Senan Gil Senan is an author who I’ve reviewed several times before, namely his two-part (to date) highly acclaimed Outlander Sci-Fi series, and his equally well-received short story collection, A Stitch in Time.
In addition to his regular writing, Senan Gil Senan is a regular reviewer and valued contributor to the IASD FB writing group and its sister site at:
Available for pre-order now prior to the 9th February launch date …
A first-rate thriller that effortlessly blends elements of different genres. The central premise of the story definitely excels in the traditional thriller style, bringing into it rival intelligence agencies, international and domestic espionage, enemies both home and abroad, and a host of enigmatic characters, particularly several ex-military. Amid all the high-powered spying and covert warfare, there’s also a horrifically unpleasant brutal assault and murder that provides the catalyst for further events. Added to this more familiar framework, the author soon incorporates a variety of high-tech and speculative parapsychology/esp themes, adding a distinct ‘sci-fi’ feel to the story. Some of these ideas and technology, and indeed several of the characters, bear an obvious resemblance to elements of the Matrix, though minus all the ‘human battery’ nonsense I’m glad to say – I couldn’t help thinking at one point this might well have been how ‘The Matrix’ ended up had it originally been a Michael Crichton book. Indeed, early in the story the author deliberately plants those similarities in the reader’s mind with a few throwaway references, and yet, they are quickly expanded upon and treated in an entirely different and original way while drawing in other topical areas of research ie, quantum physics and nanotechnology, to enhance the story. There are lots of twists and turns along the way, with many of the original similarities with The Matrix re-emerging again in the latter part of the story, but again, retaining their own originality.
The central character, Hano, at first seems like a most unlikely hero or main protagonist, and certainly no ‘Neo,’ at least not initially. Superficially, Hano couldn’t be more different to his potential colleagues – young, no military background, lacking ambition, and socially awkward/shy on account of some unspecified level of autism, possibly linked to the unique talents that lead to his recruitment as a ‘remote viewer’ with a secret government agency.
For such a clever and ambitious storyline, the author avoided over-complicating things, and I found it surprisingly easy to follow. I was particularly impressed too by the way in which the author handled Hano’s autism, treating it as just another descriptive aspect of his character/persona, alluding to it only where necessary in the same way being young or old, male or female, or even tall or short might be relevant in a story. The science/tech aspects were subtly explained/shown without too much ‘info dumping,’ and again, pretty much at a level that might be expected for the sort of reader with at least a modicum of interest in science and technology, but not obviously beyond the average layman in such areas. Likewise, the military action/characters were not over-emphasised to the point of turning the book into a semi-military story, though having said that, the one tiny reservation I had here was that there were times when some of the military characterisations, fight scenes, and confrontations felt a little ‘skimmed over’ (though better that than over-elaborating and getting stuff wrong), and where, if I’m honest, I felt the author was slightly ‘winging’ it in that respect. Thankfully it didn’t spoil the writing or story in any way, just one tiny area where there might be a little room for improvement in any future/similar books of what has the potential for a cracking good series.
Though I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous books, this latest ranks as his best to date in my opinion. An easy and well-deserved 5 stars!
To follow Senan Gil Senan elsewhere on social media, please see below:
More about the author …
Senan Gil Senan believes that it is the job of a writer to visually transport a reader to a place he or she is unlikely to venture. Then without alienating them, it is to introduce them to a pattern of thought that may differ from their own.
His writing is not typical of the science fiction and dystopian genres. It is more visionary, in that it examines the effect of technology and bio-engineering on future society. He is an adamant believer that humans will integrate more and more with technology in order to keep up with the deluge of technological advances created by the advent of artificial intelligence. He believes that this emergent sentience will be shaped by human interaction, much the same as a child.
His own interests include psychology, noetic science, physics, theology & philosophy and ancient history. He agrees with RR Martin who said that any writer who is looking for an intriguing character, a gripping scenario or plot twist, needs to look no further than the pages of a history book.
He was named Senan, by his father Patrick Gilsenan who thought that the name would look good on the cover of a book. He was an Irish printer who yearned to see his own prose and poetry appear in print. Sadly he died before achieving either ambition. Senan left behind the beauty of Sligo in Ireland to set off for London and oblique strategy of career choices. These included working fourteen years as a computer systems engineer. He has also worked as a self-employed financial trader, a writer, an employment adviser, and as a bar manager. He still lives in South London with his wife and family.
Damascus Redemption is Welsh author Richard Pendry’s debut novel, though he has previously written and published an excellent short story, The Last Patrol, in aid of the Semper Fi Fund U.S. military charity. I discovered this author quite by chance via Twitter.
Richard is an ex-member of the Parachute Regiment who became involved in the secretive world of the private security industry in post-Gulf War II, Iraq. Since then, he has worked in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and many other hostile environments, continually at the tip of the spear as the intelligence services fight the Global War on Terror. In addition to his past and post-military careers, Richard C. Pendry is forging a new additional career in writing.
