How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

(Or, how does a female author know this stuff?)

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked at book signings this year is along the lines of ‘You’re female – how do you know anything about guns or how to stop a bomb going off?’

It’s a fair question. I haven’t served in the armed forces for a start. Yes, I’m female. The majority of authors writing in my particular genre are blokes that have served their countries in one way or another. Yes, sometimes (on a bad day), I kick myself for not writing under a pseudonym (although that would’ve brought about all sorts of problems at said book signings…).


So – how do I know?

I do a LOT of research. I ask a LOT of questions. And I have a group of experts I can turn to, in order that I can check my facts to ensure that my thrillers are authentic – without drowning the reader in detail.

With a warning that the following contains spoilers, I thought I’d share with you some of the emails my technical expert Stephen Davies and I shared over the course of 2010-2012 while I was writing White Gold and then Under Fire

Steve’s background was as a bomb disposal expert with the British Army who then worked in close protection while still serving. I’d filed his emails under a section in my research notes, aptly entitled ‘Blowing Stuff Up’:-

Me:      Hi Steve. My lead character is going to help overpower some bad guys on a docked ship, and he’s given a handgun rather than an assault rifle – what are his choices?

Steve:  Hi Rachel. Well, James Bond always preferred the Walther PPK 9mm of course however the British Army standard issue was the Browning 9mm. That said, if I was him, I’d be using either a Glock or a Sig Sauer 9mm.

Me:      Hi Steve. How many bullets does the Sig Sauer 9mm carry? If I have my main character shooting at bad guys, it’s useful to know how many bullets he has left…

Steve:  Hi Rachel. It’s safe to assume that both the Glock and Sig Sauer would hold thirteen rounds of ammunition. Anything else, just ask.

Me:      Hi Steve. Me again. I recall you saying that you did some close protection security work while in the Army… I’m writing a scene at the start of the story where Dan is tasked with protecting a Qatari Sheik at an evening gala event. I wondered what sort of thing Dan would be looking for when he’s checking out the venue before the event? Here’s what I’ve written so far…

Steve:  Hi Rachel. Looks great so far. You would need to check roof access (helicopter landing or fast rope descent), fire escapes down the side of the building, close proximity of buildings next door (jumping across from external balconies) – you’d also want to get hold of a comprehensive guest list, a full list of the sheik’s bodyguards and photos and establish and command and control centre…

Hopefully the above shows the sort of detail I drill down into when writing the Dan Taylor series of thrillers, and how much fun it can be. If you’re starting out, the best advice I can pass on is that there’s no such thing as a silly question – Steve’s responses always fired up my imagination so that I was often made to think about things I hadn’t previously considered, and the books are better for it.

It’s not just military experts I correspond with. The storyline for Under Fire meant that I was consulting with doctors, policemen, ex-submariners, and weapons experts all the time I was writing.

Sadly, Steve lost his fight with cancer earlier this year before he could read the finished manuscript for Under Fire but his email responses always make me smile and I hope to one day find another expert who is as enthusiastic about my writing as he was.

In the meantime, I still scour news websites and magazines, read a lot of military non-fiction, ask questions of those around me and keep my eyes and ears open for the next snippet of information.

After all, you never know when you might have to dismantle an atomic bomb…

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