Exclusive Andy McNab Interviews with Greymansland.com
Grey Man’s Land Interview with Andy McNab, September 2010
To mark the release of Andy McNab’s The Afghanistan Mission – the Dutch translation of War Torn – Andy was in the Netherlands for interviews … and Grey Man’s Land was there!
Thanks to the lovely ladies of Publishing house AW Bruna, I was able to meet Andy ‘somewhere in Amsterdam’ for an interview. I arrived at the agreed-upon spot early and waited, flanked by my personal bodyguard (after all you never know.. I’m going to meet a highly trained elite soldier with killing hands – and eyes for that matter!).
And then he’s there. First impression: Nothing about his famous blue eyes is exaggerated!
I get a firm handshake and a broad smile: if he’s tired, he doesn’t let it show. What also strikes me is that he is so lively and friendly. Two days of interviews don’t stress him out — of course not, it’s Andy McNab!
I ended up talking with Andy for nearly an hour and a half. That is, he talked; I nodded and took notes.
McNab had a lot to say about War Torn, which he wrote in collaboration with Kym Jordan. But we also talked about the Nick Stone movie “Echelon”, SelectForce, directing ‘Boy Soldier‘ and of course about the new Nick Stone novel Zero Hour that will be published in November.
Good news for the Netherlands: The Dutch translation of Exit Wound will be published in February 2011 by Bruna Publishers and will be called Oorlogswond, followed by a translated Zero Hour in May (title unknown yet). Andy McNab fans are being spoiled by Bruna in 2011!
And a little inside info on Zero Hour: After all the places Nick Stone has visited, in the 13th book in the series he will finally be visiting Amsterdam. That balaclava you spotted at the docks was Andy McNab doing his recces.
Of course Andy was willing to autograph my fresh-from-the-press copy of The Afghanistan Mission. What exactly he wrote in the book I will keep to myself but can tell you…I was very honoured!
Many thanks to Bruna and of course Andy McNab for a great meeting …. you’re the best! — Lynn, GML
Part One, War Torn:
GML: Andy, how did you come up with the idea for ‘War Torn’ and why the collaboration with Kym Jordan?
Andy: Kym and I have the same agent. She’s been working for the BBC Pashto Service doing like a soap opera on the radio in Pashto. So she knows Afghanistan pretty well, she also lived there and from earlier work she knows the military terminology and all. Originally this was a thing called ‘Warrior Nation’, a TV proposal that I wrote for the BBC. They wanted a drama and it had none of the stuff in the UK. It was just about a rifle company in Afghanistan. The TV drama never happened. So from there we said, ok let’s develop the idea more and bring in the other element: the home front. What happened next was…through the MOD we asked if Kym could be brought into the units, talking to the lads. But it was just as important to talk to the families. It was easier for her to talk to wives and girlfriends. So she got the idea of what’s going on on their side.
We combined the things I knew from before. But what Kym was doing was a lot better, she brought in a better report. It’s not that she just wrote the family stuff, we’d divide it all up. She met with soldiers, she’d go down there for a couple of days or we’d go together. Basically it took about 9 months. We were bouncing stuff to and from. The basis of the book was already done, but that was just about the Afghanistan stuff. The characters and the events were already there, so we had a template. We had to add in all the family stuff.
What I didn’t realize when I was doing the TV proposal is that you only get half the story.
You get what’s going on in Afghanistan but you don’t get what’s going on at home. So it is really the right thing to do, because it gives you that other half.
GML: I’ve read somewhere that ‘War Torn’ will be filmed though?
Andy: Yes, there is a proposal. It goes backwards and forwards continuously. What’s happening is that.. with TV and film we’ve done Iraq, we’ve done Afghanistan. But not yet that commercial form. Apart from ‘The Hurt Locker’, which isn’t about Iraq anyway. It’s about a person and he could be anything, he could be a fireman. It’s more about the character. So it’s backwards and forwards, all of a sudden everyone is very excited and the next they go ‘mmm, the last film didn’t do too well’. So what we do, the both of us, we don’t give a shit. We’re just gonna carry on, we’re going to do the next one next year.
GML: Will the next book be a sequel to this one?
Andy: Yes, with the same characters, but there will also be new characters introduced. But same thing, totally yeah.
GML: Nice! We’ll be looking forward to it! But it still has to be written.
