There’s nothing we love more than helping AutoCrit members celebrate the release of their newest novels, and this time around we welcome AutoCrit Elite member Steve Barker, as he talks about his debut fiction novel, Covert-Ops: Danger in Paradise!
Tell us a little about yourself and your background. When did you first get the idea to become an author, and has writing always been a big part of your life?
I was born in 1962 in Farnham, Hampshire, in England. I lived in several places before moving to Southampton near the south coast before I joined the British Army.
I left School in 1979 and within a month joined the Royal Green Jackets in Winchester, and after completing training joined 3RGJ in Cambridge. I continued to serve there until 1989, during which I saw service in Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, the Falklands, Canada, and the UK.
In 2017 after many years of suffering, I was diagnosed with Military Chronic PTSD caused by three life-threatening events during my service. During my recovery at Combat Stress someone suggested I begin writing as part of my therapy, as they had read some of the work I completed at the center.
I had always written short pieces which never got past the printer. I have a love of cruising, and therefore it was natural to write my first two books on that subject.
During my last two week stay at Combat Stress in Apil 2019, I started to write Poetry. I have now published my first ever book called Poetry from the PTSD Mind, which takes you on a journey from the bad times to the good using my own journey as an example.
It wasn’t until the lockdown in March 2020 that I decided to write my first novel, Covert-Ops: Danger in Paradise. Becoming a full-time Author had not crossed my mind until I wrote Danger in Paradise and received positive feedback from people I had sent PDF copies to read. I think this was the turning point, where I decided I could become a full-time author.
If nothing else, writing keeps the mind ruminating on past experiences and offers a form of escape.
Your most recent novel is Danger in Paradise, the first in a series of Covert Ops. Tell us about the book – what can readers expect, and what inspired you to tell this particular story?
The title of the series came from an excellent friend of mine. Until then I hadn’t considered writing more than one book. When it came to the storyline, being a novice and not understanding much about research and the other aspects of storytelling, I just started writing, and the plot developed as I wrote.
Why this particular story? Well they say write what you know! Danger in Paradise uses my past experiences in the Military as a backdrop to the story.
The novel is a military thriller that tells the story of three ordinary veterans who take on a mission on a Caribbean island. We discover their strengths, weakness, and the skills that make them who they are during the journey.
Hypervigilance and distrust of others are both conditions of PTSD which can come in handy, as we learn not everyone can be trusted. Danger in Paradise will lead you one direction only to discover you had gone down the wrong path and some characters are not what they seem.
Where did the setting and plot ideas come from?
I love cruising and have been to many different Caribbean islands, so it was easy to picture the island’s setting. The two islands that feature in the book are both fictional. St Bethanie is named after one of my Daughters, Bethanie. St Halb, first the word halb is German for half as the island is in two halves, plus the letters make up the names of family members.
I think I’ve based Henry’s place, the location of the drug gang and place of the final mission, on a coffee plantation I once went to in Columbia. The other locations, even though fictional are based on locations around the world I have visited.
As for the plot, most of this came as I was writing, with the storyline dictating each chapter’s setting as it progressed. Each character had their own particular skills which I tried incorporating into part of the story. For example, Steve, who has skills in making IEDs, which is put to practical use.
Tell us more about the characters in Danger in Paradise. These three veterans all share forms of PTSD – how tough was it to find different perspectives from which to approach that character trait in three different people, and how do they play off of each other?
First, let’s start with the main character Steve, as he is an easy one. All his issues, skills and knowledge are based on me, and were therefore easy to write. There are two other main characters in Danger in Paradise: Simon and George, and both are based on friends of mine. In chapter one, part of the storyline mentions they met in a facility called Combat Stress, a charity that looks after veterans who suffer from PTSD and other mental health issues. This part is true; I met both of these friends while undergoing treatment for several weeks.
As you could imagine, we spent hours in conversation about our military experience and the individual issues that affected each of us. Therefore, writing about their skills and PTSD was easy. Both were sent chapters along the way so I could get their opinions on the story and characters.
