Writing

Winner of the SAW Constable Trophy

The presumption that others would will wish to read one's scribbling reflects conceit. Unless, of course, you have been invited to do so or your writing is so good that you are doing literature a favour. I simply had the urge to scribble. At primary school, I wrote comic verse, all of which my mother scrapped when I left home. In the Navy, I scribbled to amuse the troops whilst on patrol. When invited to speak at dinners, I wrote speeches to perform. Now 'in retirement', I try to deploy my life's experience.

My long term ambition has been to write the funniest book ever written. So, on retirement from the Navy, I attended three writing courses at the Arvon Foundation, Moniack Mhor, where the first draft chapters of this masterpiece were so well received in play format that I was urged to send them to the BBC. I did. They did not reply. Some years later, having joined the Helensburgh Writers' Workshop, I won the Constable Trophy for 'Best Unpublished Novel' in the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) annual competition. The adjudicator, Katie Grant, a broadcaster, author and journalist, was effusive in her praise and clearly loved the humour. After many rejections, I found an agent who warned me that the words 'comic novel' were 'guaranteed to send a London literary agent running for the nearest fire exit.' However, he said that it had made him laugh and he would attempt what would be a difficult sell. It was. It didn't. Four years later, I have re-styled it to qualify as a 'satirical drama' under the new title of 'Penguins Don't Start Wars'. I await a further market test (April 2020). 

In the meantime, I have published three books of humorous verse: Colquhounsville-sur-Mer, Democracy for Birds and Love Songs for the Romantically Challenged and my epic memoir of the Cold War, On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service.

On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service

On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service, was snapped up at the first offering and published in March 2018 by Casemate (UK), the British wing of an American publisher which specialises in military history, which goes to show that it is easier to find a publisher for non-fiction than for fiction.

This book was written primarily for readers who knew nothing about life in the Submarine Service during the Cold War and not specifically for the military history market. However, the latter is a very good market and the book has sold extremely well. Indeed, Casemate regard it as one of their best sellers ever and will be bringing it out as a paperback in September (2020).

Oh joy! Oh rapture! It was voted runner-up in the Mountbatten Best Book Award in 2019, a national compettition with thirty-eight books on the short list. 

On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service

'Penguins Don't Start Wars'

'Penguins Don't Start Wars' is a work in progress. Under the working title of 'Panic Attacks' , it won the Scottish Association of Writers' (SAW) Constable Trophy for best (unpublished) novel. The Adjudicator, journalist and author Katie Grant, critique 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 Harry Hawke 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: 'Harry Hawke 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.'

(The manuscript is currently with my agent).