Andy: Yes [laughs] oh yeah, that little point, yeah.
GML: Was writing with Kym like what you did with Robert Rigby (‘Boy Soldier’ series)
Andy: Working with Robert was part of why working with Kym on ‘War Torn’ worked because I experienced with Robert what it was like working with other people. Kym had experience with that anyway. With Robert it was very much the same thing. Well, actually not entirely the same because there wasn’t a template then like we had for ‘War Torn’. What Robert and I used to do was go to a café with our notebooks. Robert is very ‘filmic’, he writes kids TV shows, that stuff. He’s quite visual as well. So we used to talk about scenes and then divide them up. What we found was, same with Kym, the only people to criticize and to who you give it, is us two. If I said something to him, or her, like “that’s shit” we were allowed to do it, but no one else can. We had to do that cause otherwise you’re spending so much time being nice about it and you take about 5 years to write it. So that worked out quite well. They’d say “come on, this is shit” and I’d say “yeah yeah”. You bounce it to and from. With Robert it was more a division of labor if you like. I’d do the action scenes and he’d do the dialogue.
GML: You still have trouble writing dialogue?
Andy: Yeah yeah yeah [laughs] So Robert would do that. But what would happen is that, certainly on ‘War Torn’, Kym would do some of the action scenes as well! With Robert it was different because he hasn’t done that sort of stuff, where she has. Basically it was using the same system and it worked. But for ‘War Torn’ we already had like 70 pages, half a book. It was easy working with Kym. She gets the military stuff and the military terminology, that makes it a lot easier. Sometimes she’d phone up and say “oh I just heard this great story, let’s see if we can put that in somewhere” and then we’d look and have an argument about where to put it in, all that sort of stuff. It works! And there’s quite a lot of stuff for this book that wasn’t working now, so we kept it so we got a like a little package for the next book.
GML: You were also granted access to the Army Welfare Services?
Andy: Yeah, that’s right. What we’ve done is.. when I was working on ‘Warrior Nation’ we went to the MOD, we wanted them to be involved in it because we wanted access to all the kit if it’s ever gonna be filmed. Now we said “that’s not going to happen, it’s going to be a book. But we want to extend it, we want to go to the families and all that stuff”. The MOD said: “that’s all well and good but all you’re gonna do is get the families view of it. What you gotta do is go to the Welfare Services as well. So we’ll give you access so you get a better view of it.” So we talked to the different Welfare groups and Charities to learn what they do and how they’re doing it and some of the examples of the problems that they see. Then it was combined with the 2 Rifle battalions we went to visit, combined with what they were doing and there was loads of stuff of the last 6 or 7 years of families that I know and what happened to them. We also learned about the way the system is about going to the next of kin when someone is dead or injured, getting that in as well. So it was sort of an amalgamation but Kym was really good talking to families.
GML: And you are not?
Andy: No! [Laughs] They tell me nothing!! Kym is a lot better!
GML: Did you get feedback from the people in the book after it was published?
Andy: There aren’t sort of ‘direct’ families, it’s an amalgamation of people. Basically what we’ve done is taking all these stories and ‘creating’ fictional wives. Again, it’s a story. The immigrants wife for instance, you know, the Polish wife [Agnieszka - gml] ..of course there are a lot of Polish wives…
GML: And now they all say “that’s me in the book!”
Andy: Yeah, they all say “that’s me, that’s what’s going on”. In fact, the black Sergeant Major [Iain Kila – gml] is based on someone I know well, he phoned and said “Right, where’s my royalty!” [laughs].
So all that sort of stuff, but we got good feedback. Also from the MoD which is good because, obviously, we want their help on the next book as well. They’d say “yeah yeah, it’s fine”. Technically their problem is anything that is to do with National Security. But actually it goes beyond that because then all of a sudden it goes like “ooh that is not showing in a good light”. Then I say “you know what.. that’s what it’s like isn’t it” and then they go “yeah but….. “ And we say “we can’t do it in a sanitized way ‘cause actually it would be a lot of shit, what’s the point in doing that”. So then they get it. But they have no say in that anyway, they got no say in the structure in the storyline. It’s more they’re worried about showing some tactic or a bit of kit that can be compromising. In some cases they’ll say “we don’t want you to mention or show this bit of kit”. Then, what you can do is show that it’s in the public domain. So if you can demonstrate it’s in the public domain, it’s ok and bizarrely you’d sometimes find it’s on the MoD’s own website! They’re not always aware what’s out there.