(462 print pages) – Mason has lost his family, his friends and his reputation, but can he find his redemption? Unable to cope with the loss of his family, Mason turns his back on his life in the SAS. Years later, he is enticed into the cut-throat security industry in Iraq by an old comrade. He soon finds himself under fire. His team is attacked – most are killed and two are taken hostage. Mason takes the fall.
In this Middle East based military action thriller, Richard Pendry has created an array of characters that really does include the good, the bad, and the ugly, along with a rich and colourful mix in between. Behind the macho image of ex SAS and another assorted military, the author portrays each with all the faults and traits of people who have lived real lives, haunted by their various pasts.
Likewise with the non-military characters, each tells his own tale, contributing to the overall story rather than simply filling a role essential to some plot. Central to them all though is Mason, an ex SAS man who resigned from the job and life he loved following the tragic death of his wife and daughter. But life goes on, bills need to be paid, and so he’s eventually tempted by a lucrative security training job in the Middle East. Needless to say, events don’t follow the neat path they’re meant to, and in an effort to prevent the deaths of the men he was meant to train, instead, he leads them in what is practically a hastily and an ill-conceived suicide mission.
Amid the drama and military and political tensions following the Gulf Wars and the efforts of the oil companies and the security companies they employ to restore Iraqi oil production, intertwined is a completely different story being told; an eminent historian’s quest to solve a centuries-old historical and religious secret reaching back to the time of the Crusades and even far beyond helps bring to life the ancient and bloody history of the cradle of civilisation and Christianity, along with treating the reader to a tale worthy and reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel.
Just as it did in his previous story, Richard Pendry’s own military background and first-hand experience of the Middle East shines through in his writing; experiences aside though, once again the author also demonstrates a real talent for crafting an imaginative and well-told multi-stranded story, along with meticulous research and attention to detail.
For those who are already fans of the military genre or may have served in the armed forces, this is a highly enjoyable and captivating read, and I would say an intelligently written one too. For others who may be reading a military adventure thriller for the first time, I would be hard-pressed to think of a better introduction to the genre.
Not only is the military action authentic and exciting, the author creates a genuine sense of place and atmosphere from beginning to end. Unlike many other writers in this genre, the author here writes equally well and authentically when portraying Arabic and non-military characters, real people the reader can easily identify with. In any such book as this, there will always be some degree of military terminology, but the author skillfully allows the context and wider story to make their meanings obvious. There are a few occasions when some of the ‘army speak’ isn’t immediately apparent to the non-military reader, but this in no way detracts from the overall enjoyment of the story any more than perhaps any of us might not recall the exact meaning of a particular word when reading – a more than acceptable trade-off against lots of contrived and unnatural explanatory prose in my opinion.
If you’ve ever read and enjoyed, say, a Chris Ryan, Andy McNab novel, or even the likes of Dan Brown, I can highly recommend Richard Pendry as a welcome addition to those lofty ranks. Overall, a fantastic story from beginning to end, with an absolute cracker of a conclusion. An easy and well-deserved five stars!
Click Here for Amazon Link to Damascus Redemption
See Here for Richard C. Pendry’s Amazon Author page:
This will be no:34 (of 100) in the eventual Flash Fiction collection, a humorous little Sci-Fi tale coming in at just over 500 words (521).
Further study needed
It was an odd-looking creature. Not in a bad or ugly looking way you understand, but just on account of being so alien. With its green fur, the one cyclops eye, and those insect-like six legs it defied description; despite the six legs, it wasn’t an insect, or at least no one thought so, not with it being two foot long.
The scientists had yet to decide on an official name or designation for it; in the meantime, they stuck with the name decided on by the two kids who found the little creature on the banks of the Pescos river in New Mexico, they had called it Fuzzy.
“I really don’t what to make of it, really I don’t,” Dr Markham was telling Colonel Bingley from the nearby Roswell air base, “definitely not native to earth though,” she added.
“I agree. It’s like nothing we’ve ever found before, either,” the Colonel replied, poking Fuzzy with a pencil, fascinated by the animated reaction as all its six little legs started to wave about randomly.
Fuzzy was taken to the Roswell Alien Studies facilities, deep underground below the innocuous looking air base. What followed was a seemingly endless series of tests, blood and tissue extractions, X-rays, and in between, Fuzzy would be exposed to extremes of temperature, noise, and other distressing stimuli to assess the creature’s reactions in each case. A couple of the junior lab assistants felt sorry for the little creature, sad that more efforts weren’t being made to understand or communicate with it. Unfortunately, compassion and understanding weren’t on the ‘what to do’ checklist of the military and senior science staff.
