Tag Archives: Andy McNab

Bookwitch bites #138

If I was in Manchester this Saturday, I could celebrate Harry Potter turning twenty. But I’m not, so I can’t. It’s slightly premature, but that’s all right. If all his birthday parties happened at the same time, we couldn’t go to all of them. It’s the lovely people of Manchester Children’s Book Festival (oh, how I miss them) who are Pottering this weekend.

Strangely, I had been thinking of Andy McNab recently, and here he is popping up in the Guardian, no less. Andy has opinions on how children learn to read, or in his own case and that of many others, how they don’t learn. Yesterday saw the 2017 batch of Quick Reads launched, and as always the books look fabulous, and I’d like to pop out and get all of them. I hope many of them will reach a large number of readers who need books like these. We obviously ought to have many, many more Quick Reads, and not only once a year.

In times like these it almost feels as if we need to look for news that isn’t too bad, as opposed to actively good or wonderful. These are also times when far too many people turn out to have misplaced their spines at some point, now that we could do with a few more good strong backbones.

Malorie Blackman is doing the right thing in saying she won’t be visiting the US in the near future. Hopefully this is one of many actions that will be instrumental in changing what must be changed.

Barry Hutchison is someone who acts instead of talking. You will remember Tommy Donbavand who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and whose livelihood of writing books and making school visits was threatened by his illness. He was optimistic that he’d be able to write while getting treatment, but found he was far too unwell and exhausted to do much. So not only did his good friend Barry alert the rest of us that help was needed, occasionally writing Tommy’s cancer blog, but he actually stepped in and wrote Tommy’s books for him.

Tony Higginson, David Gatward, Barry Hutchison, Tommy Donbavand, Jon Mayhew, Philip Caveney and Joseph Delaney at Scarefest 3 - photo by Sean Steele

Deadlines have to be met, and while I’m sure Barry might have had the odd deadline of his own (there is a steady stream of books from Barry), he wanted to help Tommy, and knowing quite a lot about what Tommy had planned and what his books are like, he wrote a book and a half for his friend.

That’s friendship! If I ever need a friend to rummage in my sock drawer I suppose I shall have to ask someone else, because Barry is a very busy man.


Is it ever OK to kill off your Granny?

By this I mean when you ask for time off work to go to Granny’s funeral. I’ve heard of people who have rather a lot of grannies. It’s obviously easier than ‘killing off’ certain other family members. You are allowed to start with two, and some might well have more, with steps and so on.

But is it that the skiver forgets they killed Granny last time, or do they reckon no one remembers? Maybe they don’t like their Granny very much, so puts less emotion into her death, while forgetting that those around them might feel very strongly about both their own, as well as the dead grannies of others. Or does the faker feel it is so natural, they assume we all do it?

If you ask me, I will quite possibly tell you I feel fine. I might even go so far as to say my Christmas was lovely, thank you. Or my holiday. Those can be lies. It’s hard – and I understand socially unacceptable – to burden your small talk counterpart with the dreadfulness of your life.

So those are lies I will fairly willingly tell. (And you look divine in lime green, btw.) But I assume you might half expect me to smooth over the holiday that was a disaster from beginning to end, and you could hear me coughing, so would be able to tell I’m not entirely well.

But what other lies are acceptable, once we become adults? OK, income. In Britain you don’t tell people how much money you make. And if you mention a sum that sounds either too low or too high, I might guess you were pulling the wool over my eyes, for some reason.

Omission is another way of ‘lying.’ Or waffling about something else, all of a sudden.

Daydreaming is one way of escaping reality for a while. As a child I found it used to send me to sleep, so for years I’ve used it to send me to sleep. But whereas I can then be as pretty, thin, rich, or whatever, as I like, I can’t go round telling you stuff like that.

Andy McNab

I could if I was an author writing a book. I’d be expected to daydream up some plausible and entertaining lies. The closer to the truth they are, the better it will be. Fantasy or fairy tale, they still need lots of realism one way or another.

The power that goes with creating whole worlds could be addictive. But I’m guessing authors know when they’ve switched off their computers and are part of normal life again. Although, some cover their tracks by adopting pseudonyms, and with people like Andy McNab there is a certain camera shyness. Panama Oxridge goes one step further, and we don’t know who (s)he is. I’m looking forward to the Sefton Super Reads 2012, where (s)he has been shortlisted. Will (s)he turn up? Send someone else? Be ill?

I suppose it would almost be OK to make up a slightly more glamourous/ adventurous/or some other -ous persona in order to attract readers. But surely there must be a boundary somewhere?

Personally I would prefer for someone I know to kill off their fourth Granny in order to get a day off work, than for their Granny to have died for real. I’m not sure what that says about me. When I had ‘headaches’ as a child I made sure I stayed in bed and really suffered. What I would have been trying to avoid was always far worse than faking it all day.