And in some cases it’s very clear that you don’t do it, because lads are chatting away and they’re not so sure what they’re talking about. And that’s ok.
GML: You have sort of ‘adopted’ the subject PTSD, is this book written in the same light?
Andy: No, no. What I wanted to do there..in that way… is write ‘Seven Troop’. The last year I’ve been sort of bouncing around the periphery really of politics. Because what we got is quite a big population of people who is starting to suffer Post Traumatic Stress. Depending on who you’re talking to it’s between 10 to 15% of the population who will go through that.. who will suffer. And again depending on who you’re talking to..it will manifest itself fully between 10 to 13 years. So what happens.. by the time people will start to suffer badly they tend to be out of the military. And certainly the younger members will be married, got kids, mortgages..all that stuff. So when they then go for help… which they don’t.. ‘cause they’re all like ‘men don’t go to the doctors’..regardless of what.. they don’t go, it’s all macho you know….but when they do tend to go it will be really difficult. They’ve lost their jobs and the state will have to pick up the bill for the kids, the mortgages, the benefits..all that stuff.. so what we’re trying to do is …if we get it earlier, put an investment in the National Health Service, which are responsible for veterans – and the mental health services in the UK is crap, there’s no money, it’s absolutely crap – so if we put an investment in and identify the factor that there is gonna be a problem.. if we sort it out earlier, therefore we get them back earning money, paying tax, we don’t have to support them. So not only are we looking after they guys, it will be cheaper for the State. And fortunately our Defence Secretary Liam Fox is an ex general practitioner ..a doctor.. so he gets it! So what we’re trying to do now is get Regional Centers within the NHS system, where veterans can now go to and talk to someone who is in the military. Or ex-military. Someone who gets it. And actually start and try to get them some help.
GML: But you still have to get the veterans to seek help , they have to want to….
Andy: Well, that is the next step. The next stage is making sure they’re aware of it and getting them to go in, yeah.. absolutely.
GML: There’s still a stigma…
Andy: Totally, totally! So what happens is.. the military system treats a very small population, who suffer immediately, quite well. But there is a stigma, in the British Army they’re called ‘Jellyheads’. So what we’re saying is we’re going to have to get rid of that and say ‘You know what…no no no!’ And again, purely for the military if they can sort it out there and then, then actually they’ve kept their investment which I’m sure is hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a guy trained. We’ll put an investment in and what we’re trying to do to is to keep them in! So we as a Nation, we get ‘our money’s worth’ out of them. So we have to try to get over that stigma which we’re gonna try and do outside as well by sort of making people aware that it’s alright! And almost like a sexually transmitted disease clinic.. we say “It’s alright! Just go in, nobody wants to know your name. Go in and have a chat with these lads! And see what we can do.”
GML: How do you think you can achieve that, getting them in. How do you change that?
Andy: That’s the difficult part. How can we change that… It’s done at military level, there’s a thing called TRiM training, where a lot of corporals and sergeants are now being trained in a way to look out for the problem. So for them to show that it’s not a stigma. The fact is… the way that it’s portrayed to the soldiers is that it’s a natural reaction to an abnormal event .. So it’s alright and it can be sorted! So from there go forward. Be aware. It’s getting the middle management aware so they can look after the people under their command and they can bring them in. And that is actually working alright. The problem is.. once they get out of the military and they’re out there in a very bad NHS Mental Health care system without the facility for these people to come in. And the argument of the people who do do it..they say that people don’t get it, they’re talking to their GP [General Practitioner – gml] and the GP doesn’t get it. So one of the ways we’re getting… or hoping to get these people to come in is through their wives. The fast majority of people are getting pushed in by their wives ‘cause the wives go like ’if you don’t get this sorted out.. this or that is gonna happen. So get in there’. So one of the ways we’re going to do it is not through the guys.. it’s actually through their families and trying to get them to ‘push’ in. Because it seems that that is the reason why they turn up.