I used my ten-year army experience, along with advice from Simon and George, in how each of the individual Observation Posts (OPs) plays out. Simon was, in fact, a tank commander and was able to use his vast knowledge carrying out vehicle reconnaissance. We discover Henry’s place is protected by guard dogs, and George’s experience as an army dog handler proved invaluable there.
One great aspect of military veterans and serving personnel is we all tend to share the same life long attributes of humour, friendship and the way we look at life. This made playing the main characters off one another an easy task to handle. The only tricky part was carrying out three OPs in a different manner, all technically correct.
An easy way to put your mind into the frame of the military is through my poem, Unspoken Word, from Poetry from the PTSD Mind:
If for queen & country, you’ve served,
This invisible bond you will find,
There for all to see, unless for country, not served,
The passing of time or the setting of the sun, can’t break,
This our unspoken bond.
Regiments of the past, cast aside, rank, but a name,
It cares not for age, nor for gender,
Cares not, your place of birth, or when you served,
Only cares, you served.
When all seems lost, days to hard to handle,
Military banter, few understand, fills the air,
Some times harsh, some times gentle,
Our calming bond, a helping hand, is offered.
With envious eyes, many start to look,
Our unspoken, never failing, invisible bond,
An unseen power, always there in time of need,
Where many try to break, this bond we share,
A hidden comfort, words can’t describe.
Which authors would you say most heavily influence, or inspire, you and your work?
For authors who might have influenced my own writing, first it has to be Andy McNab with his Nick Stone character. I actually listened to the majority of his books on audio. Next up has to be Tom Clancy with Jack Ryan. When using AutoCrit, Tom Clancy is the author I’ve been benchmarking my work against.
How long were you working on the novel before deciding it was fully finished, and what was the path to publication like for you? Are there any potential pitfalls you think it would be helpful for others to know of?
I actually found the writing the first draft of Danger in Paradise the easy part and started putting pen to paper when the country was locked down in March 2020 and had completed the first 75,000-word draft by the beginning of July. It is the hard work that comes afterwards, which is the hard part.
As I was learning as I went, I discovered that I would need a Tag Line, Blurb, and Synopsis never mind a professional submission letter to be published. As I was busy editing and had no idea how to write any of these so decided, the best way was to find professionals who did know how to write these for me to concentrate on polishing my work.
Like most budding authors sent off my work to many literary agents and publishers with no luck was about to give up and self publish when a friend of mine introduced me to Green Cat Books a small publisher.
After a couple of edits, the book was ready and finally published in December 2020.
Where does AutoCrit fit into your publishing process, and how do you think being a member of the platform has influenced or strengthened your writing?
What can you say about AutoCrit apart from amazing? As I’ve said, I’m new to writing and no idea there were so many rules to good writing, no idea about showing vs. telling, clichés, generic description, and repeated words… never mind adverbs and dialogue!
I must have run my work through AutoCrit hundreds of times before I was happy to call it finished, apart from the publisher’s edits that is. One of the indispensable parts of being a member of AutoCrit is the ‘Deep Dive Live’ webinars run by Beth and Kevin. They are full of useful tips and advice. If you’re a member of AutoCrit, make time for those.
I genuinely believe my work would not be published today if I had not found AutoCrit online. This has to be by far the best software for any budding writer.
What’s next for you?
As we know, Covert-Ops is the name of the series of books I plan writing, and the second one, Covert-Ops: Danger on the Island is under way and will be published this year.
This time we see our trio embark on a mission to recover stolen military weapons from a site on the Isle of Wight, a place where I now reside. Besides Steve, Simon and George, you may see other characters from Danger in Paradise put in an appearance.
Born in Farnham, Hampshire, England, author Steve Barker is an ex-British Army operative and cruising enthusiast.
Suffering the effects of PTSD following his time in the military, Steve took to writing poetry and prose as a method of healing and reflection.
To help those who have helped him, 20% of the profit on sales of Steve’s books goes to Combat Stress, and 20% to First Light Trust.
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