Friday, November 30, 2012



I tend to work on core ideas for a long time. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have fresh thoughts as I write—I most certainly do—but it seems to be my habit to come up with a concept, and then store it away in my mind while it matures (or dies). There is a vast difference between an initial thought and a well developed idea. The first is a word or a line. The second contains much of the structure of the final story.

How long is “a long time?” Well, in the U.S. it seems to be a matter of days or weeks—certainly as interpreted by the media. In my case, think years or decades. This isn’t a deliberate strategy. It is more the way things have worked out. As I have mentioned before, my subconscious—while both creative and hard-working—seems to have a mind of its own, and is inclined to work at its own deliberate pace. It is also an independent sort of thing. Add in my own peculiar sense of time, and I guess you could say I’m slow; or you could be kinder and regard me as thorough. I have no strong views on the matter; but my sense is that I am more tortoise than hare.

Last night I tried to watch Foyle’s War—arguably my favorite TV series—but not only was it a repeat, which I was more than happy to watch, but Public Television people were trying to raise money during it. Now clearly the fund raising formula works, because Public TV seems to be thriving, but I regard it as cruel and unusual punishment—and switched off. There has got to be a better way…

I then wondered what makes Foyle’s War so extraordinarily good. Apart from being vastly entertaining, it is a master-class to write.

  • It is extraordinarily tightly written with at least as much communicated by a look or a glance as by the spoken word. In short, it deals with nuance and subtlety and appeals to one’s intelligence. 
  • It is brilliantly cast and acted.
  • It is set against the background of WWII
  • It’s setting’s are as authentic and believable as mortal man can devise.
  • It’s plots are always ingenious.
  • It is delightfully unsentimental.
  • Though it deals with murder and other crimes, it projects a core of decency.

Well, clearly the above observations don’t do Foyle’s War justice, but they led me to a breakthrough thought about the financial thriller I have been gestating.

I won’t tell you the idea itself—that would spoil the fun—but I will tell you that I think seismic changes are taking place in our current system of capitalism which Americans as a whole have not woken up to; and which are rarely discussed.

Most of us crave a return to the traditional economy and institutions which we have been told made the U.S. into the economic powerhouse it is is today—and yet there is strong evidence that we have not been as well served as we thought; and have been surviving largely on myth.

But who wants to think about such disturbing notions!




Thursday, November 29, 2012



HP ENVY dv7 17.3" Core i7 750GB HDD NotebookToday I decided to give Spinnaker a workout—both by writing my backlog of blogs—and by doing as much of my normal work on it as possible. It is my experience that you can only really assess a computer by using it operationally. Pecking away at a keyboard in a showroom doesn’t really cut it as far as I am concerned.

The dreaded Delete key was a feature once again—so I will just have to retrain my muscle memory. That apart, I am essentially very pleased with my HP ENVY dv7 (Spinnaker) except for two observations:

  • The keyboard leaves something to be desired—though I am sure I will get used to it.
  • The screen—while quite adequate for my current purposes—seems to darken the colors compared to other screens.

Set against the power and speed, these are small issues.

I loaded up Windows Live Writer today. This is part of Windows Essentials and was prone to crash when I used it on my previous machine—probably because it ran out of resources. This time I downloaded an upgrade and it worked perfectly. It is a program I like a great deal because it works pretty much like a word-processor; and yet you can edit HTML if so included—and the Preview Mode is excellent. In short, it makes blogging much easier and faster. Apparently, it works better still for WordPress—which I really should be using instead of Blogger—but I have no complaints.

Tomorrow, I intend to partition Spinnaker’s hard drive and start copying data across. I normally keep my data away from programs on its own partition. Better housekeeping apparently.

After that, apart from a lot of learning and tidying up, I should be operational again, and hopefully can think rather more about writing and publishing than computers. Nonetheless, I am glad I have spent the time I have trying to reach a certain minimum level of computer competence; or I’d be rather helpless. A writer really should have a working knowledge of the tools of his trade. Mine has been hard won, let me tell you. It is one thing to work in an area which you love, and where it appears you have some natural talent—such as writing. It takes pure willpower to work on something for which you have neither natural aptitude nor intrinsic interest. But it was, and remains, necessary—and I wish I had adopted such a pro-active approach much sooner.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012



Today, I backtracked and commenced making a written inventory of all the software I had been using—leaving out stuff I was definitely not interested in progressing. I should have done it before doing anything else, of course, but curiosity got the better of me. Now, I’m trying to make up for my sins.

Frankly, it is tedious work, but otherwise one tends to forget the software that isn’t used that often; or, at least, I do. Funnily enough, despite my dyslexia, I can remember all kinds of things across a wide spectrum—but I can’t remember my own telephone number. Where software is concerned, I don’t even try and remember serial numbers—which doesn’t matter if you keep reasonable records—but I can never recall all the programs I use apart from the major ones. And so I’m using check-lists; and they work.

Inventory apart, I have been installing a whole raft of second tier software—and, so far, so good (apart from the moved Delete key).

Surprisingly, because this is a budget priced machine, my HP Envy dv7 contains a fingerprint reader—so maybe that will solve my password issues.

Unfortunately, I hate touchpads so always use a laser mouse—a marvelous Logitech. However, I found my shirt cuff was swiping the touchpad and so moving the cursor to undesirable places. To solve that issue, I installed a free utility called TouchFreeze which neutralizes the touchpad when one is typing (but only then). Very clever.

So far, I haven’t transferred my data. I haven’t had to where the Cloud has been involved because everything is stored online, but all my correspondence and writing files are stored locally. Has the time come to store them in the Cloud as well? I think it probably has and plan to use MS Skydrive—though I will be keeping synchronized copies locally.

And to think all one needed once were a pen, ink and paper!



Tuesday, November 27, 2012



Downton ChristmasI will confess that I was somewhat nervous when I started. Normally, I have had a computer guru close by when I have done this stuff, but over the last couple of years I have put much effort into learning the basics. Yes, I know a writer should always prioritize writing, but I am so computer dependent these days that I have come to the conclusion that one should be able to do everything from doing a completely fresh install, to designing and uploading a web site. Can I do all this at present? No, but I plan to be able to by the time I am 70—and I will be 69 next May.

This, the first day, went surprisingly well. Windows 8 looks quite different at first glance but under the hood it operates similarly to Windows 7, albeit clearly there has been a lot of work done to speed it up and improve connectivity. But the most important thing is not to be frightened of it. I would recommend anyone to upgrade—though a better idea would be to get a Mac.

I then started downloading my key programs. The fact that most operate in the Cloud, although some also synchronize with your local hard drive, made that whole process much easier and faster than when I had upgraded to Windows 7 back in early 2010.

  • Google Chrome (plus extensions)
  • Gmail
  • Hotmail (which MS seem to be renaming Outlook)
  • MS Office 365
  • Evernote
  • Whizfolders
  • Directory Opus File Manager
  • Picassa
  • Skype
  • Windows Live Writer

You may well ask how I get to 50 programs. Well, I am including security programs and utilities, together with a mass of special purpose programs such as in the graphics area. For instance, if I save an article to Evernote—which I do a great deal—I will normally strip out all the ads and irrelevant material with a marvelous little program called Readability (which I thoroughly recommend). In addition, one tends to forget programs that work away without required much user participation. These include indexing utilities, Carbonite for backing up into the Cloud, and so on.

Everything would have gone smoothly except for my quaint habit of forgetting my passwords. Yes, I do have a password manager—the excellent Last Pass—but it can fooled under some circumstances. Be that as it may, I got there in the end, and completed a very long day feeling quite exhausted, and ready for Downton Abbey (about as good an example of a fine TV production as one is ever likely to see).