GML: They are likely the first ones to realize what’s going on…
Andy: Exactly! So that’s the way of trying to work things out. And the money is there! It’s not exactly a huge amount of money in the big Mental Health care thing but there’s going to be a lot of people coming through. So the people that are coming through now which sustains this thing about 10 to 13 years…Guys from Bosnia, lots of guys coming through from the early days of Iraq. And it’s funny.. the Dutch Government say it’s the other way around. They say ‘no no no..we look after it, we treat it and when they get out we look after them 6 months later. But actually it’s later on, the statistics show it’s later on. So it’s now waiting for this influx of people coming through. And you know..something’s got to be done. I think there’s a responsibility of the Nation to look after these people. But actually it makes sense, because otherwise we got to support them. And there is not enough money as it is!
GML: But everyone is saying that ‘someone else’ is responsible…
Andy: That’s exactly what happens! You know… the biggest group in prisons in the UK are ex-military.
That’s 17%, or even more than that, are soldiers. There’s a proportion, we’re trying to find out at the moment, who are probably suffering from PTSD. Therefore it costs a fortune to keep these people in prison. If we can grip it in the early days it’s going to cost money but in the end it’s going to be cheaper to sort it all out. And there’s a moral obligation as well…so it should make sense. It’s starting, obviously there are financial restraints and all that sort, but thankfully we got our Defence Minister now who actually gets it, because he’s a doctor. That’s quite good.
GML: There are of course many battle scenes in ‘War Torn’. Is the war different now than when you were fighting?
Andy: No, it’s quite interesting. Certainly if you look at the geeky end… the weapon systems are the same. There’s more weapons that have been introduced… that actually were taken away from the infantry during the 90’s because they didn’t think they’d need the heavy caliber weapons …they’re all back. Obviously the vehicles are changing, body armor is different, but tactics and the way that people conduct contacts …nothing else changes. Because the SOPs are actually virtually the same …because they work. The whole thing of fire control orders and target indication is exactly the same. All armies use the same system, judging distances all that sort of stuff… all is the same. The way of regular procedures have changed because we’ve gone more to the American system, we’re more and more joint to the hip with the Americans. It’s almost now an International system. Apart from that actually not much. No, it all feels the same quite frankly. And even ..The Estonians are there now because they’re part of the NATO. Some of the senior Estonians guys were there fighting with the Russians and even to them..they go like “Nothing much is changed. Even the Taliban is still the same”.
GML: Nick Stone, the character in your fiction books, is based on yourself …only the good parts….
Andy: [laughs] the good parts yeah, absolutely!
GML .. is there someone in “War Torn” you can relate to in that same way?
Andy: The black Sergeant Major [Iain Kila - gml] is equivalent, I know him quite well. In fact he is a Fijian, he’s not black, he’s a Fijian. With this really weird Birmingham accent. I know him and his family, kids.. all that sort of stuff. That’s if you like..the relationship. It’s quite good.
There’s a guy that was part of this Rifle Company that I met, The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment.. I’ve been with these guys about 2 years ago. There was one guy that I met that, on purpose, I’ve kept out of the book because I wanted to use him for the radio play that I’ve done..‘Last Night Another Soldier’. This lad was great. He was 18 years and 1 month, so been there a month.. the battalion had been there about 3 months so he just joined the battalion. This guy was loving it. He was getting about 2,000 Pounds a month in his hand as an 18 year old because he was doing everything. If you handled dead bodies you’d get extra money, if you clean out the pits.. he was doing the lot, he’s getting the money. I wanted to get this lad Jones..just keep him, to do a story on him on his own ‘cause he was great. He just loved it and it was really about..well for him it was great he was there doing it but actually…. he said “you know what, I’m saving up for a Ford Focus”. So when he goes home he’d be like.. BOOMBOOM BOOMBOOM [Andy imitates the heavy sound of a car speaker] ..driving around and insurance would cost more than the car as an 18 year old but he did get it. That guy was great and you know..I liked him, he was really funny. I said “Right, let me get some pictures of you“ because I wanted to remember him and he’s got a rifle..he had an SA and he goes “No! No! No!” and he’s running around and he got the General Purpose Machine Gun…you know..this was his moment..it was a great lad. Good fun.
GML: Will ‘War Torn’ be published in more countries, do you know?
Andy: Not a clue! Bizarrely what happens is that.. I haven’t got a clue what goes on half the time ‘cause I just carry on with it. I didn’t even know I changed publishers in Holland. Not a clue..until it happens.