“I concur. We should keep the creature alive. We can determine the possible applications of its unique DNA, both medicinal and for weaponising. We can then move onto live dissection, pain threshold analysis, and so on,” Dr Markham agreed.
“I’ll put that in my report then – further study needed.”
The Roswell staff never did get to complete their studies. The following day, despite being kept under 24/7 surveillance, Fuzzy simply vanished. The whole episode was, of course, hushed up like an unclosed case from the X-files.
Species report of interstellar agent, Xenzorion1379 (aka Fuzzy)
A cruel and hostile race for the most part. A few specimens show kindness and compassion in the early years of their development but soon adopt the aggressive and self-destructive tendencies of the wider collective. During my time with the humans, I was prodded, poked, and tormented in all manner of painful ways with no thought to the pain and suffering they were inflicting on me. I witnessed several of them indiscriminately kill many smaller life-forms for no other reason than they were an annoyance.
A few might be worth saving for our species archives, but overall, they must on no account be allowed to spread beyond this planet. Furthermore, should they continue the extermination of their fellow indigenous species, and each other, at their current rate, consideration should be given to recycling and replacing them with a kinder and less destructive life-form, one that would appreciate such a beautiful world.
Further study needed …
I Remember …
I’d lost track of how long the fighting had been going on. The noise and carnage all around made the passage of time meaningless, our only clue to its passing being the sky getting darker or lighter with the setting or rising of the sun, though fire and smoke from the bombardments often made a lie even of that.
Another deafening blast from an exploding Jack Johnson artillery shell sent us all scrambling for the nearest slit trenches, diving headlong in regardless of the presence of however many others might already be taking shelter. Bodies heaped on bodies, complaints and groans of yet another landing atop those already there. But no one complained too loudly. And why would they? Another layer of flesh and battledress provided added protection from the countless flying shards of torn metal from the discarded guns and tanks strewn about the battlefield. And even away from the abandoned weaponry, the landing of each additional artillery shell would hurl deadly stake-sized splinters from the shattered wooden fencing that dotted the national borders of the blood-soaked mud and ground for which we were dying, mostly to clutch a few more feet from the enemy. And though the trenches provided some physical protection, they were useless against the billowing black smoke from the shells and even less so from the stomach retching effects of the dreaded gas attacks. The one followed the other as surely as thunder followed lightning, the first to completely confuse and frighten us, making the donning of gas masks all the more difficult after the second.
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” A voice was asking. I couldn’t make out the exact words; the noise all around was way too loud.
“I’m okay; really I am. See to the others,” I answered weakly, not knowing to who I was talking, or indeed if I really was ‘okay.’
I continued to huddle in the little area of space I had found for myself.
“It’s okay, Granddad, it was the local kids letting off some bangers and fireworks,” I finally heard a familiar voice telling me. It was Patrick, my 15-year-old grandson. I became aware of him taking my arm, helping me rise to my feet from the doorway in which I’d crouched to take shelter.
“Children? Fireworks?” I questioned, still a little dazed and confused.
“Yes. They were playing at being soldiers, pretending the fireworks were the sound of bombs and artillery fire.”
I nodded. Yes, it was making sense now, though I admit it takes me a little longer to grasp things these days. My mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, but my memory sadly is in this case.
It was coming back to me now. All that was a long time ago, November 1915.
It was still November but the year was different now, 1985 I think.
It wasn’t just the children, it was the people too. Some of them like to start their celebrations a day or two early to coincide with the weekend, Patrick was explaining to me. He’s a nice lad, kind to me, you know.
His gentle patience was helping me to remember and understand. Yes. It was the same last year, and every year as far back as I can remember.
It was Bonfire Night …
In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom has been writing since 2007.
He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry, and has several other projects in the pipeline …
Tom’s websites & social media:
Beyond The Law: Consequences (Book 3) –
(Currently only available on Amazon Kindle) –
Amazon blurb … In August 2004, close relatives of three recently deceased Glasgow gangsters are looking for answers and revenge. Those intent on causing more bloodshed have yet to meet each other.
Will they form an alliance, or handle their issues as individuals?
Phil and Annabel have handed over the running of BTL Enterprises, but will they be called out of early retirement?
Why would a flag be flying from a castle ruin on a Scottish island?
The third and final part of Tom Benson’s BLT (Beyond The Law) trilogy, a series of books charting the formation and successes of a Glasgow based vigilante group BLT Enterprises, initially headed by ex SAS operative Phil McKenzie aka the Hawk, and then by his promising protege Jake, also after leaving the SAS. Unlike the traditional lone vigilante, the BLT group operate with the ‘unofficial’ support and backing of the UK authorities, even if at a discreet and very deniable arm’s length.i.e. if you get caught or anything goes wrong that might embarrass the government you’re on your own!
