Marilyn Holdsworth

Broken Pieces - Rachel Thompson

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Author Interview – AFN Clarke


Can you tell us about your main character? As this is my memoir I guess I am the main character, though to me everyone in my platoon and the soldiers whose lives depended on me are more important than I am.  This is a story of us all, our daily lives, how we faced our fears, used humor to try and stay sane, used crazy rituals to try and bring some order into the chaos of our lives, how we dealt with the boredom and at the other end of the spectrum the heart-thumping danger and action. How we geared up mentally and emotionally to go out and possibly face the last minutes of our lives.  It’s a story seen through my own eyes, though I did ask a number of my soldiers to read the original manuscript before publication to check the validity of my recollections and they all encouraged me to have the book published.

Who designed the cover of CONTACT? My publishers designed the original cover and I never liked it – I had worked with a photographer to create a cover that I felt was more evocative of the theme of the book but as often happens, I ended up with no say in the matter, even though some of the details on the publisher’s cover were blatantly wrong.  However, the current cover is NOT the original one, this one I designed myself when I got the rights back to the book and published it as an ebook.

Will you write other books in the same genre as CONTACT? I don’t think so – I have never written another non-fiction book after Contact.  It may have been a great success but it was also a huge challenge for me emotionally to write it and to relive all the experiences I describe there.  Once I finished CONTACT I was ready to move on and did so. I’ve written another 6 books and these days I only write fiction – I love creating different worlds that my readers can be transported to – both serious, exciting, thrilling and humorous. I hope my readers enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

How much of the book is realistic? Being a memoir it is my experience and as close to my experience as I could express in words.  I also had some of my soldiers read it before publication to check my own recollection of the facts and the situations we found ourselves in and they were very positive in their feedback.  There have been reviewers who have said it was not an accurate reflection of what happened in Northern Ireland – usually by people who refuse to use their own names, which, I’m sorry, but I find cowardly.  I didn’t hide behind a pseudonym to write the book, which I well could have as it was highly controversial, so if you’re going to challenge me or take sides politically or dispute the facts, then have the courage to do so as “you”.

I even had a reviewer who called himself/herself “Reviewer From Afar” say that the Army took good care of me, medically. The War Pensions Tribunal did not agree, and took the Army Medical Services and the Government to task for nearly killing me before awarding me a War Disablement Pension. These reviewers are of course entitled to their opinion, but as I said, my soldiers agreed with my portrayal of our experience over there, I have had other soldiers write reviews saying how similar it was to their own experience over there and I’ve even had vets from Iraq and Afghanistan tell me how eerily similar my experiences were to their more recent ones… so it seems that soldiers do resonate with and find the story true to their own experience.   I also had many Irish newspaper and magazine reviews that were positive when the book first came out, so to me that speaks for itself.

How important do you think villains are in a story? I think villains are important in certain types of stories, the most obvious being in thrillers, suspense, espionage, action and adventure and in true stories of course where they’re real.  But that role in other genres may equally be played out by someone who simply evokes strong emotions and creates dramatic tension, so that the energy of the story is carried forward through the actions of that character and the reactions of others to him/her.

The danger of villains is when they are written one dimensionally.  For a villain to be believable and create greater depth to the plot, they have to be multi-dimensional, a little more complex than your traditional “bad guy”.  Then an author has more ways of tapping into that villain’s character to play with the dark and the light, and to hold a reader’s attention.  Mind you, that’s just me – sometimes a Bond-movie-type-of-book with the villain that’s pure evil whom we love to “boo” is greatly entertaining and just what we need.


This new expanded edition of AFN Clarke’s bestselling and controversial book CONTACT is a raw, visceral, “no-holds-barred” account of combat from one of the men we paid to kill. When first published it caused a furor for its devastating honesty and chilling revelations.

Clarke vividly recounts his experiences of two tours in Northern Ireland (in Belfast and Crossmaglen) as a Platoon Commander with Britain’s elite Parachute Regiment during the blood soaked 1970′s. Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan comment on how relevant the book still is today, as the dangers, political agendas and religious roots underlying the conflict are eerily and heartbreakingly similar to their own more recent experiences.

Clarke takes us to heart of the action.  We feel what it’s like to live each day with senses on high alert, waiting to be ripped apart by the accuracy of a sniper or a well-hidden bomb.  We enter the private world of soldiers ordered to hold the lines in an ancient quarrel they have little affinity for, but whose consequences are deadly.  We experience their emotions, fear, courage, humor, bravado and the anguish of death.

This expanded edition continues from where the print version ended, revealing the untold nightmare Clarke lived through having nearly died, with half his insides missing, suffering from PTSD and being expected to return to a “normal life”.  A story of the scars of war that affect generations.  Of heartache, courage and hope for peace.

“I am an ex soldier who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and this is an excellent account of what it was like. I only wish we had an officer like Captain Clarke.” pm, 5 Stars Amazon UK“.. its honesty and passion cannot be denied .. Mr. Clarke has sent out a powerful and disturbing early warning signal.” Maurice Leitch, Daily Telegraph.

“..a major contribution to our understanding of war and how people act .. Contact is the work of a brave writer.” Kevin Toolis, Irish News.

“As a civilian it’s hard to imagine what’s it’s really like to be a soldier in combat but this book opened my eyes. I highly recommend it …” KTHuffy, 4 Stars Amazon USA.

CONTACT was reviewed by soldiers who served with Captain Clarke as verification of his recollections.  It was first published in the UK in 1983 by Martin Secker & Warburg, was serialized for 5 days in The Mirror and became an instant best seller. In 1984 it was published in paperback by PAN Books, by Schocken Books New York and made into an award-winning BBC TV film.  And in 2012 came the expanded ebook edition, which all these years later is still selling strong.  Readers outside the UK are invited to visit for soldier’s reviews and comments.

AFN Clarke is a full-time author and writes fiction of various genre – fast-paced thrillers (An Unquiet American), poignant human drama (Dry Tortugas), humorous satire (The Book of Baker Series - Dreams from the Death Age; Armageddon; Genesis Revisited), psychological horror (Collisions); and the Thomas Gunn suspense series (The Orange Moon Affair) with more coming soon. Visit the Amazon Kindle Store or for further information.

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Genre – Autobiography / Biography & Memoir

Rating – 18+

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