GML: No? Even I knew that…
Andy: [laughs] I really didn’t know what was going on…
GML: Well, I often know more than you anyway [referring to audio interview Grey Man's Land, 2008 - gml]
Andy: [laughs] Yeah! I often don’t have a clue what is going on. Because I spend so much time doing it… Actually I know it will be published in Italy, I read that in my e-mail when I was on holidays.
I just wait until it happens. I just carry on. Tomorrow the edits are back for the Nick Stone that comes out in November [Zero Hour – gml], I crack on with that, hopefully I get that done by Tuesday..it’s got to be in by the 21st of September, no matter what, cause it has to hit that slot.
GML: Is there anything you’d like to say about ‘War Torn’ that I didn’t ask?
Andy: Uhmm .. no, well ..it’s interesting… one of the Dutch political guys wanted to turn it into an anti-Afghanistan message. It’s not that at all. It’s just about a bunch of people who don’t give a shit quite frankly, about the politics, you know, they just want to carry on with what they’re doing. There is no sort of big moral message in the book.
GML: You really ‘feel’ what is going on and with the families at home, that is a kind of new approach I think….
Andy: Yes, that was the purpose! It’s really the other half of the story that we don’t hear and it’s quite nice to get the complete picture. The great thing is… they got access, it’s even better now and it’s quite easy to contact home. So the good side is that they got contact. The bad side is..they don’t wanna know about the gas bill, they don’t wanna know about…it’s quite double edged sword …which we’re gonna look into in the next book, look at all those things where you’re literally just a second away when you’re on e-mail or whatever you’re doing….. but..you can’t do anything about it ..it’s not like you can’t go and mend this and go do that.. so the theory is… is it better not knowing…??
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Part Two, Zero Hour:
GML: Nick Stone’s 13th adventure will be published end of November. Please tell us what Zero Hour is about.
Andy: Quite a lot of it is based in Amsterdam, in North 5 [Noord 5 – gml], I know this area quite well since a friend used to live there.
GML: Finally Amsterdam for Nick Stone!
Andy: Yeah yeah Amsterdam. The story really sort off starts of in Moldova in the Odessa area. It’s about human trafficking and weapons – the money earners in the black economy. Nick is actually trying to find a girl that has been trafficked. People can be trafficked in many ways. There is a thing called ‘happy trafficking’ where people think they’re off for a job, so actually pay their own way to go to another country and then they’re lifted and taken. And in some cases, like in Moldova, people are working in the field and lads come along, beat them up and pull them in the back of a wagon. Nick is trying to find this girl and it’s based around a thing called a ‘kill switch’.
Pakistan at the moment have said they will no longer buy any American military equipment. Because what has been happening over the years is that technology is like a Trojan horse that’s being hidden in a laptop, there’s kill switches that’s been put in microprocessors. So the argument was that if then during any air campaign, you’re going up against missiles, actually you got the technology now to switch those weapons off.
Certainly when the Israelis bombed the processing plant in Syria two years ago they used kill switches because kill switches were in the old kit.
So it’s based on the efforts to get these Kill switches in Eastern block technology which places like Iran and Pakistan are buying getting ready for future conflict.
The way to do that is.. If Nick can get hold of this girl .. and in effect she becomes a hostage to the father who is in Moldova which is the big industrial plant for Russia at the moment.
He is actually then cohorts with the guy who makes the processors there to get the kill switches in, but obviously Nick doesn’t know that until later on. He’s all about trying to get this girl.
And of course Ann is there, from the last book, so she’s helping because she knows about that stuff.
Until they get to Amsterdam, where she stays on Schiphol, and then he’s off to Noord 5. It’s all based around that cause I got to know the area quite well and it’s a nice area to do this sort of stuff because the dock is virtually empty now, there’s an old silo there and you got the little ferry that’s going across. It’s based literally around there. It’s quite good.
There’s a big open air market there and there’s a big Muslim population there as well; lot’s of Turks and Iranians..it’s a good environment for story telling.
GML: Nick Stone ‘doesn’t want to play ball’ it says in the synopsis..
Andy: Yeah, Nick is really preparing now, getting to do other things. What’s he gonna do after this??
He could continuously work for the Intelligence Service …. but actually it would be quite interesting for him to do other things so I’m trying to get him up to a point now where he’s forced into a decision. Or not really forced.. he’s getting an offer and he thinks ‘yeah, that’s alright’.
He doesn’t need money now, in fact he’s doing it because he wants to do it. He’s trying to get more into the commercial world. In fact he’s now helping other people to make money, cause he doesn’t particularly need money himself.