Following previous BLT successes in ridding Glasgow of much of the worst of its criminal element, things have moved on and once again new players have stepped up to the fill the criminal void left by the BLT group’s activities; those left behind want answers and revenge, and of course to be rid of the Hawk and his cohort’s interference in Glasgow’s criminal underworld. And likewise with the BLT, eight years on from its initial formation new characters are proving their worth, and with the continuing help and alliance of the Mental Riders’ biker gang, they continue to be a formidable force in combatting violent and organised crime – but now they face a new and better-organized enemy, an alliance of criminal psychopaths with comparable skills and a ruthlessness beyond anything they’ve had to face before, and with one aim in mind, the deaths of every member of BLT enterprises.
Once again Tom Benson has introduced several new characters, keeping the series fresh and exciting while still retaining most of the original line-up for continuity; despite the genre and macho world in which the story takes place, and indeed the author’s own very male-dominated previous military career, Tom Benson doesn’t shy away from creating strong and believable leading female characters, on both sides of the moral compass I add, putting one in mind of some of Lynda La Plante’s writing (think gangster’s wife Dolly Rawlings in Widows). The author also loosely connects this book with the wider world in which both the BLT series and his other thrillers take place thus ensuring that while this individual series might be coming to an end, at least some of the characters themselves have the opportunity to live on.
In the case of the first two instalments, each reads just as well as a stand-alone book as they do as part of a series; in book one there was more than enough scope for readers to hope for a sequel but without feeling cheated by lots of unanswered questions and loose ends, and in book two readers were introduced to several new characters taking the helm as it were, but with enough interwoven references to the past so as not to confuse new readers. In book three though I would say that it has moved on to the point where it really does read much better if you’ve already read the first two books so no, I wouldn’t say this works as well if read in isolation but given this was to be the final instalment of the BLT series I was quite pleased the author didn’t put unnecessary effort into making this another stand-alone book comparable to the first two but instead concentrated on writing a story that complimented and concludes the BLT saga, so crafting the perfect final chapter to this superb crime vigilante series – take my advice and read books one and two first and then treat yourself to this final concluding part.
For those readers sufficiently intrigued by this review please take a look at my reviews for the two previous books in this superb trilogy:
Beyond The Law: Formation: (Book One)
A ‘can’t put down’ book that definitely hits the ground running. In an explosive opening chapter reminiscent of Andy McNab, we’re introduced to the central character, Phil McKenzie, and some of the background to his special skills and training. What follows is an equally explosive story of unofficial state-sanctioned vigilantism as he and his cohorts set about tackling the tough and violent criminal under-belly of a crime-ridden Glasgow. But this is no simple story of good guys hunting down the bad; set against the murky backdrop of the military and British intelligence, Phil McKenzie and a select team of operatives are up against a criminal alliance that spans not only that of organised crime but also high ranking politicians and police officers. The book takes a number of different and dangerous turns, culminating in one hell of a conclusion.
Some of the characters have definite echoes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. The dialogue throughout is both fluid and natural, as is the writing and realistic portrayal of a world and characters that thankfully, most never get to see outside the pages of a book. The author’s attention to detail and plot-line are approached with the same deadly precision as that of a covert military operation.
This is a book that effortlessly combines the genres of military adventure with that of crime and justice, and one that would sit well in the company of Lee Child, Andy McNab, and Tom Clancy. Should Tom Benson ever decide to write a sequel, it will certainly leapfrog to the front of my ‘to read’ list. Highly recommended …
Beyond The Law: Retribution: (Book Two)
This is a retribution themed novel once again dealing with those criminals whose cunning and resources enable them to operate beyond the constraints of the judiciary and elude the regular forces of law and order. Such is the violence and ruthlessness of such men it takes an equally resourceful and ruthless approach in dealing with such criminals, cue the reappearance of ex SAS operative Phil McKenzie aka the Hawk, and his unique band of cohorts collectively now known as BTL (Beyond the Law) enterprises. Hawk and his associates are every bit as ruthless as the criminals they face, with the added advantages of the very best military training in weapons, field-craft, and covert operations. Operating as they do outside normal police investigation and procedure they can’t be openly supported by the regular police, but they can still draw on the covert support of the British intelligence services and their unofficial police contacts, as well as here, some more ‘unconventional’ allies.
Our introduction to Phil McKenzie and the formation of BTL enterprises was dealt with in the prequel to this book. Although there is sufficient explanation and references to the past to allow it to read perfectly well as a stand-alone book I would still recommend reading the prequel first to enjoy it to its full; as well as being re-acquainted with ex SAS operative Hawk, the attractive ex intelligence operative Annabel, the equally stunning motor bike riding Rachael, former pick-pocket Jake, and one or two others, several new colourful characters are added to the mix: Max, the leader of biker gang the Mental Riders, and Intelligence operative and linguistics expert, Ian, to name but two. There are also some pretty brutal and sadistic new villains as well in the shape psychopathic twin brothers.