The aspect that most impressed me was the sheer speed and power of the new machine. Will I, at last, be able to work the way I have planned—which is based upon having all my main programs open at once (plus way too many tabs open in Chrome)? It is looking entirely possible.

So why do I harbor unkind thoughts about whoever decided what keyboard to use? Well, they moved the Delete key from top right on my previous HP machine to a position four keys over. Unfortunately, my muscle memory has been far too well trained so my finger automatically goes to the old location—and hits Page Down. And I use the Delete key more than I probably want to admit.

Writing, as the professionals will tell you, is hugely about re-writing.


Monday, November 26, 2012



I would like to say that I opened the computer box at the crack of dawn—and had it up and running by lunch; but, apart from my data, I have roughly 50 programs to download or transfer, and that is not a trivial amount of work; and then they will have to be tweaked. Realistically, I expect the task to take the rest of the week, and possibly intrude into the weekend. And I did not open the box until the evening.

My great concern is whether the machine will prove powerful enough. For far too long, I have been living with a machine that worked fine for basic writing and minimal browsing, but froze or otherwise misbehaved  if I stressed it in any way. Foolish me for putting up with it for so long, but I managed (at the cost of time), was used to the machine—and dreaded the normally painful transition. 

To further complicate matters, this machine—which I have named SPINNAKER—has Windows 8 as its operating system, and not only have I never used it before, but reports on it have been decidedly mixed.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, will tell the tale—and Wednesday; and Thursday; and Friday….

Sunday, November 25, 2012



How Social Media Can Train Wreck Your Author Career

I wrote yesterday on the amount today’s authors are expected to do—in addition to writing books (which is very tough work, I’ll have you know; and extremely time-consuming in itself).

As it happens, I have just run across an excellent blog on the subject which is headed:


Graphically put! Let me quote from the BookBaby blog that identified it.

You’ve almost finished writing your book and you’re starting to piece together the beginnings of a “promotion strategy.” Part of that effort involves Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, StumbleUpon, and Habbo Hotel.


I know you’re excited, but if you try to tackle everything at once you’re going to fail. Slow it down! Or as Jonathan Gunson says in his article “The Social Media ‘Train Wreck’ That All Authors Must Avoid…“:

Your fledgling author career can rapidly jump off the rails if you attempt to accelerate book sales by trying to be visible everywhere, using the full range of social media channels, without any prior experience, all on day one.

Fact is, if you try this, you’ll be overwhelmed.  Even worse, your all-important focus on writing will be derailed.  You won’t sell many books either, and you’ll end up a train wreck.

Instead, there’s a right way to ‘take the train’ to author success.

Gunson urges quality over quantity; focus on mastering a few social media channels. Create great content/posts/pics/updates, but limit your social media promotion to less than 30% of the total time spent on advancing your author career (which includes WRITING! — which Gunson suggests should take up 70% of your time).

Read more of his social media advice for authors HERE.

I just hope I have the good fortune to find the right balance between writing and all its associated distractions—let alone the business of living a balanced life outside one’s work. So far, I don’t believe I have in either case.

The computer box still lies unopened.

Saturday, November 24, 2012



Back around April 2010, I tried to evolve a new way of working which would both compensate for the inadequacies of my memory—I have a form of dyslexia—and enable me to process large amounts of data with relative efficiency. Also, I wanted to improve my planning capabilities.

If this all sounds a bit much for a thriller writer—you have my sympathy. However, I’m intellectually curious; I have wide interests; and I write about economics as well--and economics should be fact based (though it seems to be adopting religious trappings where the Republican Right is concerned).

What prompted all this? I think it was sparked off by the fact that my favorite program, askSam was not being developed anymore—so I was going to have to find a replacement; and by a general feeling that I could not only do better, but would have to if I was to handle the workload of the modern writer. There was a time when a writer only had to write—possibly with some research thrown in. However, after the e-book revolution took off, it soon became clear that we writers would have to deal with many of the tasks traditionally handled by agents, publishers and other specialists—and that little lot, which included everything from dealing with the Social Media to book cover design—would be taxing in the extreme in terms of time, let alone innate ability.

When I started all this, I had absolutely no idea how much work would be involved or how difficult the whole exercise would be—and I experienced a few disasters on the way—but I am glad to say that, after two and a half years, I really do think I have found a way of working which is a vast improvement (and I wrote a book and a half—and much other stuff—in the same period). However, since it means working with a considerable number of powerful programs uploaded at the same time, my original laptop indicated that it was not up to the task by committing suicide.  

Well, I exaggerate, of course, but the point is that I was forced to abandon my little laptop—which had served me well—for a significantly more powerful HP Envy dv7 with an Intel i7 CPU.

Now my task was how to get both my programs and data from one machine to the other. On a Mac this is supposed to be a straightforward task, but not so where Windows machines are concerned. Windows, as we all know, was developed by evil demons not far from Seattle.

And I am not a computer guru. Worse, I have no natural talent for such technology. Hell, on my grandmother’s farm we ploughed with horses;and I did my military training with a bolt-action rifle! To say we were a technologically challenged household would be an understatement. We had a radio, but I grew up without television.

Today, I long-fingered the task on the grounds that Saturday is my self-designated day of rest; I wanted to catch up on my e-mail; and I was still decidedly unwell.

Friday, November 23, 2012



I advise everyone who is thinking of writing—or thinking of using a computer at all—to get a Mac.

Why so? Well, my friends who use Macs seem to have very little trouble, whereas the minority who use Windows suffer the tortures of the damned unless they work for a corporation and have an in-house guru. Mind you, why corporations don’t look more closely at their maintenance costs, and opt for Macs, defeats me; but I guess it originally had to do with cost, and now momentum has taken over. Besides, corporate gurus have grown up in a Windows world, and moving to Macs, which are less troublesome and more reliable, might put them out of a job. That said, Macs are steadily eating away at the PC market—and not before time.

Given such feelings on the matter, you might think I would be a dedicated Mac user, but due to various accidents of fate I shall have to hang my head and admit I am actually a Windows user. The full, grizzly story shall have to await my memoirs--I am far too embarrassed to tell it now--but I will say that a driving force was an outstanding database, askSam, that only ran on Windows (and DOS beforehand), and by the time Macs started being able to run Windows as well, I had too much invested in PCs and software to make the move—though I should have.

I shall continue this saga tomorrow. Right now, I’m going to try and shake a debilitating hacking cough which has been bothering me by going to bed with a good book; and dozing off while reading it.



Thursday, November 22, 2012



I would love for Thanksgiving to really resonate with me, but it justFile:2006-ca-turkey.jpg doesn’t—despite the good offices of various friends over the years who have invited me to their various tables. My Anglo-Irish origins will out.

I enjoy it, of course, because a holiday always lifts one’s spirits, but the occasion that I warm to most emotionally is—and always has been—Christmas. In particular, I recall the excitement and pleasure my kids both felt and showed. This was the time of year when they all received serious presents—but what were they? The suspense was fundamental to the occasion; and opening presents was the highlight of the day.

As for the Christmas meal when I was a kid, I loved it, but was most excited by the lighting of the plum pudding with brandy—a ritual that was normally carried out with more vigor than wisdom. Quite how none of us went up in flames is a good question. Still, since there were twelve of us children in all, I guess we could have spared one. Though maybe not. The younger ones, in particular were, very sweet. Some still are. Others, sadly, are dead before their time—Rex, Desiree, Martin and Christian. All were younger than me. Eight of us are left.