GML: Nick Stone not needing money… there’s something new…
Andy: Exactly , at last he’s coming out alright. And from there… what are we gonna do now?? We’ve got to sort of move it on…
The next book may go back to October again… The release date end of November for Zero Hour is an experiment, we’re hoping to sell more books with the Christmas frenzy, with a big marketing campaign. It was great for me, I got more time to do it! [laughs] We’ll see how it works out.
GML: Zero Hour got a new cover?
Andy: Every single year there’s big debates, there are more chiefs than Indians on this subject.. It goes on and on and on… Obviously the retailers as well have a lot of input, if they don’t like it they say “we’re not going to put it on the shelves” sort of thing. So it’s trying to get this balance. I’m part of the process so I get emails with all the pictures.. but after a while I just lose interest, you know ‘whatever’ [laughs]. One thing they did do with the model who’s doing the pictures .. they transposed the picture so he became left handed! So I’d say ‘NO’ you can’t do that, you got to change it back. That’s the only input I had with this cover.
The ones I really liked where the X-Ray type. They were drawings! Amazing! It was nice quiet and simple. But the art people said “we got to do more”.. I just leave them to it.
GML: Did Nick Stone ‘grow’ with you over the years?
Andy: Yeah, I think he’s got to.
With any character you can only go one line.. either going up or down but always, in the end it has to go up otherwise there’s going to be an anticipation that he’s going up. And hopefully with earlier readers, they feel he’s growing with them as well. He’s got to think about things, gotta do things and obviously now he’s getting a relationship with Anna, I don’t even know where that’s gonna go, I haven’t got a clue. But yes, he’s got to grow.
GML: He might be settling down??
Andy: Well.. Nick has got to sort himself out and he’s very content at the moment, he’s got his flat and everything is alright. But actually he’s not thát content. He’s got all the goodies he wants, but actually it’s still not enough. He’s got to learn by it. And certainly in this book he does learn.
GML: He sort of grows along with you? With Remote Control, the first book, you were younger..
Andy: I certainly see a difference, you know, with dialogue and the way he’s thinking, absolutely. There’s got to be that growth. Otherwise he’s going to be quite static. If you’re gonna do a static character there must be consistency with that static thing and he hasn’t got that. There’s a difference.
GML: We felt in the later books Nick became more sensitive..
Andy: Yeah yeah..
GML: Is that because you thought he should be?
Andy: No, what happens is .. the process of the story it’s sort of pragmatic. The start of process of the story is the technical bit of the story.. Nick is here ..he goes there….he does that…why does he do that… What happens after that is the layer of emotion.. which comes with dialogue, what he’s telling us or what he’s thinking.
I sometimes change or cut dialogue and write it as action and think maybe people understand the reasons why he’s doing this or that, but not too much. So it’s what he thinks or what he says, as opposed to what he does. Then the practical side is done. The next layer is that sensitivity, trying to work out why he would do this or that. So certainly after the first draft, the sensitivity is all over the place. Because the first part of the story might be written in January and then in June and so on and then it’s trying to look over that and work out the best way of doing it and the best way of doing it is having Nick being confused about things…because that is easier to write. So he’s confused about it because I guess I am confused about it [laughs].
GML: So is Nick is more sensitive now because you allowed yourself to write that way?
Andy: Absolutely. The more I learn about the process.. I understand the readers need to have some emotional connection as well, more understanding. It’s with any character… you don’t have to like him, you just have to understand him. Once you got there and people understand , you can have him chopping heads off of old ladies. You might disagree with it, but you understand the reasons why.
If you can get him to do that and people understand and they still like him.. fantastic! But at that base level.. as long as they understand and then later on you can try and justify the reasons why.
Thanks Andy, we’re really looking forward to the book! Zero Hour is published on 25 November.
Andy McNab Audio Interview, 2008
If we do say so ourselves, we think this is one of the most candid and revealing interviews with Andy McNab ever recorded. Andy was very generous with his time and gave us a fantastic interview. Click the play button below to listen.
Interview with Andy McNab 2010
Despite being quite busy in Hollywood, Andy McNab was kind enough to take what time he could out of his schedule to chat with greymansland.com about Exit Wound, Dropzone, and of course the rumoured ‘Echelon’ movie deal. Transcript below:
GML: Many critics and fans have called Exit Wound the best Nick Stone novel yet. We know that when writing fiction, you are often inspired by real events. Can you tell us more about the background behind Exit Wound’s story-line?