The story kicks off with the audacious escape from prison custody of Martin Cameron, who within minutes of his escape embarks on his vicious return to crime and violence; determined to re-establish and expand his control of all of Scotland’s major criminal activities, there follows a bloody trail of violence and dead bodies along the way; he also plans his painful and sadistic revenge on the man responsible for his imprisonment, Phil McKenzie. What he isn’t aware of though is just how eager someone else is for equally sadistic vengeance against him or indeed just how better organised and equipped Phil McKenzie and his organisation are now. In the interim, Martin Cameron’s plans to organise a massive drug shipment into Scotland once again bring him to the attention of one of the Hawk’s former cohorts despite being on the other side of the world at the time.
This is what Tom Benson does best, drawing on his own military experience and memories of growing up on the hard streets of Glasgow, coupled with a true story teller’s imagination. Once again, the author’s attention to plot detail and consistency rivals that of say a Frederick Forsythe novel, and is handled with the same careful planning as the covert operations of the story. The precise levels of detail related to weaponry, covert surveillance, and urban and rural field-craft are excellent, enough to place the reader right there with the characters but not so much to distract from the main story or bog the reader down. The characters are well-developed by way of the gritty and realistic dialogue and the things they do. I also enjoyed seeing how some of the characters had evolved since first encountering them in the prequel, and I must say, the writing here is even sharper and more streamlined than before. I was also impressed at how Phil McKenzie took more of a ‘behind the scenes’ role here, allowing some of the other characters to really come into their own rather than relying just on him to carry the story. As always, Tom Benson rounds up the conclusion and loose ends most effectively and leaves the reader with a tantalising hint of another sequel. The way the story is structured and has evolved from the prequel could lend this two book series (so far) to a whole series of books along the lines of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ series …
… Tom Benson on the IASD website – click on pic for link …
Tom Benson is a multi-genre author and artist whose work I’ve reviewed several times since first discovering his writing on his wordpress site (see link below).
In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom is a prolific writer and book reviewer and has been writing since 2007. He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry. In addition to his own writing, Tom Benson has contributed short stories to several other multi-author anthologies both commercially and in aid of various charities.
Tom is presently working on a number of other projects including helping manage and promote an international collection of indie authors on the indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com website which he helped create.
A collection of 12 stories created using a wide spectrum of scenarios. Military experiences can be funny, heart-breaking and, everything in between.
This anthology is a blend of my personal experience and knowledge together with specially created pieces to highlight the highs and lows of service life.
These tales can be enjoyed equally by those who have served and, those who have never donned a uniform.
Humour, fact, fiction, and fantasy are used to portray service in theatres as varied as Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Ancient Briton, the Persian Gulf, Africa, and elsewhere.
By Tom Benson
(Available as an eBook from Amazon – click on above title for link)
Of all the short story collections the author has written this is by far and away my favourite. Tom Benson has drawn on both his imagination and his considerable length of service to craft a poignant collection of short stories across a variety of military theatres. Unusually for a short story collection, not a single story here disappointed or fell even slightly below the high standard of every other.
Throughout this collection, Tom Benson has applied meticulous attention to authentic military detail but not to the point of overkill as to confuse the non-military reader. As anyone who has served will know, the army and other services practically speak another language with all the acronyms, slang and other assorted colourful phrases, but the author’s clever use of dialogue and context give all the slang and military terminology clear and obvious meaning thus ensuring the non-military is never left confused or wondering at certain words.
The opening story is a real ‘lump in the throat’ one of courage and self-sacrifice but it is immediately contrasted by the side-splittingly funny satire of the second, one that any military wife (or husband for that matter) will immediately identify with but its razor-sharp humour it cannot help but appeal to all. In the third, the author takes a somewhat personal trip down memory lane in a way that we can all relate to from some time in our lives when we were determined to prove our doubters wrong. Others in the collection highlight much of the military ethos of courage and protecting the weak and vulnerable but still providing the reader with a captivating story, and in the case of Photographic Memory, a real ‘punch the air feel good factor. In The Odd Couple we get a glimpse into some of the more covert activities of ‘The Toubles,’ bringing back painful memories for some of real events that mirror some aspects of the story. Another thing I liked about this collection was its sheer variety; from modern-day Afghanistan and Northern Ireland right back to the 2nd Century, from Jungle warfare to covert missions in the desert, from the sadness of a family torn apart from being on opposite sites to the sort of comradeship that transcends family that can only be formed with those you would die for and they for you. One story that is particularly pertinent to modern times is that of Walking Wounded; with today’s modern medicine and better field facilities, many more servicemen and women are surviving the sort of injuries only a few decades ago would have spelt certain death. The downside to this, of course, is that we have a whole generation of soldiers returning from conflicts having to face and cope with life-changing disabilities, and it is easy to understand the increased cases of PTSD in many such people. In the Walking Wounded we see the beginnings of one such man’s journey in finding a reason to look to the future with some hope, and with an unusually heart-warming twist too.