Christmas also guaranteed that I would be home from boarding school, and what is more, the Christmas vacation—which typically started around December 20—meant meant five glorious weeks of freedom. That was beyond wonderful as far as I was concerned, because despite the fact that school I went to was widely regarded as excellent—which it was—I thoroughly disliked boarding school, its rules and restrictions, its complete lack of privacy, and the overarching fact that one was, in effect a prisoner. In my opinion , such a restriction of one’s liberty was just plain unacceptable—and I never either got used to it, or accepted it. Accordingly, just to be away from school was bliss. Most of my peers quite enjoyed the place, particularly because it was heavily sports oriented, but I have had this fondness for freedom since I first escaped from my playpen.

But enough of Christmas, for the moment—one holiday at a time. Perhaps the best thing to do on Thanksgiving is to focus on everything one has to be thankful for.

Which, of course, brings me back to writing. After all, this is a writer’s blog. But surely I have much else to be thankful for? Family, friends, the many wonders of this world—the list is endless. All true—but you see here is the thing: Writing, apart from being the engine of my life—and vastly pleasurable—is freedom.

Later in the day, I shall be having a meal with friends. They will be serving—wait for it—chicken; or as I used to say to my kids: “Dead chicken.” Turkey is for Christmas as far as I am concerned; and it tastes far better if it, too, is dead.


Orso Clip Art




Wednesday, November 21, 2012



It’s a sad thing that so many people are ignorant of history because life makes little sense unless you know what has gone before; or such is my opinion. Others may have a different perspective.

Burma loomed large in my life, not just because of my grandmother’sPortrait of Major-General Walter David Alexander Lentaigne happy memories and because it had been my mother’s country of birth, but also because it had been the scene of intense combat between the British and the Japanese during World War II,and because one of my relations, Lieutenant General Walter ‘Joe’ Lentaigne, a former Gurkha officer, had not only distinguished himself there—but had commanded the Chindits after Wingate was killed.

Wikipedia contains a graphic description of Joe Lentaigne’s courage:

He (Joe Lentaigne) soon gained a legendary name for bravery. "Once this bespectacled giant had his revolver kicked out of his hand in a hand-to-hand scrap with four Japs. he tore the sword from the leader's hand and killed him with it; then, turning on the others, hewed one to the ground and chased the other two back into the jungle. Another time, when the Japanese had captured an ambulance convoy, a wounded officer in one of them heard a noise which he described as like the roaring of the Bull of Bashan. It was Joe Lentaigne arriving. He had charged ahead of his Gurkhas and arrive first, killing several Japs before they caught up with him. The ambulances were saved."

‘Bloody Burma’ indeed! Joe Lentaigne is illustrated above. Somehow he doesn’t really look like a killer, but he certainly seems to have been one. Much of the fighting in Burma took place in the jungle at close quarters and under terrible conditions. Disease was rife, and because supply was so difficult, malnutrition was a serious problem.

Wingate, himself, was an odd duck by military standards, but he was also a truly remarkable warrior. In the late 1930s, while serving with the British Army in Palestine, he helped to train Jewish settlers—who were being raided by Arabs at the time—to fight back and generally take the initiative. In that way, he became, in effect, one of the founders of the Israeli Defense Forces. And he also got kicked out of Palestine by the British.

Though still a comparatively junior British Army officer, he then went on to be instrumental in driving the Italians out of Ethiopia—a truly extraordinary military achievement just in itself.

But he is probably best known for creating the Chindits—a special unit which was established to penetrate deeply behind Japanese lines, and which was to be supplied solely by air. The objectives were to destabilize the Japanese by threatening their lines of communication, and to make it impossible for them to invade India from Burma.

The success of the Chindit concept remains a matter of debate—they had a profound effect on the enemy but took terrible casualties—and Wingate himself was killed in a plane crash in 1944.

My great uncle Major General Joe Lentaigne (who sadly I never met) was then appointed to take over the Chindits and he commanded them until they were disbanded in 1945.

Coincidentally, Major General Wingate’s son was a classmate when I was at Ampleforth College—the celebrated Catholic school run by Benedictine monks which, as it happens, also educated David Stirling, the legendary founder of Britain’s SAS Regiment.

The foundation of the SAS is such a great story that I have fictionalized it and included it in my fourth Fitzduane novel, THE BLOOD OF GENERATIONS.

The name “Chindit” is an English corruption of the Burmese word “Chinthe” describing a mythical lion.

Great name. Great deeds. Great unit. It seems to me it would be a sad thing, indeed, to forget about them.

When at Ampleforth, I am not sure we all believed the stories of  young Wingate. However, we got a lesson when the Emperor of Ethiopia arrived in London for a state visit, and then invited our classmate, Orde Wingate, to visit with him. It transpired that the emperor was young Wingate’s god-father.

All in all, I’m rather proud of the family’s Burmese connections.


Orso Clip Art

Tuesday, November 20, 2012




I was brought up hearing tales of Burma. My grandmother had loved the place. It had been the location of her near perfect, but very short, marriage—and it was where her adored husband, my grandfather, John Lentaigne, died of cholera.

It was also where her only child, my mother, Josephine “Jojo” Lentaigne, was born. As a consequence, mother’s birth certificate is a spectacular looking document.

Burma might have been a British colony at the time, but Burmese aesthetics won through. This is a rich culture.

Though my grandmother talked about my grandfather many times, I don’t recall the dates with much precision. I guess that is scarcely surprising because I was young, granny was always a little vague, and dyslexia has made my recall of dates somewhat problematic. Nonetheless, I recall the general details of their story very well.

My grandmother, Helen Evelyn Vida Haslam—always known as Vida—came from a rich and privileged background, and was educated to be a lady of leisure, nothing more. That meant that although she was extremely cultured, excelled at poetry, and spoke near perfect French—a consequence of having French governesses—she scarcely know how to boil an egg. Nonetheless, she was a high–minded young lady with a strong social conscience, and during World War I became a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) an organization of nurses’ aides made up patriotic, but decidedly under-trained young women, almost all from either the aristocracy or the the privileged upper classes. If you want to get a general impression of her way of life, look no further than DOWNTON ABBEY.

Granny’s family were not aristocrats. They were rich industrialists who had made their way in cotton; but they lived like aristocrats and soon the borders were blurred. Her father, Lewis Haslam, was an MP (a member of parliament) and a friend of Lloyd George (the British Prime Minister). They had adjacent constituencies and used to travel to London together.

Two well known VADs were Amelia Earhart and Agatha Christie. Despite their lack of formal nursing training, they learned on the job and performed with distinction throughout the war. Many served overseas, and some came under fire. Granny served in France and was deeply affected by her experiences. In addition, most of her male friends – boys she had known while growing up or while as a young woman—were killed or wounded.

Towards the end of the war she met John Lentaigne, a young Ghurkha officer, who had somehow made it through alive. He had a motorcycle and sidecar, which she thought incredibly exciting (in contrast to the family Rolls Royce which seemed rather dull) and soon the pair were married. They spent their honeymoon journeying to Burma by sea, stopping off at one exotic location after another on the way. John, a barrister (trial lawyer) had secured a post with the British Colonial Administration in Rangoon, Burma. He brought with him, apart from his new wife, his Ghurkha man-servant or “batman.”

By all accounts, my grandparents few years in Burma were idyllic. They loved the people, the culture, and the country—and they loved each other. Every day, there was something new to experience, or some exotic location to visit—but, above all, except for the love of her husband—my grandmother loved the Burmese. The people had grace and elegance—and they won her heart for the rest of her natural life. If she was alive today, Aung San Suu Kyi would, I believe, be the epitome of the qualities she admired.