Andy McNab: Great news to hear that Exit Wound is so well liked. The whole idea was based around a story that came out of ‘rumour control’. The story was that Saddam had these two huge golden doors made for his palace in Basra and that they never got delivered from Dubai because of the war. I first heard this story when I was at Basra Palace in 2007. I was visiting 2 Rifles who were the last infantry battalion to stay for the whole six-month tour in the city. The battalion was full of rumours about hidden gold within the palace compound. There were more holes in the ground from the lads digging than there was from the rocket and mortar attacks. After that trip it was really playing with the idea using a people that have spent years talking about how best to rob banks and more importantly how to get away with it. Julian, Red Ken and Dex are based on mates from the regiment that I’ve known for over 20 years. They are just as smooth, stupid and serious as they are in the book.
GML: What places did you visit to research Exit Wound? Usually these places don’t seem to be the regular tourist areas; any interesting anecdotes from your latest trips to the dodgier side of town?
Andy McNab: I was very lucky with Exit Wound as they weren’t too many recces to carry out. I know Dubai quite a while and have spent some time in Russia. In fact I was due to go last summer with my daughter who has become quite friendly with a Russian friend of mine. He called me from Moscow three days before we were due to leave to say he had some bad news. I thought it was about his wife who was due to have a baby within the next month. However he was phoning from his hospital bed after being shot in a Moscow hotel. He was more concerned about my daughter meeting up with his as they were really looking forward to it. Our parting words were ‘maybe next year.’
GML: You are a big supporter of one of our favourite charities, Talking2Minds. What attracted you to Talking2Minds? Do you feel, with the additional publicity of late, things are starting to change when it comes to PTSD?
Andy McNab: I met the lads from Talking2Minds at a PTSD conference where I was giving the opening address. I think the way they are tackling the problem is fantastic and they are getting some great results. Things are starting to change both in the perception the public has about soldiers with PTSD, and the way we are dealing with the problem . I am helping out on a project that is being run by the head of army psychiatry and hopefully the project should be out in the public domain early next year. One thing that is clearly come out this project so far is that the vast majority of soldiers, sailors and airmen who leave the armed services do very well back in the real world. That’s good for two reasons and the main one is that we can concentrate on the minority of people who really need help.
GML: What’s the status for ‘Echelon’, the Nick Stone movie based on Firewall, these days?
Andy McNab: All looking good. What I have learnt during this process is that on average film costing $70m takes about 11 years to get up and running. We’re at the stage now where contracts are signed but there are more Chiefs than Indians running around saying what they want done. However, the script is now finished and so…
GML: Dropzone: Bk.1, your new novel for the youth market, was just released. Your ‘Boy Soldier‘ youth series was written with a co-writer (Robert Rigby). Why no co-writer this time, and what differences might we see with you as the only writer?
Andy McNab: I thought I would just give it a go. Whilst collaborating on the Boy Ssoldier series it became very evident to me that there is no difference between writing adult and teenage fiction. Of course, there are restrictions on profanity, and the fact that a teenager cannot actually kill anybody. But apart from that, there is nothing different, a story is a story. I’m hoping that the style Drop Zone is written in works that adult readers as well.
GML: Finally, Andy, what’s the best joke you ever heard in your entire military career?
Andy McNab: Nope, not gonna tell you!
Andy McNab Interview 2005
You won’t find this one anywhere but here, my friends. Andy McNab has been kind enough to visit with us fanatics here at greymansland.com, and if you’re anything like me you’ll realize what a privilege this really is. Enjoy.
GML: Andy, I’d first like to thank you and tell you what an honor it is to have you visit with us. I asked a few of your most ardent fans if they would like to ask you a question, and the response has been overwhelming. The questions below represent just a fraction of the total I received. Thank you again for answering those you find time for.
Andy McNab: Sorry for the delay but my PowerBook decided to die on me.
GML: We’re all dying for more information about “Boy Soldier” and the series to follow. You’ve done so well with personalising Nick Stone–is Danny Watts’s character based in part on you in your own youth?
