So, the second draft of HEROIC has been delivered ahead of publication in April, and one of the main challenges was to lose some bulk from the first pass.
This meant shedding about 15,000 words and some chapters that I liked, but weren’t essential to the plot. Rather than confining them to the recycle bin, I thought I’d post one one here, as I still kind of like it, despite being rough around the edges. It’s a snapshot of what the older brother Jammy goes through during his tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Hope it gives you a taste of what HEROIC will be like…
“The blast shakes us clean out of our cots and straight back into the middle of war.
Someone screams. One of us. I don’t think it’s me, but can’t be sure.
There are arms and legs everywhere, reaching for kit in the dark. The boot I’m pulling onto my foot isn’t mine. I throw it into the black and tell someone, anyone, to turn on the light.
It flashes to attention and makes the panic worse. So bad I can smell it. I’m sure the walls are still shaking and I’m counting the seconds for the second boom, which will bring them down on top of us. There’s no glory in being buried in our beds.
The boss appears at the door, kit on, fully loaded. He’s pumped up, needs us the same way.
“Get yourselves together. Move.”
We shift quickly through the gears, all thought of sleep abandoned as we pile into the yard, a thousand shooting stars ripping the sky to pieces. We know they’re bullets, just don’t know yet which side they’re from.
The boss gives us the scenario.
IED’s. A cluster of them between base and 5th platoon who are out on night patrol. Medics are already out the gate. There are men down who might not get up. More will follow unless we move quickly to support.
I check my kit as we hit the gate, hoping to god Tommo’s done the same. I can’t see his face but he’s moving quickly, with purpose.
I remember the night drills on the hills at home. Thirty degrees colder and far fewer snipers. This is it. We’re amongst it, all of us.
We cover the first hundred metres in seconds before the ground betrays us, leaping above our heads, forcing us down.
Comms crackle. I wait for pain but it doesn’t come.
“Call in.” barks the boss. I reply but don’t breathe again until every name comes back. I want to laugh, it’s like some sick school register.
It’s another IED. A rubbish one that went off on it’s own. I can’t help but hope it caught whoever was laying it. Then I feel guilty. I don’t know what to think anymore. Just do it. Find the 5th. And bring them back. Everything else is for later.
There’s a farm to our left, a ramshackle building in the middle of a field. There’s a light on. Then it’s gone. A dozen rifles swing in its direction. It can’t be a coincidence.
The house lights up again, as bullets crack from its windows. We swallow dirt, rolling towards a ditch. It could be full of IED’s but it’s a choice between that and a bodybag. We fall in before we fall down.
The boss arranges us down the trench. Tells us to waste the building. Unload so we can move on.
We don’t need telling twice. They fired first. For once we know where the enemy is.
The noise is deafening, the sky splits at the sound of our rifles.
We listen for impact, then look to Guido, he has the night goggles.
“Shut up and wait.”
We peer over the trench, wait for bullets that don’t return. All we can smell is cordite and smoke. There’s fire from the building, but not the chimney. If there’s anyone left in there alive, they’ll soon be on the move.
The boss dispatches Guido, JC and Tommo to flush them out while we keep to the track, all eyes looking for the 5th.
We hear them before we see them. More bullets. A proper firefight. The boss wheels us left, back into the field, trying to get behind the rebels. Soon as we have visuals we can unload again.
Caffeine’s ahead of me on point, wired. This is what he’s waited for for weeks. This is his moment. But he’s going too fast, leaving us trailing. The boss barks at him but he either doesn’t hear or doesn’t want to.
We hear him shout, a sentence we can’t make out, before his rifle barks repeatedly.
The boss shouts again, but he’s drowned out. All we hear now is them firing back. We’re exposed, but further away than Caffeine, who suddenly slumps to the floor.
I hear myself shout. A noise, not a word: then I squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until my finger is numb. I feel the mud churn under my feet and bullets kick around me but I’m not stopping until I reach him. Every second could be too long, too much time to bleed out. I’ve no idea what I’ll do when I get there. One thing at a time. Reach him, then worry.
It’s not the Caff I know. He’s quiet. Awake but silent. His mouth forms a scream but nothing comes out. Except for the blood from his thigh. It’s pumping so fast I’m scared I’m too late.
“MAN DOWN. MAN DOWN.” I scream, hearing my own voice echo in my headset.