In ‘The Afterlife’ the author once again uses mostly his personal experience to round off the collection, giving the reader some brief comparisons of his life since leaving the army with that of a younger man who has never served and through it we see just why so many ex-servicemen refer to themselves as such rather than simply accepting their post-service ‘civilian’ status.
Overall, a thoroughly entertaining collection that will not only entertain but give the non-military reader some rare insights into military service. For others, again it will entertain but also bring back memories, some good, others not so maybe, but if nothing else, for me personally they remind me how very much I have to be thankful for still being in a position to read such stories when so many others are not.
For further links to Tom’s many other books please visit his Amazon author page by clicking on the link below:
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A Life of Choice by Tom Benson is the first part of a five part series about a young recruit to the Royal Corps of Signals of the British Army. There are many authors who have drawn on their past military experience to write both fictional and non-fiction accounts of their military careers and quite a few who have relied purely on research and their imagination. Quite often, though by no means always, such books will either lack the authenticity of genuine military experience or be steeped in realism and authenticity yet be let down by the execution of the writing. A Life of Choice falls into neither category having been written by a man with not only over twenty years experience as a soldier but who has also been perfecting his writing skills for nearly the past ten years, having read and written in multiple genres. Regular readers of my blog will know from past posts that as well as being a prolific writer, book reviewer in his own right, and contributor to a number of online writing groups but is now an Admin for the Indie Author Support & Discussion site, highlighting and supporting new and established Indie authors. In addition to his own short story collections, Tom Benson has had short stories published in a number of other author’s collections too:
Further links to Tom Benson’s writing:
A teenager feels there must be more to life than a dead-end office job and no social life. During his lunch-break one day in 1969, while walking the city streets, he stops to look at the pictures in an Army Careers Information Office window. How far might he go?
A Life of choice: Part One
By Tom Benson
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
From what I understand this is the first of several parts to an ongoing saga of the life of a young serviceman. When Jim Falkner joins the Royal Corps of Signals he does so as a shy and quiet teenager with little experience of the world beyond his native Glasgow. Through this story the reader is immersed in the young would-be soldier’s training and those first tentative friendships formed, many of which would last a lifetime. It’s often claimed by those who served that joining the army is what made a man of them, and for many that’s true but what the author shows with equal emphasis is that it can just as easily lead to ruination; just as the young Jim Falkner grows in confidence and into the man and soldier he wants to be, we also see the him being drawn into the services drinking culture and hints at the problems that might bring with it in later years. There is also an excellent preface and first chapter that proceeds the start of our young character’s military career portraying a family background and life that might well have played a part in Jim Falkner’s decision to join the British Army, a background that was indeed shared at least in parts my many of the young recruits of the day.
Written in the first person, the story has very personal feel to it, enabling the reader to get to know Jim as a real flesh and blood person rather simply as a well-constructed character. The dialogue is entirely natural and the chronological way in which it’s portrayed and divided into twelve easily digestible chapters makes the story fluid and easy to read. There are many good things about being in the army as the author clearly shows but he doesn’t shy away from the negatives and hardships along the way. Another thing that impressed me was the author’s honesty in the events he portrays; he doesn’t exaggerate or sensationalise in pursuit of a more exciting or gripping story or try to give the impression that Jim is on course to be another Andy McCabe or other such well known military figure.
Although this is a fictional portrayal of Jim Falkner’s early military training and experiences, the author has drawn heavily on both his own life and those of his immediate comrades of the time, making ‘A Life of Choice’ as authentic as any entirely factual biography. I was pleased to discover when reading this that it wasn’t just another ‘pull up a sandbag’ type account relying on the legendary squaddie humour and colourful language for it entertainment but actually a thoughtful and well-written account of those times; yes those elements are present but they are not exaggerated or over-emphasised, though when they are alluded to it’s done to perfection…
“… The creases in his green denim trousers were sharper than the razor I’d used only the day before for the first time…”
“… Where I came from a steam iron was used to settle domestic disagreements…”
Anyone who has served as a regular in the army, or even one of the other services will from the beginning see familiar elements of themselves and their own experiences and might well read this like a trip down memory lane, bringing back happy and sometimes not so happy times. For others, particularly those who may have had or have friends or family who served, this book provides an honest and, true to military life, humorous insight into army training and life and just a few of the many colourful characters. Beyond that though this is also a compelling coming of age story, of the journey from boy to man, accelerated by intense military training along with all the usual landmark experiences of a young man growing up fast – being away from home for the first time, the pain of first love and its loss, learning to drive (in a land rover as opposed to the usual little bubble type cars that most people learn to drive in), and trying to fit in with his peers and all the pitfalls that entails. The heart of this story commences from 1969 through to 1971 when the army then was a very different thing to what it is today, and again, Tom Benson portrays that here to perfection. By the end of this first instalment, Jim Falkner has long since completed his basic training and is now a fully-fledged Signalman en-route to his first overseas posting to Germany. I look forward to reading of his further training and adventures…
Further works from Tom Benson: For further information on any of these books please click on the link to the author’s Amazon Author page:
Short story collections:
One of my rare non-fiction reviews, a short book by Paul Rees I was alerted to via one of the UK Military/Veteran Fb groups, chronicling not only some of the incredible acts of bravery and self-sacrifice by soldiers and members of Royal Ulster Constabulary during the the ‘troubles’ of Northern Ireland but also everyday accounts of those who simply did their job to the high and professional standards expected of them and whom the author was privilged enough to know at the time. Although not a member of the IASD stable of Indie Authors, Paul Rees is an author I shall certainly be reading more of.