Granny’s favorite Burmese story—which, ironically, did not involve anyKukri.jpg Burmese—concerned a row between their Chinese cook and her husband’s Ghurkha batman. All was noise until the Ghurkha drew his kukhri—the distinctive blade that all male Ghurkhas carry (or used to carry) and chased the Chinese cook into the distance. Lunch was late that day. Granny, for all her noble aspirations, had a sense of humor.

A confession: When I was still pretty small—probably about three—I chased my much loved nurse, May, around the garden, reportedly clutching a carving knife. May was not hurt, and I have no recollection of the incident.

Granny’s idyllic life came to an end when John contracted cholera. The disease so weakened him that finally he died of pneumonia—but cholera was the cause. Before he died, he asked for two things: Firstly, that granny would convert to his religion—Catholicism—and secondly, that granny would bring up their child, my mother, in Ireland—his native land (although the family was of French origin).

Then he died; and granny left Burma and honored both his wishes. And she loved his memory until she too died.

But she loved talking about Burma. It would lift her heart to tell tales of that wondrous country; and I was just fascinated.

She died in 1976 and broke my heart.

They say you can survive the harshest of upbringings if just one person champions you—and she was my champion.




Monday, November 19, 2012




This piece was prompted by my browsing around the web late at night and running across a site called

For some reason I had Googled “Hugo Fitzduane” –something I rarely do.

The following came up:

This series cries out for more adventures. The writing style Mr. O'Reilly brings to the books is refreshingly brisk and engaging. It makes reading his books fun, easy, and compelling. Pretty much what you want in a good yarn. Fitzduane is a character who is tired of violence and who has the luxury of retreating to his private island to get away from it, except it doesn't stay away and how Fitzduane handles the intrusion and the danger to himself and his family and friends makes for a compelling series.
       The first book did not feel at all like a series. It told a complete tale and ended dramatically but firmly. I, for one, was concerned that the ending might be lessened with the coming of the second book, as in "but wait! The bad guy isn't really dead!" I am sorry, Mr. O'Reilly, for doubting you. The return of Fitzduane to action is not only dramatic and exciting, it made sense.
       Well done, sir!

Hugo Fitzduane (pronounced “FITZDWANE”), in case you don’t know, is the protagonist in my first three novels. He is Anglo-Irish, was a soldier in his early twenties, and then resigned his commission to become a war photographer. He both hates war and is fascinated by it—and he comes from a long line of warriors. War—combat—is, so to speak, in his blood. He is also very good at it. For generations past, his ancestors were soldiers and both his parents fought behind enemy lines in WWII. The castle he lives in was built by a Norman knight, a part of the Norman force which invaded Ireland towards the end of the twelfth century. The place has remained in Fitzduane family hands—despite great turbulence—ever since.

A hanging on his island—a suicide on the face of it—has brought Fitzduane into the counterterrorism business. Despite the successful outcome of that adventure, GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, he now finds himself a target for revenge and in a game he cannot leave. RULES OF THE HUNT makes that point with vigor; and THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINT just re-enforces it.

That apart, he is a thoughtful, sensitive man—of an idealistic, even romantic nature—who would much prefer to be left to his own devices. However, he has character traits which counter his innate desire to have a peaceful life. He is of a curious disposition with an original cast of mind; he, is, fundamentally, a decent man with a desire to do the right thing; and he is extraordinarily determined.

He lives in an old Norman keep on a small, windswept island off the West Coast of Ireland. A keep is, in effect, a rectangular stone tower—think small castle--which was routinely built by the Normans to secure land. First you built a wooden fort, then you built a stone keep—and then you added a courtyard enclosed by a stone wall. After that, you built a smithy, stables, and other utility buildings within the courtyard—and soon you had a self-contained strongpoint that could dominate a given area of land, assuming the castle was adequately manned. Some, like the Fitzduanes, built a pitched roof extension to the main keep which allowed for a Great Hall, a kitchen of size, and other quarters. But Fitzduane’s castle should not be confused with the massive structures that kings built. 

Dotting a conquered land with strongpoints was a very practical system developed by the Normans—an extremely practical people. Add the armor they wore, and the prodigious power of a cavalry charge by massed armored knights, and they were practically unstoppable until gunpowder came on the scene and changed the technology of war. And prior to that, both the longbow and the crossbow did not help—because they could allow any peasant with well developed shoulder muscles (the longbow required years of training) to take out an armored knight. But such skilled bowmen were in short supply so the armored knight reigned supreme for many centuries. After archers became more available, knights with brains brought their archers along too to counter enemy archers—so armor still held sway when it was properly used. The battles of Agincourt and Crecy showed what happened when it wasn’t. The French knights, in both these cases, were slaughtered by the English bowmen

But let us return to the present day. The fundamental point about Hugo—at least as I see him—is that, in essence, he is a knight, and each adventure is a quest. He doesn’t consciously think of his life that way, of course, because he is very much a modern man in many ways—but his values are rooted in his family traditions. They constitute his essence. He has been brought up to preserve the family holdings, to care for those less fortunate than him, and to serve. In practice, he lives such an independent way of life on his island that his loyalty is more abstract than to the Irish state as such—in many ways, he lives, for all practical purposes, in his own world. But, for all his reservations about political corruption, and the direction Ireland the country, as a whole, is taking, he steps up to the plate with a will when asked. At heart, he is a decent and honorable man.

Hugo, while attractive to women, though lucky in war, is unlucky in love. His first wife is killed under appalling circumstances, in the Congo. His long time love, Etan—a TV journalist and anchor—bears him a son, but leaved him for fame. His second  wife, Kathleen, a nurse who cared for him when he was wounded, dies from a hospital contracted infection. Such experiences make Hugo cautious. He has affairs—some with women he is very close to—but he is reluctant to commit. He also knows that because of his counter-terrorism work, every woman he becomes close, becomes—automatically—a target.

Such is Hugo Fitzduane. In truth, I am not sure I liked him much when I created him—I preferred Kilmara—but as I worked on the character, and researched his adventures—my regard increased. Now, three decades later, I regard him as the closest of friends; and no day goes by when I don’t think about him for hours.

Is her real? Of course not—yet in a way he is because he is a compendium of all my friends, and the values I hold in high regard. And these include include a lively sense of humor. The man has both a wit and a good sense of timing.

As to more books, THE BLOOD OF GENERATIONS is due out very shortly—making a total to date of four in the series—and other titles are in development.



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Sunday, November 18, 2012



Small babies have a habit of making one’s sleep cycle irrelevant. They wake when they wake; and they sleep when they sleep—and the need and desire for others to sleep without interruption is of no consequence to them. All babies are born egomaniacs. Education is primarily about toning down this tendency. It rarely succeeds entirely.

I know this because I am the eldest of twelve children, and the father of five. To express the thing in military terms, “I have seen the elephant”—an expression which means: “I have experienced combat.” I have diapered more small chubby bottoms than I care to think about.

Could it be that cats are worse? Or should I differentiate between cats, in general, and Chris and Jane’s cats in particular? Here’s the thing: Jane likes to get up shortly after 3.00 am—and to conduct her day backwards—so the cats have been conditioned to expect to have their first meal of the day at that hour. In contrast, I have more traditional habit and needs; and, at weekends, I find sleeping until 10.00 am is highly beneficial to my health.

Chester is not remotely concerned with my health. Even when dry cat-food, and plenty of fresh water, are laid out for his satisfaction, he feels entitled to yowl his head off at 3.00 am—and to continue until he is fed soft food (of the kind you get out of a can). He eats both, but prefers meat in gravy so he will engage in torture until his needs are satisfied. He will yowl, he will bash away at the door, and he will try and trip me up when I emerge. When he is not doing all of the above, he likes to knock things down. What things? Any and all things—from a cereal packet to vertical containers. This is a cat who seems dedicated to the horizontal. Yesterday, he managed to knock down a wing chair. It fell against a glass sliding door—the one that leads to the balcony—but did not quite break it. Still, if at first a cat does not succeed…Chester is more than willing to try again. 

I have a mental image of bundling Chester up into a furry ball—he is a very furry cat—and of putting him to good use as a bowling ball in a bowling alley. But, I’m not that cruel.

Instead, I am becoming obsessed with the balcony door. A fall of six stories into the chill waters of Lake Washington in the wee small hours would be as sweet. Nine lives against six stories—followed by drowning? My bet would be on gravity.

I would, of course, have saved him if I had been awake—if the fall hadn’t killed him first—but, naturally enough—if Chester had not been yowling outside my bedroom door, I would have been asleep.

Pity about Chester!


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Saturday, November 17, 2012



I was never a cigarette smoker, but I had whooping cough when I was a kid—and pneumonia twice; so I guess it is not surprising I tend to get a hacking cough in the winter. It is the kind that leaves one feeling bruised. And it has returned. Shame on the damn thing. I have work to do.

For all that, it is clear that I need to rest up for a while and consolidate. Working 70 hours a week at my age may be overdoing it a bit—though I enjoy it so much. Either way, illness means I am decidedly not in top physical condition at present, much has been happening, and I need to rest up, recover a bit—and then do a considerable amount of housekeeping. And, of course, I have my guests to look after. Cat Charlie—she of the lightening claws—has decided my chair suits best; and cat Chester is wandering around behaving like Hamlet. His articulation is all too good. It penetrates every nook and cranny. To eat or not to eat. That is a damn fool question.

You would think that feeding Charlie would shut him up, but not a bit of it. This is a cat with lungs, and an urge to demonstrate that fact. Why not? He has nothing else to do.

Who would have thought two cats would be so theatrical—and seemingly classically trained at that? That said, they make this little apartment look remarkably cozy. Frankly, I would like to be tougher with the damn things, but I seem to be something of a softie.

Do not tell.


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Friday, November 16, 2012




2011—if you include December 2010 and January 2012—was a terrible year in terms of family members and friends dying. I think the total came to something like 18 in the end; and it affected me profoundly. In fact, it prompted me last Christmas to write to as many friends as possible forbidding them to die in 2012. Tongue in cheek? Of course; but a heartfelt thought nonetheless. Did I mail everybody I wished to? No, there wasn’t time; and, as is the way of things, I had lost contact with some people. But, the best is the enemy of the good—and I couldn’t think of what else to do.

I doubt my wishes have had much to do with it; but, up until a day or so ago, all had survived.  

Less than a couple of hours or so ago, I learned that Jack Clary—John G. Clary of the Addmaster and Clary Corporations—had just died at the age of 86. I guess I should regard that as just the natural order of things, because he led a full, rich, long life and contributed greatly to the community; but I am deeply distressed nonetheless.

Jack, to me, was the archetypical “can do” American of the type who helped to bring victory in World War II, and who then went on to make the U.S. the economic power-house it became. He was an engineer, an innovator, a rugged practical man, and both cautious and daring—but he was also the man who gave me my first big break in my business life; something I have never forgotten.

The situation was that his company, Addmaster, made a highly advanced electric adding machine (such devices were swept away by calculators)and wanted to take advantage of the U.K.’s conversion to decimalization in 1971, but they left it a little late—and anyway had no marketing. In the U.S. almost the entire production of the company, of about a million machines a year, was marketed by Sears, so Addmaster’s expertise was almost completely in product development and production. What to do? They did not even have a single salesman.

Jack Clary sent his Vice-President, Arthur J. Damschen—actually the company treasurer—over to Europe to work something out. Eventually, Art made his way to the London branch of the advertising agency, Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, where I worked, and I suggested doing a survey and coming up with a plan. At the time I was one of the more junior members of the agency; but, since no one else seemed interested, my suggestion was accepted.

After I produced a massive report, Jack and Art grilled me for about  a day. I have never been so thoroughly interrogated—either before or since. After various adventures, that all led to my being asked to found Addmaster U.K. Given that I was only in my mid-twenties, with no experience of a venture of this kind, that was a brave decision indeed by Jack.

The story of Addmaster UK is a tale for another day—but the bottom line is that I was given an unbelievable opportunity, was supported to the hilt—albeit after much debate—and the enterprise became extraordinarily successful. In fact, we achieved total market dominance in the UK despite arriving late, and the product having certain technical limitations. It is a classic marketing case history of achieving success in a declining market against all the odds, and in the face of much better financed opposition. In the context of business—it remains the best thing I have ever done. Somehow Jack and Art managed to harness creativity and balance it with both control and autonomy. It was a significant managerial achievement; and it is extremely unusual. Corporate financial control is normally rigid and authoritarian.

In the process of all this, though I mainly dealt with Art Damschen, who became both a mentor and a friend, I made many trips to California to report and consult, and had numerous meetings and meals with Jack. I came to respect, admire and like him immensely. Not only was he a first-rate engineer and businessman, but he tolerated total disagreement if he thought his opponent—normally me—was arguing in the company’s interests. In short, he knew how to get the best out of his people—a talent that is decidedly less common in today’s adversarial business climate.

Though he always stayed in role as president of the company, he could also be great company socially. He was both an interesting talker—and a good listener; and he had an excellent sense of humor in a crusty sort of a way. 

 On one occasion I nearly got him into a gunfight by insisting we intervene when, while driving back from dinner, we saw a woman being forced into a car on Wiltshire Boulevard. Jack protested, because he was aware of the risks—but then did a U-turn and we went to save the day. By the time the incident was over, guns had been drawn, and I had learned the lesson that the streets of London were decidedly less dangerous than LA.

I would have stayed working for Jack except that the desire to write triumphed all. It made no financial sense, but the desire was all encompassing—and I have never regretted my decision. Nonetheless, I have often missed working with Jack and Art, and the others at Addmaster. They were great people, and I miss their companionship, humor and strength to this day—and we had a lot of good times, and more than a few adventures. Indeed, after he received my resignation, Jack hopped a plane from California to London and tried to talk me out of it.  I deeply appreciated his concern, and I would be a richer man if I had stayed, but writing was in my blood; and there is no logic to such a creative imperative.

It is to Jack’s great credit that during a period when America has lost so much of its manufacturing base, that he and his sons, John and Hugh, managed to keep Addmaster alive, innovating, and manufacturing in the U.S. By all accounts, it wasn’t easy, but the trio did it—and this year Addmaster is fifty years old. In the context of vicious global competition, that is an extraordinary achievement.

I feel hugely proud to have known Jack—and to have been associated with the Addmaster Corporation. And now I’ll stop because I cannot control my tears. Both Jack and Art would laugh at me for being so emotional—and I just wish they were here to do it. But now both are dead (Art died over a decade ago), and I can but salute their memories; and wish the Addmaster Corporation, and the Clary family, the best for the future.

A fine company and good people. Jack must have been proud—and with good reason. He was an exceptional man who did exceptional things—and I mourn his passing.


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Thursday, November 15, 2012



Jane, a friend of more decades than I care to mention, had a hip replacement operation on Monday, so I’m looking after the family cats for a while.

Frankly—only a few days after the operation--Jane looks well enough to wrestle tigers; but Charlie and Chester—who think the family bed is really theirs—are another matter; so they have been dispatched to my tender care. The good news is that they know me, because I feed them when Chris and Jane are away. The bad news is that I live on the sixth floor, so I am living in terror that one or other of the cats will wander onto the balcony and experiment with gravity—without  a parachute.

The cats have quite distinctive personalities. Chester is some exotic breed with long hair who looks absolutely gorgeous, but who lives only to eat; and is decidedly short on brainpower. He is, indeed, a cat of very little brain. In contrast, Charlie, who has white fur and piecing eyes, is whip smart, but has only three legs (the fourth being the victim of a road accident). Having only three legs doesn’t seem to bother Charlie at all. True, she limps a bit, but she uses her tail as a fourth leg so adroitly that many people don’t notice that she is even missing one. Beyond that, if you mess with Charlie, she will claw you faster than you can blink. She is, so to speak, the Zorro of cats—except your scar will not be a “Z,” but a slightly curved crimson line; and it will sting, and bleed little beads of blood. And you will have learned to treat Charlie with respect. Nothing personal.

What are they like as guests? Charlie (short for Charlotte) is as engaging as ever, and has made herself quite at home. Chester—as normal—looks less happy, and has been parading around and knocking things over, but since he does that anyway in his normal residence—I am taking such behavior in my stride.

Though I have had pets for much of my life, I am not really a pet person these days, largely because, as a writer, I like to feel free to travel without leaving some poor neglected animal behind. Pets tend to be rather dependent on company.

As you may recall—I put the story in a blog some time ago—my first pet was a Siamese kitten which I was told was a baby monkey (I had asked for a monkey). I was dubious, but would my mother lie to me? And I was only five at the time. I ended up being very fond of Bankok, my Siamese cat, who met her end, after many years, in the German Legation in Dublin (they didn't have an embassy then) which we lived next door to. That incident did not improve my opinion of Germans—I was pre-conditioned by WWII—so I mounted many a successful raid to steal their apples.

Despite his egomania, I am quite fond of Chester, but I definitely prefer Charlie. She has character in spades. In fact, I have included her in my latest thriller THE BOOK-LOVER’S MOVE.


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Wednesday, November 14, 2012



I have been thinking of plans recently because mine have been disrupted by various recent events—though I am less concerned than I would have been in the past because I’ve built up enough experience to appreciate that: “Man plans and the gods laugh.”

Also, the word “unpredictable” embraces good news as well as bad—and I have recently received some good news. So we are back to the merits of equanimity. Cool is cool.

In some ways, I’m surprised the word ‘plan’ exists in the English language because it is (mostly) my experience that few plans survive contact with real people; primarily because real living people are a mass of wants, insecurities, irrationalities, ignorance, plain bloody mindedness, and panic–and most don’t think too rationally, even on a good day.

In fact, there is an old English expression to that effect: “There is nowt so daft as folks!” Unless it is generals.

Forgive my subconscious. The damn thing seems to have a mind of its own. Frankly, I am decidedly upset by recent developments because I don’t think Dave Petraeus has earned such ignominy; and I know a few other generals, who I regard as friends, who deserve better than to be caught in the fallout. On the other hand, I regard this tendency of many generals to regard themselves as rock stars—with attendant sycophants and groupies—as ridiculous; and sycophancy is virtually de rigeur in the Officer Corps. That, in many cases, is how you get promoted. You become a senior officer’s aide; gratify his every whim; agree with his every utterance; and your reward is promotion—the only that matters to the careerist.

Since it is in the nature of those with an original cast of mind to resist such toadying behavior, the result is promotion by the mediocre of the mediocre; and the filtering out of true talent. A further truth: True talent is knowledgeable, questioning, critical, generally difficult to manage—and decidedly neither “clubbable” nor conformist. In short, leading and commanding talent (especially in war) requires outstanding generalship—which, for the reasons explained—is exactly what we are missing, in all too many cases. Are there exceptions? Of course there are, because mediocrity knows full well that there is no substitute for, at least, some talent in times of crisis. But such outstanding people, generally speaking, tend to be shoved aside when the shooting stops; or when being considered for the next promotion. True talent tends to be used—and dropped.

It is a self-perpetuating system that works much better—in terms of advancement—than achievements in combat. In fact, in a world where promotion is prized so highly—because virtually all incentives are based upon it—genuine achievement in combat can work against the warrior. Why so? Because he or she makes the headquarters careerists feel uncomfortable.  To illustrate the point, despite the extraordinary courage demonstrated again and again at the sharp end by our troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, note the small number of Medals of Honor that have been awarded. This is not an accident. It reflects the mindset of a culture.

And yet there is precedent for the general as celebrity—albeit significantly different where sex was involved. Consider where the Duke of Wellington was just prior to the Battle of Waterloo. He was attending a ball in Brussels given by the Duchess of Richmond—and certainly had rock star status, and aristocratic groupies to match; whom he put to much practical enjoyable physical use . However, he had the good sense, when threatened later in life to having his sexual activities exposed, to say: “Publish and be damned.” He rightly regarded an active sex life as no more than normal; and it certainly did not interfere with his fighting spirit in any way.

Could it be he might be a better role model for U.S. Army generals? He was certainly more successful in war; and, though not without faults, the man was decidedly not a hypocrite. In contrast, hypocrisy is endemic to the culture of the U.S. Army Officer Corps. It preaches one thing—Honor, Duty, Country—and its members practice another. And the Army as a whole has a disconcerting tendency to win battles, and lose wars. Yet the one and only unforgivable sin of a general, is to lose a war. Such a truth is self evident, and why we ignore it, defeats me. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us something.

But we were betrayed by the politicians and the American public did not support us is the defense. Well, if that was the case we shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place—and the more senior generals should have anticipated that. Arguing I was just following orders lost credibility as a defense during the Nuremburg trials after World War II. But, a more fundamental point is that senior generals—who inhabit the nexus of the military and the political—are supposed to be able to anticipate and communicate the consequences of their actions; and to communicate them with courage and vigor. That is their duty. Do they do that as matters stand? The evidence would suggest that not only do they not; but all too many are not competent to do so. Conclusion: We desperately need better generals—and the information that (mostly) they kept their pants zipped is really not much of a consolation because their sex lives, or the lack, are irrelevant to the real issues.

It is also worth noting that generals Pershing, Patton, Gavin and Eisenhower (to name but a few) screwed like bunny rabbits—with women other than their wives—and yet played major roles in winning World War II. In short the attempt of Uniform Code of Military Justice to regulate against a completely normal and healthy human activity is foolish in the extreme, and almost certainly undermines National Security rather than enhances it; both because it is a major distraction, and because it criminalizes aspects of sexual behavior—and thus opens the door to blackmail.

In passing, I would like to point out that the Duke was Anglo-Irish (my background, I am proud to say) and that he had a profoundly realistic view of plans. They are a worthy attempt to anticipate the future but they rarely survive contact with the enemy. When asked by his second in command, Uxbridge, for his plans as to how he intended to defeat Napoleon, he merely replied: “Why sir, to beat the French.”

Mind you, he also remarked—in relation to his Irish background—“Being born in a stable does not make one a horse.”

Frankly—where the “nowt so daft” comment is concerned, I don’t think it comes close. I think it is highly probable that we are all certifiably crazy. But, then again, “we” are doing the certifying—which makes no sense. On the other hand, if “we” are all we’ve got, perhaps it does. Besides, since when was sense the determinant?

The true irony is that despite all our manifest flaws, we also have a habit of displaying extraordinary fortitude; and of doing some really good things—and thus we stumble forward; and we call this progress.

Damnably confusing, wouldn’t you say?


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012



I’m sitting here somewhat stunned at present at what I have learnedFile:Minard.png from my little experiment at trying to turn the main elements of my Marketing Plan—for books, needless to say—into a graphic which would fit on a single page. I’d show you the end result but, being my first attempt, it is still a little crude; and, anyway, it is secret. 

In effect, I have been trying to turn the guts of a 70 page plan into a single page without having any real experience of visual presentations. Back in pre-history, when I was in business, PowerPoint hadn’t been invented—as of course you will know, we mostly drew on cave walls in those days—and once I committed to writing, I focused on words rather than graphics; and found them quite hard enough. They are deceptively tricky little things. They look so mundane and innocent, and yet they can reduce the strongest to despair; and, occasionally to suicide. That transition from the brain to the page seems so simple—because, after all, if you can speak, you clearly have more than a passing familiarity with language—and yet it’s a skill which we authors will still feel we need to improve as our coffin lids are being screwed into place.

NOTE TO SELF: Instruct estate to bury me with my laptop, a couple of bottles of wine—and do not forget a corkscrew. Perhaps vampires are really authors who feel they need the extra time to polish their craft. One normal lifetime really isn’t enough to master the writing game.

Ironically, I had always thought of myself as a visual thinker if only because when I imagine a scene, it always appears in my mind as if it was a movie which becomes clearer and clearer the more I work on it.

Well, I have been humbled by my little experiment—not because I failed at it—but because I succeeded; and I am now wondering why I never gave my brain that kind of workout before. In effect, turning words into graphics—the reverse of what I have trained myself to do for decades—was rather like exercising muscles which had been decidedly underused. You end up tired—and perhaps a little sore—but pleased you made the effort; and perhaps rather excited at discovering a capability you could add to your skill set.

I am now wondering how I can deploy this approach to creative advantage. One of its many attractions is that whereas a book is essentially linear, if you are dealing with shapes in a program like VISIO, you can locate them wherever you want, and move then with ease. After that, one could progress to three dimensional graphic experimentation…

File:Napoleons retreat from moscow.jpg

Incidentally, one of best examples of a graphic communicating the essence of a whole story is Minard’s visual showing Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. I haven’t the space to display it adequately here (see above top), but I strongly suggest you Google it if you haven’t seen it before. It’s a work of genius—the visual, NOT the invasion. Where the invasion is concerned, Napoleon set out with approaching half a million men, and returned with 10,000. Careless of the man.

I also recommend an interesting site WWW.OAKTREE.US which features some excellent pieces by Rob Oakes on Visual Thinking and other matters.


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Monday, November 12, 2012



I first met Dave back in the early Nineties when he was commanding a brigade in the 82nd Airborne Division. At the time I was researching THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINT and, as luck would have it, his brigade exec, LTC Tony Tata, was tasked to be my guide and mentor (and a pretty good job he did too).

One evening, in the nearly deserted Officer’s Club in Fort Bragg, Tony explained to me the notion that U.S. Army officers were held to a higher standard because they considered themselves the guardians of a higher set a values than those of the public at large; and, given that code, sexual misbehavior was just plain unacceptable.

I recall being somewhat incredulous, both because I thought it presumptuous of the Army Officer Corps to regard itself as superior, and because I tend to regard ones sexual proclivities and conduct as a private matter unless they intrude on another in an aggressive way—rape being the obvious example.

Tony held his ground so I returned to my hotel in a state of mild shock—and rather glad I was civilian. I also thought what I had heard was ridiculous. Human nature is human nature, and will not be stopped; and much the same can be said about infidelity. But, then again, I’m a European—and Irish at that—and as everyone knows we are a degenerate lot. That said, I am biased towards the view that there is a great deal to be said for tolerance.

Even at that time Dave had quite a reputation, and I well remember the commanding general, a rather marvelous man called George Crocker—a major general at that time—singing Dave’s praises because he not only been on a night exercise, but he had turned up for the morning run, and subsequent duties, as if he had had a solid night’s sleep—instead of having having to parachute into the darkness.

Subsequently, I either met Dave, or talked to him on the phone, on a number of occasions, partly because General Jack Keane, his mentor, fostered our relationship, and partly because I rather liked the man. On the one hand, some of his peers considered him to be overly ambitious, if not downright opportunistic, but I found him to be thoughtful, intelligent and personally pleasant—so I dismissed such criticisms. Besides, it was hard to encounter an Army officer who wasn’t ambitious to a fault—the lure of a star being seemingly irresistible; and careerism being endemic to the culture.

Subsequently, Dave edited a book of mine, GETTING TO KNOW THE WARFIGHTERS, an action I deeply appreciated. His immortal words after that session—scarcely a trivial task—were: “Victor, have you ever heard of the comma?” As a consequence, not only do I pay more attention to punctuation these days, but I have even discovered the semi-colon! In short, Dave furthered my writing education. Given my passion for my craft, I took that most kindly. However, I will admit to relief that he did not invite me to go running. David is a physical fitness fanatic—despite being shot once, and having his back injured when his parachute failed to open properly. This is not a trivial man.

What is not generally known—although it needs to be—is that for some time the U.S. Army has had a problem with its generals. The reasons for that are something I will write about some other time, but if you need evidence to support that statement, look no further than the conduct of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. This is not to say that all our generals are useless—a few are exceptionally talented—but more to make the basic point that the general officer corps as a whole is weak, and that we could well have been in much more serious trouble but for a small group of extremely talented officers—arguably best epitomized by General Dave Petraeus.

This isn’t to say that he did everything perfectly, or that the final results of Iraq and Afghanistan will be even close to what we would wish, but more to say he took on a very difficult situation in Iraq and achieved a better result than anyone at the time thought possible; and he more than did his duty in Afghanistan despite considerable political constraints. But both were, and remain, impossible situations which we should never have become involved in in the first place.

It therefore saddens me greatly to see someone who has served his country with such talent and fidelity—both in the Army and subsequently—brought low by such a normal and common human failing as having an affair. Good grief! We should cut the man some slack. Yes, of course he was a damn fool—and his wife deserves our sympathy—but Dave deserves our thanks for his service, not our criticism for an all too common human failing.

I hope President Obama has the good sense and the compassion to haul General David Petraeus back into public service—and soon. Talent, such as his, is in exceedingly short supply, and if it is true that one learns more from one’s mistakes than one’s successes, then Dave be should formidable indeed by the time he recovers.

Meanwhile, the man deserves some understanding, a chance to rest, and peace.


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Sunday, November 11, 2012



LTC Yonatan Netanyahu I have been a supporter of Israel for as long as I can remember—not because I believe in all their policies—but because I was born in 1944 and was brought up being made fully aware both of the Holocaust, and of the wider historical context. Simply put, the West, as a whole (something we tend to choose to forget), had treated the Jews abominably for centuries. Given the totality of all this, of course the Jews deserved their own country—and where else could it be but Israel? It seemed to be no more than natural justice; and I haven’t changed my opinion.

No small part of my awareness came from the fact that my much loved grandmother, Vida Lentaigne, was not just active in helping Jews who fled from the Nazis, but she frequently had refugees to stay at the farm in Ireland where I spent so many of my summers. They made quite an impact on me. All treated me kindly, but what really impressed me was how practical they were. They knew how to get things done in a way that eluded my high-minded, but decidedly impractical, grandmother.

Where they all went subsequently, I have no idea—which is something I regret. But such activities mostly occurred in the Forties, when I was pretty small, so I guess the fact that I didn’t keep a Rolodex can be excused.

I was reminded of all this because I say an old movie called Thunderbolt over the weekend. It told the story of the Entebbe raid—one of the most remarkable, and successful, special operations missions in history.

In brief, in 1976, after an Air France aircraft was hijacked by terrorists, and over a hundred Jewish passengers threatened with death (other passengers were let go), an Israeli force flew over 2,500 miles to Entebbe in Uganda and rescued most of them despite opposition from the terrorists themselves and Ugandan forces.

All seven hijackers were killed together with forty-five Ugandan soldiers. Four hostages were also killed. The Israelis lost only their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu (illustrated above), the brother of the current Israeli prime minister. Why were they so successful? Brilliant planning; surprise; outstanding execution; and simplicity—all backed up some extraordinarily talented soldiers. Two other factors are worth emphasizing: Daring—the guts to even attempt such a mission; and seemingly effortless inter-service cooperation.

Years later, I was privileged to meet, and interview at length, one of the Israeli Sayeret Matkal commandos at a Special Operations exhibition in Tampa, Florida. What he told me will have to await my memoirs.

You know, being an author has its issues—chronic financial insecurity being just one of them—but you meet some interesting people in my line of work.


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Saturday, November 10, 2012



fall silhouette 2 by netalloy -

I guess I was spoiled by our long stretch of beautiful days and balmy temperatures. But Seattle has seasons and is prone to remind one of that fact with some vigor. Today was beautiful, but chilly. Cold is a better word.

When I was researching the U.S. Army, I sat through so many PowerPoint briefings, that I grew to hate the things. However, to be fair to Microsoft, PowerPoint can be quite effective if properly used—which it rarely is.

In fact a military friend of mine, who once worked for the Chief of Staff of the Army once unkindly commented that the only thing the generals he briefed seemed to understand were the actual dots that started each bullet point. The content invariable eluded them. Mind you, given the Army’s aversion to using the English language with any clarity—acronyms are always preferred—that may not be so surprising.

But me get back to my personal interest in the graphical expression of ideas. I seem to have picked a Saturday to work it out. Saturday is my self-designated day of rest which normally means I work, but kid myself that I don’t have to—and makes me feel that I can explore things that interest me with a clear conscience. There is a great deal to be said for moderate self-delusion.

Today, I decided to tackle summarizing a Marketing Plan graphically instead of in words. Being a writer I tend to be biased towards words (to put it mildly) but I was dealing with something, which, although not innately complicated, still contained more elements that I seemed to be able to remember with ease. In effect, my brain was letting me down. I could recall X but needed to remember Y.  What to do? Panic—always an appealing option—somehow eluded me.

For the hell of it, I decided to experiment with a flow chart yet again, or something of that ilk. Now, for some reason I have never got on with such things in the past—and when in business always delegated them. (as with spreadsheets). But this time around, I was stuck with me—a “bear of little brain” at times, if I may quote from Winnie The Pooh.

I hunted around the web and ended up with a program called Visio which had the added advantage of being free. I expected I would fail because I have never got on with such an approach; and I have experimented more times than I care to admit. To make it worse, I started badly because not only did I not know the program, but I have never learned the basic concepts.

To my absolute amazement, I have ended up with exactly what I was looking for. For some weird reason, I have been able to do something which has consistently defied me in the past.

The mind is a funny thing. You think you are stuck, and then suddenly: EUREKA! Could it be that all this intense focus on writing has relevance elsewhere. I’m increasingly beginning to think it has. In fact, I tend to think of writing as a cognitive force multiplier.

Mind you, I still haven’t had breakfast—and it is now late evening. But the struggle was fun.


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Friday, November 9, 2012



My publishing project seems to be taking so long, I sometimes think I should adopt a tortoise as a logo! However, though I have made my share of mistakes, in most cases there are good reasons for the time I’m taking (though some could better described as utterly frustrating—for want of a blunter phrase—and a few as bad luck).

They start off with the fact that I’d prefer to do things right rather than fast; and they are followed by the reality that my resources are currently very limited (the main reason). Besides, I’m rather fond of tortoises so don’t really approve of referring to them in a pejorative way.

Tortoises proceed at their own deliberate pace, are armored against the vicissitudes of life, are of a kindly and non-destructive disposition, treat the environment with respect, generally speaking seem rather content, and live to a ripe old age. Would that we humans could do as well.

For all that, I am not sure that that a tortoise symbol would be right for a thriller author—even though it might well seem to apply to my sense of time on more than a few occasions. Thrillers are supposed to be pacey,  fast-moving, and exciting—and I would like to think that my thrillers are just that—so I’m not sure a tortoise would have the right associations. Still, I shall cogitate on the matter at the appropriate speed. Tortoises advance—when they advance—at the truly mind-blowing pace of 0.17 mph. Not may people know that.

The truth is that I do have a rather strange sense of time by conventional standards—though I have to say that it suits me. Of course, mostly I don’t think it is strange, because it is how I think and live—but every now and then one of my more conventional friends will rap my knuckles (or my carapace—to use the technical term for shell) and tell me I should get a move on and do this or that, by this or that date; or I’ll be a disgrace to society and the world will come to an end. I expect tortoises are told much the same thing by mice, dogs, cats and squirrels (though I doubt they pay the slightest bit of attention). Tortoises, as you will know, all practice Yoga and practically define cool.

So how do I describe my strange sense of time? I‘m not sure I know exactly, but I shall make an attempt by giving just a few examples.

For as long as I can remember, I have attached great importance to having large periods of time to myself to read, think and write in. This doesn’t mean I don’t like people—generally speaking, I do—but, as far as I am concerned I don’t feel the need for sustained social interaction and the assurance of my peers, whereas it is clear that most people do. Just to illustrate the point, although I have a cell phone, I rarely use it. Hard to read, think and write when you are talking to someone. Similarly, I don’t feel the need to either send or receive texts. Instead, I find all this discordant immediacy distracting; and normally pointless. On the other hand, I will frequently spend hours writing a single long e-mail to someone I care about.

“But there isn’t time for that sort of thing today!” people cry. Rubbish! in my opinion. It is merely a matter of picking priorities; and there is something special about the long, well-crafted letter. It represents a commitment of thought and time, which, in turn, denote regard; and, depending upon the recipient, much else.

Of course, I occasionally write long letters to thoroughly unpleasant people—but, let’s gloss over all that.

Although I’m well aware of the passing of time in a general sense—and find the seasons handy in that regard—I don’t pay much attention to the passing of days, dates, or deadlines; and sometimes think only a few weeks has passed when actually it has been months. This is not because I am idle—I work longer hours than most. Instead, it is because I am normally focused on whatever I’m doing to the point where the distractions of the outside world are of scant concern. Some people regard that as selfish. I don’t think it is anything of the sort. It is merely that there are some tasks—like writing well—which are extraordinarily difficult to accomplish without absolute focus; and achieving focus is desperately hard.

Perhaps because I regard both life and history as raw material—and this is fundamental—I don’t suffer from the collective amnesia which seems to be such a feature of modern American life, and regard context as extraordinarily important. How can anyone understand life, and the reasons for just about anything, without context? Accordingly, I don’t think of ten or twenty years as long ago; or even a historical event such as World War II. To me the past is a fascinating continuum of rich memories which I try to keep as freshly cultivated as I can.

Clearly, I would be a disaster in a time sensitive job such as pilot, bus driver, surgeon, marathon runner—or in a time critical military mission—but I am, quite deliberately, none of these things; and in my own way, sayand in my own time, I do get things done.

I expect the Tortoise said something like that to the Hare after the Tortoise had won the race. Of course, if he was an Irish tortoise, he would probably say: “Come and have a drink.”

We are—and there is much merit in this statement—a drinking culture; and appropriately social, friendly, and outgoing—with a literary tradition to match. In fact, it would be largely accurate to say that the Irish read themselves to freedom.

And that is no small thing. It is mighty.


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