Trying to remember. Did I invent siblings? Rich relatives? I suspect the worst. But it was definitely done at an early age.

An Act of Love

This new novel by Alan Gibbons is the perfect book for male readers. I hope that doesn’t sound wrong. There are not enough male teen novels, and this one is of political as well as human importance. Young people need the kind of good example someone like Alan can set them.

It’s about war, but a more real kind of war that feels far removed from the Andy McNab type of war. It’s also a very working class story, which made me realise quite how middle class (or ‘worse’) much fiction is.

Chris and Imran are neighbours and they grow up together. They are the best of friends and they always do things together, until terrorism and politics and religion get in the way and they eventually go their separate ways.

Chris becomes a soldier and goes to fight in Afghanistan. Imran is found by religion and risks being brainwashed into terror deeds. An Act of Love begins at the end, almost. We are then taken back to various stages in the boys’ lives from about age eight. The reader finds out what happened to the two of them.

This way it’s clear how much we are all pawns in a much bigger game. I hope it will show young readers that they need to think for themselves and to learn to value friendship. We see the fears of the Millennium bug, then travel in time via the 11th September in New York and the 7th of July in London, before arriving in the war which is still being ‘fought’ and looks like it won’t ever end.

Evil and prejudice will always be with us in some form or other. But hopefully this book can give us some hope. It’s funny how Imran’s mother describes herself as a Yorkshire girl, shocked at encountering racism and being told to go back where she came from.

The pace makes for breathless reading as you approach the end. Having begun at the end, the plot moves towards what ultimately has to happen, after twelve years of back-story. Imran and Chris are still teenagers, and they have both seen too much.

I hope this book will open many eyes.

‘At least she’s reading…’

But what? And does it matter?

It’s what my cousin said about her daughter many years ago, while admitting that most of the reading might be comics. I agreed, and still do. Up to a point.

At the end of the 1970s I used to hang out in an Italian restaurant on Queensway, and got to know the staff rather well. As their boss, the slightly scary Madame, saw me reading a broadsheet newspaper she was awfully impressed. She sighed as she mentioned Italian Waiter and his daily perusing of The Sun. ‘But at least he reads…’ she said. ‘None of the others read anything at all.’

Mrs Pendolino, my hairdresser, isn’t one for books most of the time, but my interview with Andy McNab caused her to buy one of his, which is nice. And I forced another book on her once, in my eagerness to share.

The editor of Vi magazine wrote about this in the latest issue. (Not about my hairdresser. About people who don’t read enough.) She was shocked that the only two books her eldest son had been required to read by his secondary school were two recent, popular, but light novels. They didn’t come across any of the big names in Swedish 20th century literature.

Then she mentioned interviewing the Queen. As you do. There had been no Swedish author that Queen Silvia had been influenced by, nor did she have anything on her bedside table. It could be, of course, that Silvia (as we call her) has only been influenced by authors of other nationalities. It’s also possible that she didn’t realise the bedside question was about books. Maybe she keeps her reading material elsewhere? I do. By my bedside you find a lamp and an alarm clock.

And the King watches football, and doesn’t use his seat at the theatre. Maybe he needs to relax with sport? He’s dyslexic, and I daresay that reading books might have been a very low priority when he was younger. We don’t know that he doesn’t listen to audiobooks in his sports car.

But the thing is, each generation is a disappointment to the one before them. And each generation is taught by a newer generation of teachers, so slowly we will move towards fewer books and lighter reads. It’s a shame, but any dumbing down is caused by the parent and teacher generation. The young don’t automatically dumb down.

As for myself, I didn’t read what my teacher – born about forty years before me – enjoyed. I believe that what I read was fine, but I do feel sad that Offspring aren’t reading those books. No doubt they will feel sorry for theirs, who will not manage Harry Potter or His Dark Materials.

The Andy McNab interview

Whether or not the man I interviewed in Birmingham the other week was an impostor, at least it was the same impostor as turned up in G2 a few days later. I’d recognise the man behind those cucumber slices anywhere! Also gather that my way of taking photos of Andy’s sleeve must have caught on, since it seems that some television channel or other did precisely that when Andy talked to the opposition leader. Please note that he met with me first. Everybody needs a sense of priority when they have a busy week.

So, read the interview, and see what sort of man and writer this former soldier is. His interest in getting boys educated is heartening. Enticing reluctant readers to open a book is another thing to admire Andy for. I remain to be convinced of the necessity for his anonymity, but it does make for a different kind of meeting. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is nice.

Andy's nose

Boy heroes

I’ve feasted on this boy hero (or killer….) stuff all week. Meeting Andy McNab (or not?) and finally reading Joe Craig’s Jimmy Coates, and now I’ve polished off my active week with the latest Alex Rider. I suppose he’s proof that I’m not entirely sequel-proof, since I think this one might have been Anthony Horowitz’s eighth.