Paul Ree lives in North Wales with his son, Daniel, and have a house on a farm and love the countryside. He served 7 years in the British Army, five of those years spent in Northern Ireland, and so is well qualified to write the following book.
Further links to Paul Rees’ writing can be found at:
A Humbling of Heroes -Amazon Description:
A ‘Humbling’ of Heroes is my way of expressing gratitude to people who, in my humble opinion, played a significant part in bringing ‘Peace’ to Northern Ireland.#ukveterans-one voice.
A Humbling of Heroes
By Paul Rees
(Available in both print & eBook formats from Amazon)
– One man’s sombre and yet surprisingly uplifting perspective of ‘The Troubles.’
A relatively short non-fiction book of some sixty four pages but one that packs considerably more content into it than the page count would suggest. The book is divided into twelve short chapters, some focussing on individual acts of exceptional bravery and the events surrounding them along with the author’s own commentary while others are more personal accounts of the exceptional men and women he came into contact with. Amid the tragedy and senseless killings of the times, the tone of the book often switches between the sombre reality of the times with that of the legendary humour and banter of the army. The last two chapters, though more accurately described as post scripts take an interesting and political change of direction from the preceding ones, one high-lighting the formation of the ‘UK Veterans-One Voice’ Fb group by Nigel Kelsall, a friend of the author, originally set up in support of veteran of the Parachute Regiment being investigated for alleged involvement in the Bloody Sunday incident of 1972 but now instrumental in organising and promoting the highly publicised veteran marches and protests against such investigations and politically motivated prosecutions of vetersans and serving personnel alike. The final chapter is a personal note from the author briefly reflecting on his times in Northern Ireland and its subsequent history and is thoughts on some of the issues and controversy of soldier prosecutions.
Normally I would expect to read such a book easily in the one sitting but not so this time; some of the content is indeed ‘humbling’ as the title would suggest, but more so for those privileged enough to read it, many of whom wouldn’t be around to do so but the courage and self-sacrifice of the brave men and women whose individual stories are told here (and thousands more like them both at the time and since).
The style of writing is clear and succinct, in some chapters alternating between a 3rd person factual overview, and the author’s own personal commentary on the people and events portrayed, and in others an entirely personal account, not of individual well documented acts of bravery (of which there were many on a daily basis, most of which go unheralded but for books such as this) but simply of fellow soldiers and personnel it was the author’s privilege to know. I also liked that the author included photographs of the people and places he writes about, bringing home the reality of the subject matter, that these were real people, real places, and real events that existed and were taking place almost on the doorstep of the mainland UK. With the exception of the final two chapters, for the most part the author steers clear of the political background of the times and events portrayed, concentrating instead on the individuals, their personal bravery and professionalism, and snapshots almost of the times, but not unsurprisingly given his background, the author’s underlying perspective is quite rightly and unashamedly that of the British soldier.
Given the anecdotal style i.e. chronicling individual stories in their own chapters it’s impossible in some parts not to make comparisons with the likes of Ken Wharton’s equally humbling and well researched accounts of the time. For those who served, particularly during ‘The Troubles’of Northern Ireland, much of the subject matter will already be familiar and no doubt bring back painful memories. In contrast though they will also recognise the unique squaddie humour and banter and equally no doubt see echoes of their own experiences. For others this book gives both a factual and personal insight into those dreadful times much like the ‘letters home’ of veterans of the first and second world wars that can be viewed in numerous military museums and archives as well as some light hearted glimpses of the less serious side of life that was such an essential part of coping with serving a tour of Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s.
There have been many books written by ex-servicemen (and a few women) that either focus on or refer to ‘The Troubles,’- some that are quite excellent, others not so bad, and a few that are so far off the mark that I genuinely question the said authors’ right and experience to write such books. I’m pleased to say that ‘A humbling of Heroes’ despite its brevity sits well among the very best of such books, and I would say Paul Rees is well placed and qualified to embark on longer and more ambitious projects in whatever he decides to write in the future.