Andy McNab: Some of it is. Danny is a South London boy and the areas that he hangs out in are the ones I know very well. I find it a lot easier to write about things I know rather than make them up. That takes too long and is hard work. There are going to be four books. The first two books are one story. I’m not going to tell you about it because I want you to read them!
GML: While “Boy Soldier” is aimed at teenagers, will adult fans of your work find something to enjoy in it? And what age group would YOU recommend it for?
Andy McNab: The reaction from adults who have read the first book (I’m 11,000 words into the second) has been fantastic. They really got into it so I’m hoping the BS series will appeal to all ages.
GML: How hard is it to refrain from the colorful language you’re known for when writing youth-oriented books?
Andy McNab: It wasn’t a bad as I thought. There is a lot of swearing in BS. It’s all a question of context. I can’t have a character having a conversation with ‘fucking this and fucking that.’ But they can say fuck if they are angry, scared or frustrated. In fact in teenage books there can be drugs, underage drinking and sex. The only thing I couldn’t have Danny do was shoot someone.
GML: Here’s one that’s been puzzling us for a long time: Towards the end of “Firewall,” Nick Stone says to Valentin, “I’m sorry about your nephews.” Who the hell were Valentin’s nephews?
Andy McNab: I know. I know. There was a draft that had a couple of Valentin’s nephews getting the good news from Nick. The sentence slipped through the net and I throw the book at the proof reader everytime I see her! Should have spotted it myself really.
GML: Speaking of Nick Stone, can you tell us anything about the next novel?
Andy McNab: The next one hasn’t got a title yet. They never do until something comes up in the story that makes sense. That can take some time, I can tell you. At the moment, the story will start in Australia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
GML: The waiting for a movie is killing us–can you please end the rampant speculation and let us know when we might be seeing Nick Stone on the big screen?
Andy McNab: A deal has been signed with Warner Bros to make Crisis Four. If that is a success, the stories will become a franchise. I have already written the treatment for the basis of a script and going back to LA in a few weeks time to see a scriptwriter who is lined up for the actual job. But don’t hold your breath. The one thing I’ve learnt about Hollywood is that there has to be a lot of meetings before anyone can even decide if they want sugar in their coffee. Still, it’s all good fun.
GML: Could you give us just a hint as to what you were doing between the Bravo Two Zero mission and leaving the SAS? Or is that classified?
Andy McNab: I was working for a small cell called RWW (Revolutionary Warfare Wing). These are the guys that are asked to start coups and insurgencies for all manner of reasons. Like everything else in life, it’s always easier to start something than end it.
GML: You once said: “I think any profession that you’re getting in, you always wanna, sort of, achieve the highest level. It is all about proving yourself.” Do you feel you’ve achieved that as a writer?
Andy McNab: No, not yet. I think every time I write another book, I get better, but I still want to learn more about structure. Because I’m a TV generation kid I have no idea about book structure. I see everything as a three-act film. (Not that I knew there were three acts until a few years ago). I seem to get there in the end, but it takes me double the time.
GML: I believe you also said you read the last chapter of a book first. Should we read the last chapter first when reading your books?
Andy McNab: If you want to. One of the first things I do when planning a story is decide what happens at the end. In both the physical sense i.e. where Nick is and what he is doing. But also the emotional sense i.e. what has Nick learnt, how does he feel about it and what is he going to do about it. Once that is established, it can’t change because it would mess up the whole story. Of course, reading the last chapter is cheating but I think, so what, it’s my book, I’ve just bought it, so I can do what I want.
GML: Considering all you’ve accomplished–getting badged, surviving internment intact, countless successful operations, and an amazing literary career–what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Andy McNab: That’s a hard one. But it has be getting badged.
GML: Recent television fiction depicts female SAS operators–is that anywhere close to reality?
Andy McNab: There are no women who are badged. However, they have worked alongside the Regiment since the 2nd World War. At the moment, there is a debate about letting women into the Regiment but they are still working out, how to get women into the Regiment without dropping the severe physical selection process.
Jon from GML: What’s the best beer in the world?
Andy McNab: Madam Golightly Goes to the Fair. Actually, I just like the name, and the beer’s not bad either.
Jon from GML: I once jokingly asked you to autograph a book for me and write something disparaging towards me as a dedication (i.e., “To Dickhead”). If you had to say something disparaging about Grey Man’s Land, what would it be?
Andy McNab: You greymansland people. What the fuck is going on? Get a life!