At first I found the ‘warming-up’ adventure in Scotland a little boring, to be honest. Although I was on a hot and crowded train for 100 pages, and maybe being slow-roasted made me slightly irritated. But it was soon back to normal, with Alex skipping school and almost getting killed in ten different ways in a very brief period of time. Again.

I suppose it’s what we like? Daughter wondered if the fact that Alex turns 15 means there will be no more? He could settle down with Sabina and grow wheat, or something.

Wouldn’t be surprised if charities now hate Anthony for opening our eyes to how easy it is for them to manipulate us and our feelings and more importantly, our wallets. Mind you, as your resident cynic I didn’t have far to go.

Crocodile Tears (that’s the title, btw) has yet another mad baddie, of the kind who conveniently sits down to boast to Alex at the end, so that we all learn exactly what’s been going on. Why do they all do that? From gambling in a Scottish castle to a GM lab in southern England and on to Kenya for the big finale. Even Mr Blunt is getting a little bit soft, and I wonder who Anthony based his new Prime Minister on? He’s an idiot.

Unlike Jimmy Coates, Alex may not set out to kill people, but he does, regardless. And for a blonde he’s quite intelligent and resourceful. Could we have him as a brunette next time, if there is a next time?

At last, the other ***

This is where it happened

The Mailbox, Birmingham

and this is who I met there. Andy McNab

My alert readers will immediately deduce who that sleeve belongs to, and that the asterisks above indicate that after blogging about Scandinavian Airlines and the Scattered Authors, I have finally met the real SAS. I mean, the real SAS for me is the airline, but it’s the ‘cool and dangerous’ SAS this time.

I met Andy McNab in Birmingham yesterday. At least I hope I did. I went into this bar and started chatting to the first balaclava-ed man I saw. It was him, wasn’t it? With all other writers, if I don’t know them, I google them to make sure I can recognise them. Doesn’t work with Andy. Not that he’s called Andy, anyway. This one tried to suggest he’d be Terry Pratchett today, but you know me. I know my Terry Pratchetts well, and it wasn’t him. He tried it with the wrong witch.

Andy’s lovely publicist Sally had suggested that I might want to interview him. And I did, seeing as I missed him at the local bookshop three years ago, due to someone’s unfortunate lack of understanding my likes and dislikes. The Daughter got to meet him then, so she didn’t need to come this time. Especially since the services of a photographer wasn’t top of my list for Monday’s outing.

The witch had tea and this man in the bar had coke. Whoever he was, we had a nice conversation. He looked rather like a Guardian reader, now that I come to think of it. That doesn’t mean we actually read the same newspaper. In case he wants to sue.

As some of you will want to know what Andy had to say, I’ll now work diligently at transcribing our conversation, and I will strive to make up a really good misquote, because he seemed to quite fancy being quoted wrongly, as long as it’s a good one.

And no, he didn’t really wear a balaclava. It would have attracted attention.

Drop Zone

The witch is not your average Andy McNab girl. Not in the slightest, although she has a lingering fondness for Alistair MacLean, and they are a little related. Andy does that thing which I approve of, which is to write about what you know. And he really does seem to know about skydiving, as well as covert operations and weapons. And stuff.

He writes macho books with plenty of action in an easy to read style, which ought to be ideal to get boys of all ages to read.  I enjoyed his new book Drop Zone more than I’d expected, and that’s despite reading with a cynical mind. So, if you want male adventure and a light read, you can do worse than to try Andy’s book.

Drop Zone is about Ethan, who is 17 and who lands a really different summer job at a skydiving centre. It doesn’t take long – naturally – for him to go from helping in the café and in the shop, to doing skydiving himself. From ‘simple’ skydiving it’s a short jump to joining the skydive team and their rather more secret tasks for MI5.

The skydiving and the centre is totally believable. The covert operations less so, but what do I know? Whether realistic or not, it’s exciting. It’s a page turner, and Ethan’s exploits could well be a model for uncertain teenage boys to follow. I’m never sure whether army ideals are good to thrust on impressionable young minds, but the alternatives are often far worse.

Harrogate crime

The Harrogate Crime Writing Festival starts today, unless I’m very wrong. I’m not going to be there. Some other year, perhaps.

What I find interesting is seeing Andy McNab on the list of attending writers.

Nearly two years ago he came to Simply Books, and I didn’t see him. We were having to economise at the time, so when they advertised a surprise (“secret, but you won’t be disappointed”) event, I asked whether the surprise was of interest for me. They thought not. It was all very hush hush, and absolutely no cameras or mobile phones.

Daughter was invited through school, so she went, mobileless, and all. She found Andy interesting, and I think I would have, too, so I wished I’d gone. The idea with the secrecy was that he mustn’t be identified, and even appearing in a photo with his back to the camera wasn’t allowed, really.

So, was it a stupid gimmick? Or will he be wearing a balaclava in Harrogate?