Many years ago when I returned to the UK after spending several years in captivity, I was asked what in particular I would like to do. For years I had been deprived of freedom of movement and did not see the sky or feel the wind for almost five years.
My answer was simple and straightforward. I wanted to visit a bookshop. As well as being deprived of freedom I did not have access to books for many years.
My wish was granted immediately and I was taken to a local store which was a ‘real’ bookshop. By that I mean it was in private hands and the manager was not obliged to stock it out with piles of potboilers, nor was he tied to a particular outlet which chose the books for him.
I was totally overwhelmed with the variety of books on sale. To me it was an Aladdin’s cave and I spent a good long time perusing the shelves. Soon after this experience I wrote my first book which soon became a bestseller and continues to sell today.
Two other books followed and then I had a break from writing as I became so occupied with many other activities. The work with Emmaus for the homeless took a lot of my time, as did prison work and much else.
Some people are lucky and are able to get up early every morning and put in two or three hours’ solid writing before tackling the day. I admire their discipline but it’s not my way of working. I need a complete break of several weeks during which I can write much of the time and at the end of the enforced separation from the wider world emerge with a book. So, each year for the past four years I have got as far away from England as I can get – New Zealand – which is where I am now writing to you.
This coming spring will see the first fruits of this time spent abroad as one of the books I have written will be published. In the past I have mainly written serious books and articles and when I have been interviewed on TV or the radio it is usually about hostage taking or some other terrible event. Only one side of my personality has been revealed in this way. Well, believe it or not, I do have a sense of humour and this time round I thought I would have a go at writing a comic novel. It is often said that when writing a novel one ought to write from one’s own experience, or at least about something that one knows something about. Captivity was not a bundle of laughs and as I had already written about that, that was not on.
For many years, in fact since before I was captured, I had done the occasional lecture on cruise ships ranging from the great Cunard ships to the smaller vessels accommodating some 200 passengers. This had given me some income which enabled me to get on with charitable work.
Well, having experienced life at sea on and off for 30 years, why not draw on that? So gradually The Voyage of the Golden Handshake took shape.
It’s the story of a former admiral in the Royal Navy who, on retirement, starts his own modest cruise line and it recounts the events of the first world cruise undertaken by this remarkable vessel.
Of course the experiences through which the long suffering crew and passengers travel are greatly exaggerated but they are only a fraction away from reality. I have to confess that some of the stuff which passes for humour these days does not make me laugh at all. It seems so cynical and so far away from that which I enjoy. I have attempted to write something funny that would be acceptable to those who were fed up with much of modern comedy.
It was with some degree of apprehension that I submitted it to a friend of mine who is known for his ruthless and sometimes savage criticism. I waited with bated breath for his comments and was genuinely pleased when he described it as being a real page turner and extremely funny.
I knew that even though he was a friend he would not disguise his real opinions. Will the book sell under my name given that I am not at all known for humorous writing? Frankly, I don’t know.
Naturally it would be good if it did but even if it only covered its costs then I would be happy. It was great fun to write and even made me laugh as when one writes the characters have the habit of taking on a life of their own and leaving the author behind! So, today as I write to you I am sitting at the kitchen table in rural New Zealand writing a sequel. As readers of this column you are among the first to hear about this book and certainly to hear how it came to be written. If you do read it I hope it will give you as many laughs as it has given me.