by Clare Macnaughton
When I was 9 years old I read a book called Little Ed by Ed Tully, and from the moment I had finished it I knew that I wanted to be a writer. When I was 8 years old, we moved from the north of England to the south. I had a little typewriter and I would correspond to Toni Smith, my northern best friend, who I have known since I was 5 years old (and we are still writing to each other 30 years on but via email now) using my clumsy fingers on my clumsy machine.
As I got older my passion for writing grew but I it was always underpinned by a need to make money from it. I have never been very good at writing creatively just for the joy of self-expression. In fact, when I do such endeavours invariably the result makes my toes curl, and I hope and pray that they are never discovered. If they are, then at the very earliest, after I am dead and ideally completely dead, and not hanging around in some transitional plane having to endure the criticism, but not having the means to defend my intentions. A bit like Joe Orton’s diaries, I am sure that he never expected to have his shorthand decoded and the world to read about how often he bashed one out. In my teens I had heard that you could make £200 per Mills and Boon novel so I thought this was an ideal way of writing to formula and earning some easy cash. My friend’s mum was a Mills and Boon member and had hundreds of them, so I read a few, which was very entertaining and then began my first draft. The problem was I just couldn’t take it seriously and it always ended up as some stupid parody, full of sexual debauchery and drunken frolics that amused me, and my school chums, but didn’t really stand any chance of earning me the coveted £200.
While I was at university, my housemates and I, on rainy, cash strapped days, would pen erotic fiction stories about each of us in compromising positions with celebrities of our choice. Again, they just turned into stupid parodies, which were hilarious. The olives and the pool table were a nice touch. Anyone who has seen Priscilla Queen of the Desert will know what I mean. As I was studying a PR degree we thought it would be funny to try and sell them to men’s magazine Maxim. It was my first pitch into a features editor and it wasn’t my crowning glory. It went something along the lines of, “Hi, we have written these really funny erotic fictions stories and as Maxim is a glorified porn mag with words we thought they might be your cup of tea.” Click, as the features editor put the phone down.
After graduation I started working and was given the opportunity to work with the press photographer for Lawrie Smith’s yacht racing team, Silk Cut, who were participating in the 1998 Whitbread Round the World Race. I became privy to an inside look at these globetrotting, womanising, yachtsmen. At a summer bbq at my parents, I was introduced to a literary agent who had given up the big smoke for life in Middle Earth. I pitched the idea ‘Silk Sluts – The Inside Tale’ to her and we began the proposal writing process. The book looked like a winning combination and Silk Cut were definitely the team to watch when it came to debauched behaviour. It wasn’t long before they made the tabloid front pages when boat driver, super sexy Gordon Maguire, left his wife, and began a year-long affair with Page 3 hottie Jo Guest. However, my literary dreams were once again shattered, when I broke my leg, while watching the start of the race, onboard a speed-boat and spent the next year learning to walk again.
I next came into contact with the world of publishing when I was managing the communications programme for, British yachtsman, Mike Golding. He was competing in a yacht race called the Vendee Globe, a non-stop, circumnavigation of the world. As he approached Cape Horn his winning strategy looked like it might deliver, and so, in-conjunction with The Daily Telegraph sailing correspondent, Kate Laven, we began drafting a book proposal. She introduced me to literary agent David Luxton, from Luxton Harris ltd, and he agreed to represent Mike, with Kate Laven as the co-writer. Kate wrote a great proposal and David managed to muster some interest from publishers. Mike eventually, after a dramatic finish, secured a brilliant third place but he felt that third didn’t warrant a book so once again my brush with publishing dissipated.
However, I stayed in touch with David Luxton and kept my ear to the ground. On another gig as Communications Director of the Velux 5 Oceans, a global solo yacht race with stopovers, the sailing legend Sir Robin Knox Johnston, who in 1969 became the first man ever to successfully complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe, decided to enter. He was going to be a big media pull and was in a severely under funded campaign. In order to boost his income and on the back of a front cover of the Sunday Times magazine, it was time once again to pull in the dynamic trio of Luxton, Laven and Macnaughton. Before the proposal was even drafted we were beginning to get offers from publishers. I managed the relationship between Kate, David and RKJ, just because of the complex logistics involved with RKJ trying to co-ordinate his sailing campaign. Kate drafted a fantastic proposal and it went out to tender. There was huge interest and the book finished in a bidding war between two publishers. In the end, in a nail biting board level sign off, a six-figure advance was offered which secured the book deal for ‘Force of Nature’, with Penguin. Our editor was to be Rowland White, the author of bestselling aviation non-fiction novel, ‘Vulcan 607’. Before Kate got stuck into the writing we all went up to London to meet Rowland, I shook his hand, we chatted a little and I mentioned that I had married a Chinook pilot in the RAF. Rowland, who obviously has a keen interest in aviation, he mentioned another Chinook pilot, who was a mutual friend and it was all very jolly. I then walked away from the publishing world once more to get on with my very time-consuming day job.
After the race had finished, and Force of Nature had been published, Kate, David and I met up for a celebratory lunch at Soho House. David and I were talking and he mentioned that non-fiction military history was very much the books of the moment. He asked that if I got a sniff of a tale in this field, knowing I lived amongst the military, in a military house, as I was married to a Chinook pilot, that he wanted first refusal. I didn’t think much of it but agreed that I would only do so if I got to write it.
About six months later I was having a cup of tea in the living room of a fellow wife, who lived two doors up the street from me, and her husband, a Major in the Royal Marines, on an exchange tour with RAF, came home with a book in his hand called, In Foreign Fields by Dan Collins. He threw the book at me and said, “read that – it’s about me” alluding to a chapter in it. Her husband had earned a gallantry medal, called the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in Afghanistan, and his endeavours were described in it. I said to him that I thought that I could get him a book deal. He agreed to let me try but only because he didn’t believe that it would ever happen. I contacted David and the machinations began. We, in-conjunction, with the Major drafted the proposal and then it was submitted. Somehow it ended up in front of Rowland at Penguin. At first, he turned us down, but he did agree to a meeting to see if we could expand the story a bit further to give it more substance. At this meeting we did so, I then wrote a sample chapter, and it was with great jubilation that I received a call from David to say that we had an offer from Penguin.
The contract was signed and I was the co-writer. I couldn’t believe that finally my dream to write a book was finally going to come to fruition. Then I found out that I was pregnant and we were being posted to Dorset. Penguin gave me a deadline of March 1st, this gave me time to grow the baby, move, have the baby, get the baby to nursery age and then have 6 months to research and write the book. No problem. Thankfully, the world had invented Skype and I was very resourceful. On the 1st January 2009 I declared myself teetotal until handover and began my writing marathon. Against all odds, and under some pretty extreme endurance writing sessions, ‘Immediate Response’ by Major Mark Hammond was drafted.
After a series of edits and a faff with the MOD, it was released on the 6th August. In it’s second week of sales it debuted in The Sunday Times bestseller non-fiction chart, at number 9, making it an official bestseller. The next job for me is now to publish a book in my own name. I am working on a non-fiction look at life onboard a superyacht, through the eyes of a stewardess. It’s going to be like Hotel Babylon but with teeth and I am loving every minute of it. It is a comedy noir and I guarantee it will be a page turner. However, I am currently still looking for a publisher to agree to take it on so watch this space. One day my dream will come true and I am not going to give up trying.
Immediate Response by Major Mark Hammond DFC RM with Clare Macnaughton Michael Josesph 2009 ISBN 0718154746