THE enduring literary fascination with war and warfare is reflected in spades at this year’s Brewin Doplhin Book Festival which takes place at Harmony Gardens, Melrose, from June 14-17.
It is generally acknowledged that the bestselling work in the genre is Bravo Two Zero, Andy McNab’s extraordinary account of the 1991 capture of his SAS patrol in the Middle East.
Published two year later, it has sold an estimated two million copies. It kicked off a remarkable writing career for McNab, who was awarded the Military Medal (MM) in 1980 and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) in 1991, becoming the most highly decorated serving soldier when he left the SAS.
Andy McNab is, famously, the writer’s pseudonym and secrecy continues to surround him.
When he appears on television to promote his books or to offer his views as an expert on special military services, his face is shadowed to prevent identification on the premise that he is still wanted by a number of the world’s terrorist organisations. His publicity photographs are similarly obscured.
Amid this backdrop of intrigue, festival organisers appear to have pulled off a major coup in booking MacNab for the main marquee on Sunday, June 17.
The programme says that the 52-year-old will be talking about his new novel, his 14th work of fiction, but, like the man himself, it is shrouded in mystery.
“McNab is using the festival to launch his novel and that’s a much as we know,” said a festival spokeswoman. “We’ve had no indication if the writer wants to hide his identity by appearing behind a screen, which all adds to the intrigue.”
What is known is that McNab has, in gripping works of non-fiction, brought the reality of modern warfare to an audience in a way impossible for news or TV reporting.
He has also proved prolific with fiction, with 13 successful novels based on Nick Stone – an ex-SAS soldier working on deniable operations for British intelligence. The series draws extensively on Norfolk-based McNab’s experience and knowledge of Special Forces soldiering.
His career began when he enlisted with the Royal Green Jackets aged 16. He received his MM for bravery during his second tour of duty in Northern Ireland when, as a newly promoted lance-corporal, he foiled an IRA ambush. “It was the first time I had to kill someone to stay alive,” he recalled.
McNab passed his selection for the SAS at the second attempt in 1984, working on overt and covert counter-terroristm operations worldwide and specialising in “prime target illimination” and “VIP protection”.
Like McNab, Charles Glass knows what it is like to be taken prisoner in a foreign land, having been held hostage for two months in Iraq in 1987 before escaping from his Shiite Muslim captors.
Glass was not a soldier, but an award-winning journalist and war reporter who, a year later, exposed Saddam Hussein’s then-secret biological weapons. In 1992, although still chief Middle East correspondent with ABC News, he went alone with a hidden camera to Indonesian-occupied East Timor and, despite government restrictions, filmed a report on repression and torture. This influenced a US Senate committee to vote to suspend US military aid to Indonesia.
Since then, Glass has covered conflicts in the Middle East, Eritrea, Somalia. Bosnia and, as a correspondent for the Independent in 2004, Iraq.
Glass’s front-line reports inspired political satirist Rory Bremner, previously best known for entertaining impressions on the BBC, to produce his acclaimed Iraq specials, with John Bird and John Fortune, on Channel 4.
It is thus fitting that festival patron Bremner will interview Los-Angeles-born Glass when he appears at the Scottish Borders Brewery Marquee on Thursday, June 14, at 7.45pm.
Glass, who has published several books on the Middle East and the Second World War, will talk about his career, his current life as a writer and his latest tour of Lebanon and strife-torn Syria.
In the same venue on Friday, June 15 at 7.45pm, historian James Holland, the bestselling author of The Battle of Britain, will discuss his new book, Dam Busters, which is published by Bantam Press today.
A true story of daring, ingenuity and raw courage, Holland’s is a definitive account of the night of May 16, 1943 when 19 specially adapted Lancaster bombers took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, each with a huge 9,000lb bomb strapped beneath it. Their mission was to destroy three dams deep within the German heartland.
Although the film, starring Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd, is part of British movie legend, there have been few written works about the raid and only one narrative history, written in 1951 before files relating to the operation had been declassified.
In his re-telling of the dramatic events, Holland uncovers forgotten details in a story of politics and personalities as much as science and ingenious engineering and discovers that the raid was a much more complex and nuanced episode than is generally thought.
In addition to his books, Holland has made acclaimed television programmes on the Battle of Britain and the Dam Busters. His many interviews with veterans from the Second World War are available at the Imperial War Museum in London and are archived on www.secondworldwarforum.com