Sunday, 28 September 2014

My Inspiration for TAKEN

I've just done a blog post for Scholastic USA - here's the unedited version.

In 1944, neurologist Ludwig Guttmann was asked by the British government to found the National
Ludwig Guttman
Spinal Injuries Centre at the UK’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital. His brief was to rehabilitate wounded servicemen who seemed to have no hope of recovery. Guttmann knew that the odds were stacked against him, but he was also a huge believer in the power of sport to change lives, believing that sport was an excellent method of therapy for those with a physical disability - building physical strength and self-respect. So, on July 29th 1948, to universal scepticism, Guttmann organised the first sports competition for recuperating soldiers. The Stoke Mandeville Games, as they became known, soon proved their worth and it was at these Games that the Paralympic Movement was born. More recently we have seen offshoots like the Warrior Games and Prince Harry’s Invictus Games.

I was planning TAKEN as the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were under way in London. This was the first games in which a disabled athlete was to participate not only in the Paralympics but also in the Olympics. I had watched the emergence of South Africa’s ‘Blade Runner’, Oscar Pistorius for some years. In 2012, he made history by being the first double amputee to compete in the 400m against able-bodied athletes. Controversy had raged over whether or not Oscar’s blades gave him an advantage but they were proved to be no advantage at all. In fact a Blade runner is much slower out of the blocks. However, by finishing second in his heat with the very respectable time of 45.44 seconds, Pistorius proved to the watching world that disability could be overcome, that disabled athletes were indeed worthy of the world’s attention. From that moment I wanted a blade-runner in my second novel. Some months prior to the Olympics I had visited Headley Court – the place where injured UK veterans are rehabilitated and two things struck me. One is that many amputees can be on
Me with Nick Carter at Headley Court
the road to recovery in as little as six weeks and the other is how many injured veterans refuse to let depression set in, choosing instead to set about some charity challenge and do good for others. On my tour I saw how prosthetics are now so good that many lower leg amputees can walk almost as well as they did before their injuries. My host for the tour was Wing Commander Nick Carter, a chief consultant who had no idea that I was planning to write a novel about disabled veterans setting off on a round-the-world yacht trip. Imagine my surprise when, in the course of my tour, the Commander mentioned that he had just returned from a yacht trip to the Arctic with a group of severely injured veterans. When I shared my idea he was keen to tell me all about the challenges they had faced – including getting a double amputee onto an iceberg.

This was confirmation for me that TAKEN would have a resonance, that I could write a real-world novel and still incorporate a supernatural element. My novel would have real life superhumans – injured veterans who would endure the same hell as Rio and Jen but whose disabilities would just become so many different abilities.  TAKEN was born. As I write, the Invictus games have ended and the Warrior games are about to begin and I hope that TAKEN celebrates the indomitable human spirit just as vigorously. TAKEN is about never giving up, it is about finding good in the most terrible situations and it is about forging a future however dark the past.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

TAKEN versus Captain Phillips...

A reviewer suggested that TAKEN is like Captain Philips (the movie - not the bloke) and I think this stems from the scene where Rio and the others are taken. They defend themselves with flares, shooting them at the pirates. I did write this scene some years before the movie and it was based on a bit of research and pure imagination. I thought, 'What would I do if I were in that situation?' I don't think it is rocket science - if you will excuse the pun - to fight back with anything you have to hand.

I discovered the Captain Phillips scene as I was planning to deliver a school event. The TV was on in the background and a trailer for the movie aired. I was soon jumping up and down on the couch yelling 'they've nicked my scene!'. I think I went to the cinema the very next day to check it out. Of course Cap'n Phillips was loosely based on a real event so, in the end, I came to the conclusion that it was just one of those things.

On a similar note - the TV series 'Our Girl' has just begun airing on the BBC. It features a young female army medic and a mysterious Afghan girl - sound familiar? It was pitched to the Beeb two months after TORN came out in the UK...

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Just like the Warrior Games!

The month after the USA release of my second novel, Taken, London was host to the amazing Invictus Games. The Games were the brainchild of Prince Harry who has served in Afghanistan and the competitors injured veterans just like the protagonists in my novel. TAKEN was inspired primarily by the Paralympics and by blade runner Oscar Pistorious (Before his notorious fall from grace, of course) but it was also inspired by seeing how amputees at Headley Court recovered from their injuries.

I was surprised at how quickly some amputees are rehabilitated and by the spirit of veterans who don't wallow in self pity but get up and on with there lives. This is the fighting spirit that inhabits the pages of TAKEN and which provides the contrast to what could otherwise have been quite a dark storyline. Soon, on September 29th, America will host the games that inspired HRH Prince Harry - the Warrior Games - an event where US veterans will compete as part of their rehabilitation and recovery. These people are my heroes.