I was surprised when Jackie sent me back her answers. We are so alike in many ways! We both lived in London for many years and then moved to the countryside. We both have an interest in spiritualism; both of us have at one point been housebound through illness, and both have worked for the NHS. There’s only one difference though; Jackie has never watched ‘The Champions’. If you ever do, Jackie, you’ll find they’re not dissimilar to your books’ characters. The Champions are all crime-fighters with supernatural powers!
1. What are you writing now?
I’m currently working on the fourth book in the Starbirth series, Shadow Team GB. It’s been delayed for a long time due to moving house and some ‘writer’s block’ earlier on, but now I want to finish it and publish it on Kindle. Shadow Team GB follows the fortunes of Lock Harford and Jimmy Mackenzie as they try to establish a British team of enhanced-ability operatives and I hope I’ve thrown in some surprises too. It’s fun to write and I think people will have fun reading it as well. Although it is classed as being in the science fiction genre there is considerable military material and also paranormal powers.
2. Who is your favourite author?
One name springs to mind immediately but I have a few favourite authors. I love books by John le Carre as he is such a fluent wordsmith. Reading one of his books is like enjoying a long, satisfying dinner and when I finish one there is a feeling of disappointment that it hasn’t continued, but then I look forward to the next one. ‘The Night Manager’ is one such book, and of course the George Smiley books such as ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’. The reader has to be patient at first because le Carre takes time and effort to draw you in, and he is a master at building up tension.
In the comic fiction genre, books by Tom Sharpe have made me cry with laughter. Unfortunately I’ve read most of them – the ‘Wilt’ series, ‘Riotous Assembly’ and ‘Indecent Exposure’ are favourites. Not recommended for anyone recovering from surgery because laughing so hard will make stitches hurt.
My favourite among indie authors is Karl Wiggins. His books make me laugh and there’s nothing better than having your mood uplifted by someone’s art in relating the absurdity of life.
3. While you were conducting research for your books, what did you conclude was the reason behind why some men need to put themselves through gruelling SAS tests?
It would be easy to say it’s the challenge of undertaking the toughest selection course in the UK and probably the world, and that is definitely one reason. There are other motivations, though. According to Lt Col. Dave Grossman, who has done extensive research into the effects of combat and why some people put themselves in harm’s way, there is a minority within the armed forces composed of men (and maybe women too) who are ‘natural soldiers’. Grossman quotes ‘War’ by Gwynne Dyer: ‘…the kind who derives his greatest satisfaction from male companionship, from excitement, and from conquering physical obstacles. He doesn’t want to kill people as such but he will have no objections if it occurs within a moral framework that gives him justification – like war – and if it is the price of gaining admission to the kind of environment he craves.’
It’s a subject that is not simple to put into a few words but I think that sums up the kind of temperament of Special Forces soldiers. One veteran said the need to be in action is closely related to the adrenaline surge experienced during battle and afterwards, of being in combat and coming out alive. Another said ‘You just want to get rid of the bad guys and restore things to how they were, peaceful’. I have also read that being in Special Forces provides the soldier with ‘Army life without all the bullshit, real soldiering.’
They are not psychopathic killers. Trained to kill, yes, as all soldiers are trained to kill, but that does not assume they have psychopathic tendencies. To quote Grossman again: ‘A more accurate conclusion would be that there is two per cent of the male population that, if pushed or given a legitimate reason, will kill without regret or remorse……The presence of aggression, combined with the absence of empathy, results in sociopathy. The presence of aggression, combined with the presence of empathy, results in a completely different kind of individual from the sociopath.’ (Lt Col Dave Grossman, ‘On Killing’). SF types fall into that latter category, and when they return to normal society they don’t start killing people, but often they return to conflicts as mercenaries because ‘normal’ life is no substitute for the excitement of being on a battlefield.
4. Did you base your main character, Lock Harford, on anybody in particular?
No, and I think that’s why he has been so hard to write. I wanted a civilian character rather than someone similar to the soldiers surrounding him because he isn’t one of the types in the answer above. He isn’t a ‘natural soldier’, yet he is working with military forces because of the gift he has. It creates a tension between him and his employers, in this case mostly the intelligence services.
5. What do you think is the best way for an Indie author to market their work?
I’m afraid I don’t know. If I did, I’d be selling more books!
6. Did you ever watch ‘The Champions’ and want to be Sharon (while checking out your books that particular Sixties TV programme came to mind!)?
I don’t recall watching ‘The Champions’.
7. Do you think teleportation will be possible in generations to come?
Not sure about teleportation (the power to move oneself by means of thought) but I think levitation may very well be possible in the future. Right now scientists have managed to use the ‘Reverse Casimir Effect’ to make miniscule objects hover without using any type of engine. Technology is advancing at such a breathtaking rate many things we thought impossible ten years ago are now either being manufactured or are in the pipeline, so I wouldn’t rule it out.
8. If you could operate a time machine and live in a particular era, which one would it be?
I think I’d like to go forward rather than back, and see what society and mankind is like in about a hundred years from now. I’ve often thought that someone from 1914 would be astonished at the lifestyle available now. I’d like to see if I would be equally astonished or dismayed at what mankind has achieved a hundred years from now. I would hope to see some progress and balance, given the rate we are affecting the planet.
