From the Battlefield to the Booker? (Maybe one day!)
By Neil Blower
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilBauthor
Hello. My name is Neil Blower and I’m an author and former soldier. This is my first post in a series of blogs about life as a wordsmith in 21st century Britain. Over the coming weeks I’ll be writing about subjects that include “getting published” “writing your masterpiece” “Do I need an agent” and “the importance of a good publicist”, among others.
First though, a little bit about me.
I joined the army way back in 1999 at the tender age of 17. At 18 I was in Kosovo on a peacekeeping mission cleaning up after a genocide and at 20 found myself in the middle of the biggest war the UK had seen since Korea; Iraq. Now, ten years later and in no small part due to my experiences I’m a professional writer of novels, poetry, short stories, articles and now a blog.
You might be thinking how does someone go from being a frontline combat soldier to critically acclaimed author? The answer is simply bloody hard work, perseverance, a bit of good luck and an unhealthy amount of arrogance and self-delusion.
I left the army in 2005 after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was lost. I had no direction, no purpose, and no aspiration. I had very vivid and disturbing nightmares, was angry at the entire world and everything in it, I put on weight and didn’t look after myself.
Working as a security guard on rotating shifts I had a lot of time to kill; so I read. I read everything I could get my hands on and fell in love with the written word. And as time went on I thought “Maybe I could write?” So I did, I wrote the openings to countless novels, hundreds of short stories and poems until finally my hobby and passion led me to university, where I studied for a degree in English Literature and creative writing, and it was during my first year at uni that I completed what would be my debut novel – Shell Shock: the diary of Tommy Atkins about (cliché as it is) a young soldier’s battle with PTSD.
Learning about all the great writers and their work inspired me to think of something different, something that hadn’t been done before. So I wrote a fictional diary of a (present day) young British soldier (Tommy Atkins) and his ups and downs during his first year back in “Civvy Street”. Now, Shell Shock is not as depressing as it sounds! Given the very dark subject matter and plot I wanted to make it as entertaining as possible and in parts it’s very, very funny as we follow Tommy on his journey.
Thus far it has received rave reviews from high-ranking army officers (the forward was written by Colonel Tim Collins who made the famous speech on the eve of the Iraq war) SAS soldiers, experts in the field of mental health, other writers and people who have PTSD. The feeling I get when a serving or former soldier tells me they enjoyed the book or things like “It was like reading about me mate” is fantastic. The book has been out for over a year and I still get messages and letters from guys and girls who have read the book. And a few have even gotten help because of it.
Now I’ve finished my second novel, which is due out later this year, and have started my third. I love writing. I have the best job in the world. You’ll hear many writers talk about how hard it is, and it is hard. But not as hard as getting shot at by lunatics and having bombs drop on your head!
So, that’s me in a nutshell. I was a soldier, now I’m a writer.Which brings me very nicely to the purpose of this blog; writing and publishing.
If you hope to one day walk into Waterstones and see one of your books on the shelf the first thing you have to do is write the damn thing. Which sadly no one can help you with. For me good writing comes from the heart and is filtered by the head, and to write anything at all (to quote Hemingway) “you need to sit at the typewriter and bleed” (or in our case a MacBook Pro!) and if you do that, when you ‘ve finished writing your book, found a publisher and gone through the process and you finally see it on the shelf of a bookshop or online, you’ll get this feeling of accomplishment that very few people will ever know. I may never sell a million copies or win the booker prize (and it won’t be through lack of trying!) but no one can ever take away the fact I’m a published author.
Shell Shock: The diary of Tommy Atkins is out now at all good bookshops
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilBauthor