Andy McNab: The Questions We Asked...
When our Year 6 pupils had the chance to quiz a famous author and film producer, they jumped at the chance.
Andy McNab, who used his long service as a gritty SAS soldier as a springboard to becoming a best-selling author, has now sold a mind-blowing ten million books since penning Bravo Two Zero, based on an ill-fated mission in Iraq during his time with the Special Air Service.
He has also produced the films Bravo Two Zero and SAS: Red Notice, which are both based on his blockbuster novels.
Away from action, also included among his literary arsenal is popular young adult genre book Get Me Out Of Here!, which piqued the interest of our eager Highfield and Brookham bookworms. Challenged to grill the former soldier, the pupils rose to the occasion, with the writers of the best six questions winning a signed copy of the book, which McNab co-wrote with Phil Earle.
The winning questions were:
Monty Leach: What inspired you to write your books and did anyone inspire you to make films?
Andy McNab: This is a great question. An experience inspired my first book, Bravo Two Zero. It was an account of a mission I was involved with. I was asked to write it and it was an easy, linear story, going in a straight line. I thought ‘I like this writing lark, it’s easy’. But when I started to write fiction, I found it much harder. A Hollywood director I was working with, a guy called Michael Mann, pointed me towards a book called Touching the Void, by Joseph Simpson. It’s a true story of two mountain climbers who get into difficulties and one ends up cutting the rope his partner is hanging from, believing he is sending him to his death. This book really inspired me and taught me so much about description and atmosphere. You really feel cold, alone and frightened reading it. In order to write a good book or produce a good film, you need your audience to believe in you and feel what you are describing. You need them to be there right alongside your characters.
Tom Hall: Do you make your books based on real life?
Andy McNab: I have written three non-fiction books. The best known is Bravo Two Zero. During the first Gulf War, I led a patrol behind enemy lines in Iraq. We got compromised and, after a firefight, ended up trying to escape from the country. But I have also written lots of novels, some for adults, and they are all based on some part on my life. I tell people that the good bits of my main characters are based on me, but none of the bad bits!
Lottie Alexander: What is your proudest achievement so far?
Andy McNab: That’s an easy one to answer. My proudest achievement, by far, was getting badged (which means getting selected) for the Special Air Service, the SAS. It’s a tough, three-month process where the Army really try to push you to your limit and I have to confess I didn’t get in the first time I tried because I was cocky and tried to take a shortcut when we were finding our way over these mountains in Wales. I got lost and that was the end of that. But they let me have a second try and, thankfully, I got in.
Cindy Zhou: How do you create tension in a film?
Andy McNab: For me, creating tension in a film is the same as in a book. When writing, what you are trying to do is create pictures in the reader’s head, such as what people look like, what kind of environment they are in. Of course, everyone’s pictures will be different but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the pictures make sense and tell the story exactly like a film does. So when, say, there is an action scene, in book or film, it’s good to set up the environment where it happens, let’s say in the living room of a house. So when the action starts the reader or viewer already knows why the hero is running towards the door under the stairs because that is where the teleporter is that will take the hero back in time and to safety. That way the reader or viewer can just stay with the action and suspense rather than be drawn away from it by thinking ‘what’s happening?’
Isabel Salisbury: What have you failed at and what have you learnt from that?
Andy McNab: The moment I felt most failure was the moment I got captured in Iraq during the Bravo Two Zero mission. We had been compromised (discovered) in our hiding place and we had escaped across the desert but then got split up. One member of the patrol had already died and the rest of us were trying to get to safety, which was over the border into Syria. I made it right up to the border, but as I didn’t know how to cross it I decided to hide in a drainage ditch until dusk so I could cross it in darkness. I spent all day in the ditch and at almost last light the patrols which had been rattling over the road all day seemed to stop, and I realised I had been discovered. They started firing all around the entrance to my tunnel and eventually dragged me out by my feet. This was the moment I felt most alone and most like I had failed. I could see the mountains of Syria. I was so close and yet it had all gone wrong. I ended up being paraded through the streets in front of crowds and then put in a prison called Abu Ghraib, where I was tortured. I had teeth pulled out and I was burnt and whipped. But even though they were hurting me, I knew they couldn’t get into my head. I think this experience has given me resilience throughout my whole life. I know that I can take quite a lot, we all can. Even if you feel you have failed, you can get back up again.
Ryder Larby: Do you think real-life experiences help you become a film maker, for example going through pain, grief and war?
Andy McNab: I do, definitely. Every writer and film maker wants to be authentic and believable, and the best way to do that is to write about what you know and what you have experienced yourself. I have written about almost all the stages of my life, and everything I have experienced, from growing up as a kid in the foster system, ending up in juvenile detention, getting into the Army, my experiences in the Army and beyond. It’s all helped me to write books that people can relate to and, hopefully, enjoy. After all, that’s the main thing we want to achieve.
* ANDY MCNAB PICTURE COURTESY OF JOHNNY RING