I reach for Caffeine’s hands, thrusting them on top of the wound, begging him to press. While he watches his fingers drown in blood I’m in my bag, reaching for the tourniquet. I slide it over his leg, past the wound, then pull with every bit of strength I have. Finally, Caff screams. A noise I’ll never forget. Then he passes out.
I work quickly. Have to. Pack the wound with gauze and tape, then scream again for the medics.
“Where are you?”
But nothing comes, only fizzing bullets. One hits my pack. I think it went straight through cos I’m still breathing. No pain. I’m not even scared. Not yet.
What to do? What to do? They know we’re here, but no-one else does. So I’ve no option. I wait for a lull, then heave Caff onto my back, and leggit back towards the boss and the others. It feels like I’m flying, but I’m not. I wait for the bullets, but somehow they don’t come. Not until I run, full-tilt into Giffer, who pulls me back to the floor, rolling Caffeine off me and into his arms.
“You hit?” He asks, but I can only point at Caff.
We lay in the trench until the medics arrive, just in time to see Caffeine wake up.
He hasn’t a clue who I am, but clings onto me for grim death. It takes Giffer and a medic to prize his hands from me. If they move quickly, they think the leg will be ok. Might even stay attached to the rest of him.
The medics move quickly towards base, leaving me and Giff to turn back towards the gunfire.
“Proper bloody soldier you are.”
“Just make sure you’re a breathing one by the end of the night. Dead soldiers are no good to anyone.”
There’s nothing to say to that. Except agree. I’m not taking a bullet tonight. Not after that.
We crouch in the trench, pulling hard from our drinking tubes, flinching as bullets crack above us.
All we can do is sit, and wait for orders.”
Hope you enjoyed it. As I say, rough around the edges, but I hope it gets inside Jammy’s head…
This is my first video blog, so no laughing! But I’m trying to get across why I’m trying to write my new book…
I started writing a new book the other day, whilst sat at Gatwick Airport. I won’t bore you with what it’s about, but the prologue is below. It’s a first stab, obviously, but take a look if you’re interested…..cheers.
There’s a roar as the crowd surges over the barriers, scattering the players to the four corners of the pitch and the safety of the dressing rooms.
“Right, that’s it. We’re off lads.”
We groan quietly, know better than to argue with the big man. He’s not our dad, but he rules us anyway. For this week at least.
We scamper down the aisle behind him, and feed into the well at the bottom of the stand. The exit is thirty paces ahead.
There’s another roar and I presume they’ve reached the away fans, goading them onto the pitch to dance. But the roar is so loud that I turn to look and see them being driven back towards us by police on horses. They are close, too close.
Hooves and feet churn up the pitch, and the big man tells us to get a wriggle on.
He doesn’t look back as he says it, his eyes on the terraced streets beyond the ground.
My feet forget to move. I’m entranced by the noise, anger and chaos of the wave surging at me.
It doesn’t hurt when it swallows me up, but I’m scared all the same, as instead of carrying me with them, they force me ground-wards, towards work-boots and scuffed adidas trainers. They make contact with my body. Now it hurts.
The away fans are following the police. I know this because I hear the missiles cut through the air, feel the shards of glass shower me like deadly confetti.
I shout for the big man but he doesn’t hear me. It wouldn’t make any difference if he did. His local is by the stadium and he won’t break stride when he’s so close. I feel boots on top of me now, have no option but to curl up on the floor and hope the tide passes quickly.
They don’t know what they’re walking on, or I hope they don’t. Some of them must have kids too, at home watching the final scores roll in. I can’t help but wish I was there too.
I’m giving up as they drive me further into the tarmac. I’ve no air left in my lungs, no room to scrabble to safety.
As my eyes close I hear a different noise. A single voice straining against them, moving them aside. The voice is struggling to be heard, but it’s getting louder, more determined. Its language is coarse, threatening, and somehow it’s working.
It’s been dark on the floor, but I glimpse a shaft of light, two arms reaching down and sweeping me skywards.
At first I think it’s game over, that I’m in the arms of an angel, but then the angel swears and swings his free arm, parting the crowd as we stumble to it’s edges.
The relief is huge, too big, and I black out, opening my eyes only when the crowd has thinned and the stadium a mile behind us.
I wrap my arms around the angel and begin to cry. He tells me to stop it, that everything’s fine. That’ll he buy me a choc-ice if I give over. I stifle the tears and he strokes my back as our road veers into view.
My name is Sonny McGann. I’m nine years old on this day. Old enough to stop crying, but young enough to put my head on my brothers shoulder and let him carry me home.