an author from nowhere-ville South Scotland can possibly get his books into the bookshops of Montana, USA. Kindle makes the Pond so much easier to jump across. So I’m jumping.

You can click the link below to download yourself a copy of ‘Brief Encounter’. Right now it is free of charge and it will be so for the next five days. After that it is available for the princely sum of 99 Cents / 75p which hopefully will not break the bank even in these dismal times. I guess it isn’t going to make me rich, but I gave up on the idea of books leading to treasure many years ago. Then again, if Robert Redford should decide to make a movie of it I won’t do any complaining!

So that’s about that. I am delighted to offer ‘Brief Encounter’ to all of you in far away Montana. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think. And James, wherever you may be right now, I hope you’re happy enough to be remembered through Nathaniel Kane. I kind of know what you would say to this idea, but it will have to remain between you and me because it certainly isn’t printable!


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