Progressing

FOUR WOMEN AND A TORPEDO

It is the height of the Cold War. The Brodick ferry is torpedoed. The news hits the headlines before the Navy has an explanation. The Ministry panics. Is this the start of World War III or a cock-up? The public need to know.

The First Sea Lord expects Commander Jack Frobisher, an ace submariner, to manage the crisis but four women are pulling all the strings. Elsie Cathcart, a Soviet undercover agent, is the only one who knows what happened. Amanda Hadden, the Ministry press secretary, has to invent a cover-up. His wife, Emma, begins to date a philandering colleague and the influential Countess of Sannox calls for his boss to be sacked. Jack has problems.

In this fast-moving satirical thriller, the reader is led into a hidden world of internal Ministry politics, Naval nonsense, ruthless ambition and backstabbing. With the author's insider knowledge, absurdity is cloaked in authenticity. This really could have happened. 

(The manuscript is currently with my agent).


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This book won the Scottish Association of Writers' (SAW) Constable Trophy for best (unpublished) novel under the working title of 'Panic Attacks'. In awarding the prize, the Adjudicator, journalist and author Katie Grant, said:

'Comedies set amongst submarines of the Cold War are, in my experience, unlikely winners of literary prizes, but I found this one irresistible. The story is set during the Cold War. Our submarines need a new torpedo, and Oscar Burgess, at the Admiralty Underwater Missile Establishment, designs Valhalla, a revolutionary torpedo with the brain of a Killer Whale. At the test firing in the Clyde, control over Valhalla is lost and it sinks the Brodick ferry, which is carrying a cargo of prize bulls. What's not to like!'

Within moments, I was smiling at the easy sense of the ridiculous, for example, the description of Jack Frobisher as a besuited model from an advertisement and his wife as a 'refugee from Oxfam'; by the preposterous and quite believable situation - we're in 1975 and in the middle of a cockup both lethal and laughable - and the plausibility of the utterly absurd, for example the summoning of the Second and Third Sea Lords for high level discussions on the protocols of writing in coloured ink. There's a wealth of Naval knowledge cunningly employed in this submission.

'I felt I was reading about a world with which the writer was effortlessly familiar. For example, at a meeting in the Office of the Secretary of State for Defence, after a vigorous exchange of views, we have Spiggot - that's Admiral Sir Rodney Spiggot, First Sea Lord - looking ready to explode because the most senior civil servant in the Ministry has mocked the Navy in front of the Secretary of State. This knowledge of the hierarchy adds buckets of authenticity, which is just what a book like this needs if it's going to work. The writer is letting us into a world which he knows well and we don't but we'd like to.

The writing is, at its best, crisp and sharp.

Doctors Oscar and Helen Burgess were Portland's odd couple. He was a theoretical physicist and she an applied hydrodynamicist. Both had avoided romance until their late forties when the Admiralty's personnel department had thrown them together in the design team for Valhalla. How Cupid finally fired his arrow remains unexplained. Rumour had it that encrypted messages had been transferred between their computers. When they became electronically interconnected, it was game over. It was generally accepted that the happy couple would one day conceive a prodigiously gifted torpedo but a son and heir was presumed to be beyond the scope of their scientific considerations.

'The dialogue is brisk and filled with the kinds of expressions I'm sure are heard every day in the service, e.g. 'Don't shout it all out like that. It sounds like you're drilling a squad of one-legged ballerinas.'

'The pace was speedy and there are memorable scenes. For example:

Jack Frobisher knocked boldly on the First Sea Lord's door. He entered the inner sanctum. There he found the combined ranks of the First, Second and Third Sea Lords deployed around the coffee table in enormous green armchairs. On the table was an array of differently coloured inks, three pink gins and several sheets of paper on which the great men had clearly been practising their signatures.

'I enjoyed this entry very much. It comprised an originally absurd plot, some lively writing, some real style and it made me laugh. I salute the writer.'