9. Why did you choose podiatry as a profession?
No particular calling and in fact I think I chose the wrong profession! I liked the caring aspect of it but wasn’t much good at the technical side, frankly. Physics and logical thinking are not my strong points. I think I would have been better choosing to be an optician.
10. We are similar in that I work for the NHS and I also lived for over 30 years in London. I wonder if (like me) you feel the need to return to London every now and again?
Definitely, but only as a tourist/visitor. I have been back several times but wouldn’t want to live there any longer. The first thing I noticed on moving out of London to a Shropshire market town was the slower lifestyle, lack of noise, lack of pollution – you can see the sky is blue right down to the horizon. In London it was grey. London is a fascinating place and I love visiting but as somewhere to live it’s not for me, I prefer the slower lifestyle.
11. Why did you move away to an area of the country where you knew nobody?
Purely financial reasons. I had to move a long way out of London to take advantage of the difference in house prices to create some savings. Actually I’ve just done the same thing again!
12. When you were housebound and confined to bed through illness, did it make you determined to one day walk to the shops under your own steam, or at the time did you envisage never being able to go outside again?
A bit of both. Obviously when someone gets a diagnosis of either inner ear disorder (similar to Meniere’s Disease) or ME you feel as though your life might be over. Fortunately both diagnoses were four years apart so I had time to adjust to the thought of chronic illness before the second diagnosis (of ME). On both occasions I was determined to get back to normal as soon as possible and back to work.
I managed that twice, which took months each time, but the third knock was harder as both illnesses affected me at the same time. It’s a process of being floored, picking yourself up again and starting over. It could almost describe being an author! Oddly, reading about SAS selection and operations, and the courage of the soldiers involved, increased my determination to get better in health. For a while it worked until the next time I was floored. Over two decades I’ve got used to the process to an extent but I still get disappointed when it happens. There is the reaction of ‘Oh no, not again!’ Then I just have to get on with it.
13. Do you find that cutting out certain foods gives you more energy?
Nope, and I’ve tried many times. I did find out I’m gluten intolerant and cutting out wheat-based products to a great extent has helped with gut health – I can still eat some bread on rare occasions –but it hasn’t made any difference to energy levels.
14. What is your biggest regret?
Having bad health, which is kind of an obvious answer. Before the inner ear stuff and ME I used to be very active and enjoyed walking as a hobby and for exercise. I miss that a lot, and the birdwatching outings I used to go on (which reveals me to be a kind of nerd too).
15. Like me you have an interest in spiritualism. Have you ever had spiritual healing for your inner ear disorder? Did it help?
Yes, I have had spiritual healing and in the short term it did help. Long term, no. I do believe in the power of spiritual healing but at the same time we are affected by the world we live in, the food we eat, and so on. Sometimes it is not our choices that affect us but the environment and what is done to our food before it even reaches the shops so I think of healing as one tool in daily existence.
There was a fascinating study done by people researching healing among other aspects of spirituality and it was found that remote healing works, too. One book that I found particularly helpful is ‘The Art of Dying’ by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – it sounds like a grim title but in fact it is a celebration of life and the existence of an afterlife as seen from a scientific research point of view and I found it very enlightening. The research on remote healing is mentioned in that. The book takes an objective view of spiritualist beliefs and experiences and is not religion-based.
16. Have you ever received a message from a deceased loved one via a Medium?
Yes, I believe I have. From my paternal grandmother and maternal grandparents. Like you I had details presented to me that could not have come from the art of ‘cold reading’ or the generalised material that I have frequently heard over the past four years of going to spiritualist churches and meetings. My strong belief is that there is far more to our existence than we are aware of in daily life and I believe we can communicate better with forces beyond this life by the means of meditation – as one method. For me it involves a change of consciousness rather than just listening to someone else.
17. Which single possession would you save in a fire?
Assuming I had time to think about it, probably some photos as they are the depository of memories – it is so easy to look at a photo and recollect the events surrounding it and the ‘feel’ of the day. Without photos some memories are lost or the detail is lost. Some memories are better off burned, of course.
18. What is number one on your bucket list?
Get my fifth book written as it is the last one in the Starbirth series. Go on holiday to the southwest. Preferably both things together.
19. What would be your one item of luxury on a desert island?
A monthly delivery set-up with the chocolatier of my choice. Air-dropped choccies, I can’t think of anything better! Or a large book that I could read over and over without getting too bored. Something like ‘War and Peace’ or ‘Little Dorrit’, or one of John le Carre’s books, but nothing too heavy or depressing.
20. What is your favourite song?
I don’t have a favourite song but I do have favourite music. I love classical music. Most of JS Bach’s music is glorious and moving, particularly the choral piece ‘Come ye daughters, share my mourning’ from the St Matthew Passion. My first introduction to the world of JS Bach was the St Matthew Passion and I’ve never forgotten the impact of that piece of music as sung by two choirs in the Town Hall in Birmingham. It sent tingles down my neck and I was moved to tears. I had never heard anything so beautiful before. I was riveted to my seat for the entire performance of the Passion.
It took me a long time to get back to classical music later in life – I miss going to concerts.
Thank you very much for asking me to give an interview and I wish you all the best with your own books.
Thanks for the great answers Jackie. I feel as though I’ve known you for years!