Friday, 9 November 2012

Andy McNab author event

D, N and I attended this event last night at Huddersfield Town Hall and what an entertaining and inspiring man he is.  His official website is a fascinating read (and where I got most of this in depth service information) as are his books and his well-loved character Nick Stone.

When Andy was 16 he went into 'the Borstal System' (now known as Juvy) for a short, sharp shock.  Back then, the army used to recruit boy soldiers from this (according to Andy using a 'cool video of a helicopter pilot waving at bikini clad women on a beach) and he joined the infantry in 1976 as a boy soldier, after a three day test at Sutton Colefield.  Three months in, he was at the army education centre when he was told that the boys there weren't thick, they were just uneducated and that this was going to start from that day forward so that they could learn to read, gain knowledge and this knowledge would give them the power, so they wouldn't always have to do what others told them to.  The first book that he read was a Janet and John story, but the sense of achievement that can be gained when shutting the book that you have read, is irreplaceable.  He also read military history and Sven Hassell novels.

He was badged as a member of 22 SAS Regiment in 1984. He then served in B Squadron 22 SAS for 10 years working on both covert and overt special operations worldwide, including anti-terrorist and anti-drug operations in the Middle and Far East, South and Central America and Northern Ireland.  Andy recalled that he liked Northern Ireland because it had soft toilet paper when he was used to the baking paper stuff that gave you 'one up, one down and one shine' and he also recalled learning Swahili when he spent time in West Africa from Benedictine monks 'that were more interested in beer and were drunk by lunchtime.'

Andy is trained as a specialist in counter terrorism, demolitions, prime target elimination, weapons and tactics, covert surveillance and information gathering in hostile environments including VIP protection.  He has worked on cooperative operations with police forces, prison services, anti-drug forces and western backed guerrilla movements as well as on conventional special operations.  In America he was part of the first strike in stopping crack cocaine coming to the U.K. and was part of a CIA operation to Columbia to destroy the plantations and kill the men making it.  Andy informed us that drugs bring in $20 billion more than McDonalds, Kelloggs and another big brand name combined.  He explained that the mexican cartels have a very sophisticated drugs system including their own secure mobile phone system.

In Northern Ireland he spent two years working as an undercover operator with 14th Intelligence Group, going on to become an instructor and he explained to the audience that in order to get the confidence in that situation, you have to bluff yourself that you have a reason to be there and that he always told himself that he was there visiting his brother in law.

McNab also worked as an instructor on the SAS selection and training team and instructed foreign special forces in counter terrorism, hostage rescue and survival training.

In the Gulf War, McNab commanded the famous Bravo Two Zero patrol, an eight man patrol tasked with destroying underground communication links between Baghdad and north-west Iraq and with finding and destroying mobile Scud missile launchers.  They had to static-line jump to the power stations 4 hours before the air strikes began, destroy it and head south to their ERV under the cover of darkness.  The patrol infiltrated Iraq in January 1991, but were soon compromised when a boy herding goats discovered them and as Andy said, quite rightly made a lot of noise and ran away. A fierce fire fight with Iraqi troops ensued and the patrol was forced to escape and evade on foot to Syria.

Three of the eight men were killed; four were captured after three days on the run; one escaped. One of the four taken prisoner, McNab was held and tortured for six weeks. He explained to one audience member that he still suffers from nerve damage to both hands and kidney damage, but when he was first released he also had a dislocated shoulder, liver damage and had contracted hepatitis, yet after six months of medical treatment he was back on active service.  Andy said that he was lucky in that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can hit 15% of people 10-13 years after the trauma and that they would need professional help, but that for another 20% it would benefit them and that he was one of that 20%.

Andy McNab has written about his experiences in the SAS in three bestselling books, Bravo Two Zero (1993), Immediate Action (1995) and Seven Troop (2008). Bravo Two Zero is the highest selling war book of all time and has sold over 1.7 million copies in the UK. It has been published in 17 countries and translated into 16 languages and the CD spoken word version of Bravo Two Zero, narrated by McNab, sold over 60,000 copies and earned a silver disc. The BBC's film of Bravo Two Zero, starring Sean Bean, shown on primetime BBC 1 television in 1999 was released on DVD in 2000.  Andy explained that he wrote Bravo Two Zero in 3 months after being approached by a publisher via his agent (following a 20 page treatment), but then he had to spend 4 months putting texture into it as it read too much like a report.  To achieve this, he read Touching the Void by Joe Simpson as it gives you the feelings and the sense of really being there.

Andy is now writing a new series of fiction with co-author Kym Jordan about one platoon's experience of warfare in the Twenty First Century. The first novel in this series, War Torn, was a Sunday Times bestseller, but he informed the audience that his publishers only formalised his working agreement with them 6 years ago.

Andy McNab has collaborated with scriptwriter Robert Rigby on the bestselling young adult thriller series Boy Soldier and has written another series of books for young adult readers, DropZone. He's also written two novels for emerging adult readers, The Grey Man and Last Night Another Soldier.  He was technical weapons advisor and trainer on the hit Michael Mann film Heat (1995) and spent five months in Hollywood working closely with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Val Kilmer. As well as advising on weapons handling and use, McNab was drafted in to work out in detail how master-thief De Niro would go about pulling off robberies on an armoured car and a bank, and how cop Al Pacino would go about tracking him down and stopping him.

Also a director of a Hereford based security company, McNab developed and runs a specialist training course for news crews, journalists and members of non-governmental organisations working in hostile environments (including war zones). The course is currently the only one of its kind in the world. He is also involved in training videos for the Ministry of Defence, lectures for the FBI and gives motivational talks for large corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.  He believes that the fantastic success stories Britain has, was instrumental in NATO considering adopting their practices going forward.

His new novel Red Notice stars a new character Tom Buckingham and the film is due to come out next year in April/May.  Andy is currently writing the next Nick Stone novel for release this time next year and he is 20k words in to the 120k novel.  He reveals that Nick's character is an amalgam of people he knows with a first person narrative.  He likens the process to writing first person as 'talking to someone in the pub' and believes the benefit to this is that readers invest in the character and then you can do whatever you want after this, but you must work out what you want the character to be before anything else.

Bringing the discussion right back to the beginning of the night, Andy explained that the average numeracy and literacy age of 18/22 year-old infantry recruits is still 11 and below and that he believes reading can change lives.  He does talks on the power of reading in the military and in prisons (he laughed that he gave a talk on how to escape Pentonville Prison and two days later there was an escape!) and that prison education gives qualifications in English, Maths, Geography and Management to educate people to a better life.

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