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  • Writer's pictureJames McGee

Manuscript - trials and tribulations...

If you're reading this, quite frankly, it's a bloody miracle.

No, seriously.

Whenever I was engaged in penning one of Hawkwood's adventures I was invariably asked what I enjoyed most about writing historical fiction. My flip response was always that, unlike a contemporary storyline, you weren't likely to be overtaken by current events.

Boy, was I ever proved right...

If you've purchased, pilfered or even pawned The Salma Option and taken the trouble to read it, or even if, as some folk are wont to do - God knows why - you've picked up the thing and skipped to the end before embarking on the first chapter, then I don't have to tell you that three of the countries in which parts of the story are set, and which are critical to the plot, are Chad, Sudan, and Myanmar (Burma).

On April 11th, 2019, while I was still working out what was laughingly known as 'the plot' (yeah, I know that was aeons ago, but, unlike Barbara Cartland and Ian Rankin, I am not and never have been a quick writer), there was a military coup in Sudan. President Omar al-Bashir was arrested and put on trial and a military government backed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took over the country. OK, I thought, a bit of a bugger, but not a huge problem, I can work around that. Indeed it might even aid the story. So, undaunted, I carried on.

On February 1st, 2021, by which time I was well into the manuscript, there was a military coup in Myanmar. The elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her National League for Democracy party (NLD) were among those detained. Hundreds of people, including children, were slaughtered. A truly horrendous event, as the news headlines confirmed, but, as before, I thought, that with a bit of minor tweaking, I could probably work around that as my plot only referred to the country in the broadest terms: as background info for some of my characters. So I soldiered on (probably not the best phrase to use under the circumstances; apologies).

On April 20th, 2021, when I was around 350 pages into the manuscript, it was announced that Chad's President, Idriss Déby, had died of his injuries following a clash with rebel forces in the north of the country. The announcement came a day after provisional election results projected he would win a sixth term in office. The government and parliament were dissolved. A curfew was imposed and the borders were shut.

At which point I thought, you have got to be friggin' kidding me...

I did consider heading upstairs and hiding under the bedclothes in the hope it would all go away, but then, figuring that might be a wee bit dramatic, I reached for the whisky bottle instead (fortunately, I don't own a pistol). When the effects of that eventually wore off, I went and sat in the garden to have a sulk, followed by a serious think.

I was faced with a number of choices. I could:

A) Build a time machine, scoot back a couple of days and push Déby out of the way of any incoming threat. Not entirely practical. I can barely put up a shelf.

B) Head up to the office, open up the folder marked The Salma Option, and press DELETE. 350 pages and two years effort up the Swanee. Gulp.

C) Ignore events completely, finish the story as if nothing had happened, and admit nothing, which would mean the novel could appear out of date when, or rather if, it hit the shelves. Not an auspicious start. Mind you, I haven't mentioned the pandemic either: well, not really, so there was an even chance I'd get away with it.

D) Keep everything as was and, utilizing the 'FIND AND REPLACE' facility, simply change all the real names in the story to fictitious ones; something I hate doing, as I like to keep plotlines as real as possible. In the end, some names are made up; some of the real ones I've kept in.

E) Remain calm (sort of) and carry on, praying there weren't any political upheavals in bloody Laos, China Thailand or the UAE (other countries which also play a role in the increasingly desperate plot), finish the damned book and then go back and amend facts accordingly, hopefully without compromising the storyline too much.

F) Finish the book, leave everything as originally written and then, in an Author's Note, give a long-winded explanation as to why that was, based on what happened during the writing process, and then let the reader decide if it was a good idea...or not.

G) Concoct a combination of all of the above and just say: Sod it.


The trouble with all that, of course, is that even as I was performing my last-minute tweaks to the manuscript prior to publication several more whammies came out of nowhere. The prime examples being the Cretin in the Kremlin's unwarranted and seriously misjudged invasion of Ukraine and, more recently, the death of The Queen. There is a tenuous link between the late monarch and the story. If you've read the book, you'll understand; if not, then I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to look out for it.

So, like I said...a miracle.

As for my idea to base the story around the characters from those early stories - Trigger Men, Crow's War and Wolf's Lair , all I can say to that is: why not? It's not as though characters, who by rights should be in their dotage, haven't been given a new lease of life every so often.

Take Bond, James Bond, as the prime example. According to his biographer, John Pearson, Bond would have received his telegram/SMS message/greetings card from the Queen two years ago this November. Just as well, considering, all that's happened.

And then we have Robert B Parker's inimitable knight errant, Spenser. Parker wrote the first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript back in 1973. We know from the books that Spenser served in the Korean War (June 1950 to July '53). I reckon that would put his current age somewhere in the late 80s. Ace Atkins penned his last, brilliant, Spenser novel in January this year. His hero was as effective as ever.

Compared to the above, Keel, Sekka, Crow, Logan and Donovan are mere striplings, and who says you can't teach 'old' dogs of war new tricks..?

Oh, and would you believe it, less than two weeks ago, it was announced on the news by Human Rights Watch that security forces had fired on protesters in several cities across Chad, including N’Djamena, the capital, killing at least 50 people and injuring dozens of others.

The protests were a result of the transitional military council – headed by former President Déby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, who took over power when his father was killed - pushing back promised elections to October 2024. The protests occurred in defiance of a government ban, issued the day before they took place.

And so on it goes.....


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