Books by Paul Rees – Click on titles for Amazon links:
JT Blythe is another author I discovered in the IASD Fb group. He’s not a prolific writer, reviewer or blogger but simply an ex serviceman who wanted to tell a story that was close to his heart, about one of the most horrific periods of our time when millions of men were sacrificed in a war of unimaginable horror and suffering. In his book The Diehards 1914-16 he has done just that. I look forward to reading more from this author should he decide to turn his writing talents elsewhere…
In 1914 the ‘Diehards’ the 4th Battalion The Middlesex Regiment went to fight on the Western Front in a war that was supposed to be the war to end all wars.
The horror of the trenches with lice, rats, mud, cold, gas and flame throwers. Men lying dead and dying in no-man’s land some whose bodies would not be recovered until after the war ended.
This account gives an insight into the bravery, courage and dedication shown by those men. Although the characters are fictitious the events are real as are the facts and figures. Author JT Blythe puts together a story woven round the actual battles the Battalion took part in over the period 1914-1915 giving an insight not only to the horrors of the Western Front but also to the realities of the Home Front and the efforts made by many patriotic women who kept the country working in the absence of their menfolk.
The Diehards 1914-16
By JT Blythe
(Available from Amazon as an eBook & in paperback)
First off let me begin by saying that this is a book written from the heart with real feeling and compassion; an account of the first world war, blending fact and fiction to not only show the horror and reality of the time but to tell the human and personal side of it for those young men fighting at the front amid the artillery fire and mustard gas, and just what life was like living in the trenches along the edges of that no-man’s land between life and death. Through the fictional stories of a small group of friends and comrades serving at the front we get as close to eye-witness accounts of many of the battles as is possible given that barely a handful of people survive who would even be able to remember the tail end of the war let alone have served through it. Interspaced among the acounts of the constant artillery bombardments, troop movements, and the triumps and losses of those fighting we hear of the their personal lives too, their loved ones back home, and their hopes for the future should they survive the war.
Much of the story is narrated from the third person perspective of four young men serving with the 4th Middlesex Regiment, better known as the Diehards on account of their battle cry of ‘Die Hard’ when going into battle. Billy, Matt, John, and Tommy all believed as did many others at the time that the war would be a brief affair and that they would all be home for Christmas. Had that been the case it’s possible the four of them might have remained lifelong friends but it was not to be, not all the of them would return and even those that did would carry their injuries and battle scars with them. Through their letters home and conversations we learn that Billy was married to Nancy and they had a one year old son, Billy Jnr. After the war he had promised his wife he would leave the regiment and work with is father in the dockyards. Matt was 4 years younger than Billy, and had a girlfriend, Sarah. She was hopeful of marrying Matt after the war, and the two of them settling down on a farm, but Matt had other ideas. Tommy was the youngest of the four, and indeed the youngest in their platoon for which reason most of the older men sort of took him under their wing. He was an only child and his parents were fearful for him fighting at the front. And lastly there was John – Sergeant John Michael Dunn. He was single, and though only 24, the oldest and most experienced of them. He had lied about his age, telling the army he was 19 when in fact he was only 17 when he first enlisted. Though fictional, these touching and sometimes heart-breaking accounts and background stories would have been all too representative of the real lives of so many thousands of young men like them, of so many lives and dreams cut short.
As well as the fighting at the front, those back home had their own battles to fight too. With so many men away fighting in France and Belgium and elsewhere, many women had to work the land, do the dangerous job of making shells in the munitions factories, and all the other jobs previously done by the men folk. Not only did they have to do the men’s jobs, they had to face the prejudice and resentment and often deal with the ‘unwanted attentions’ of those men left behind. JT Blythe clearly shows without their contribution to the war effort back home the fighting at the front would have all been in vain.
There were a few formatting issues, and the book would have benefitted with another round or two of editing and proof reading. There was also some repetition and over emphasis of the descriptive accounts of the Jack Johnson artillery shells, though having served in the artillery myself and already being quite familiar with these elements of the book it’s quite possible I’ve perhaps picked up on that more than most would. But these minor editorial concerns aside, they are more than eclipsed by the passion and feeling that has gone into the writing of this book; overall the writing was of a high standard and the author has given a good account of the Western Front and those serving there without it reading like a text-book history lesson or succession of historical facts and figures. Some of the narrative has echoes of Wilfred Owen, particularly the descriptions of the battles, the deprivation and living conditions of the trenches through the personal stories of four young men, serving their country and indeed the women too back home, JT Blythe has given us a human face to the conflict, bringing to life in some small part both the reality of the time, and amid the horror, some of the courage and compassion too.