A Necessary Hell is the second Harry Brown thriller. I wrote the first one, A Killing Air, when trying to figure out where next to take my writing. I have written for over thirty years, starting off with four SAS-type thrillers under the pen name Doug Armstrong and published by 22 Books, a joint project by Bloomsbury and Little Brown in the wake of the success of Andy McNab’s Bravo Two Zero. They were a great apprenticeship that got me up and running.
Next came a historical fiction series published under the pen name Anthony Conway, by Hodder & Stoughton, featuring Gurkha Officer John Caspasian of the old British Indian Army, set in the 1920s and 1930s. I love big escapist stories, so a series involving airships, jungles, deserts, and Northwest Frontier mountains, with all the trimmings, seemed the way to go.
An ex-soldier myself, I had left the army to go and write for movie director John Boorman in Ireland, having pitched my idea to him for a movie about The Long March of the Chinese communists in 1935. We worked on it together in Ireland. After that I wrote another screenplay, this time on the life of French pioneer airman and author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a hero of mine whose books about the early days of flight and the resilience of the human spirit I had adored since boyhood.
My novel, The Moon Tree, came some time in between all of the above, and has been worked on across the years. It’s a big saga and my homage to the extraordinary Gurkhas, with whom I had the immense privilege of serving for twelve years, including the 1982 Falklands War. In it I tried to tell their story, but much more besides. A sort of credo, I suppose.
But what to do next? In response, Harry Brown came calling with that persistence fellow writers will recognise; when a character niggles at you, pushing his or her way ever more into your attention until they are standing smack in front of you, filling your vision and demanding to be born.
I wanted to do something contemporary, which I hadn’t done since my earliest Soldier of Fortune SAS books for my editor at Bloomsbury. I decided on short sharp chapters, each one ending with a question mark, so to speak. A fast pace, plenty of action, but – and this is crucial for me – depth as well. Not long rambling personal gripes about the state of this or that, which is the quickest way to annoy a reader. I believe that to be worthwhile, a novel has to say something, whatever the genre. It doesn’t have to be a big ‘This Is How We Sort Out The World’ message – which, again, is a turn-off. But there has to be spirit and soul in a story, and in its key characters, if a writer is to have any chance of breathing life into his narrative.
I suppose the only way to see what I mean is to read Harry Brown and decide if that comes across. If it doesn’t, then I have failed you and sincerely apologise. I hope, however, that as well as an exciting, fast-paced, engrossing story, you will also be left with something gently resonating. A connection, perhaps, to something that a character has thought or said or felt or become. Which is probably why I write. It’s taken me a long time and a ton of stuff to work things out to some degree of satisfaction (and boy, have I still got a long way to go!). What gives me most reward though, is managing, however imperfectly, to convey at least some of that to my readers, who are the folks who matter. Because without them, a writer on his proverbial mountaintop can shout as loudly as he wants – but only into an empty desert below. And that’s not much fun. So, over to Harry.
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