My father Cyril was a submariner in the Second World War. He served on the famous Tally-ho amongst others.
I remember his matter-of-fact recounting of tales of derring-do. Because our subs were so much smaller than the huge monsters of the US Navy, they were chosen in the Far East theatre to do the close-to-shore work, dropping special agents, commandoes and the like.
My first unpublished short story, written as a lad, was entitled after the battle-cry of the submarine warriors: Dive! Dive! Dive! Alas, I think the manuscript does not survive.
Those tales of my Dad never fully went away, and were still there at the back of my mind, when the story of the handover by the British Government of Hong Kong back to the Chinese Communist government hit the headlines.
I confess I did not visit China to research DEADWATER DEEP, as time and money conspired against me at the time. I did, however, read 9 varied books and guides on this most fascinating of countries. I felt I got to the very heart of the subject, plus I had ‘my man in Beijing’. That was Carol Harper, whom I met through the Crime Writers’ Association. I would send her out on research missions and she would email me back hilariously descriptive and sometimes indecipherable messages after nights out in the city with a bottle or two of tsingtao. If the Chinese authorities were monitoring, they wouldn’t have had a chance to understand them. I certainly didn’t.
The story combined a solid land-based spy story with a high adventure element of combined American and British (SEAL and SBS) special forces put ashore by a state-of-the-art mini stealth submarine. There was some extra special help here from former SBS officer and friend Hugh Wiltshire.
The plot was intriguing and twisted and turned like a corkscrew. I was helped by a seasoned Far East CIA hand Bill Coenen, who had apparently advised on some of Tom Clancy movies. Bill wanted big scenes of the big people at the White House and Pentagon. I wanted the little people watching the big people on the television in a seedy bar in Macao.
We argued and argued by email over the plot and I think that really helped raise our game to make a really clever story and an exciting outcome. I also had the assistance of an amazing man with an equally amazing name. Ed Evanhoe. He was editor of Behind-The-Lines magazine, USA, and a Far East veteran. His special forces relationship with China went all the way back to the Korean War, and some of his insights were astonishing. These included exactly how to set about bringing down the totalitarian government of China.
I’m aware that many of my readers aren’t too keen on American lead characters. So my invention of CIA man John Dancer (visualise Charles Dance with an American accent) was deliberate to conjure up one those US actors whom Brits have almost come to regard as one of their own, like maybe George Segal or Kevin Costner.
The mini-submarine Manta was entirely different and a totally British affair. She was designed for me by English experts. Steve Becket B.Sc. MSc. MBA CEng MIMechE kindly came up with the initial concept for me. To that a long-serving submariner and naval engineer, Pat Drummy, added practical amendments. Additional refinements were added by my world-renowned model boat designer friend, Jon Austin.
Personally, I love the two-spur aspect of this story. Spies and intrigue in what is still (people nowadays often overlook this) the strictly Communist country of China – with fascinating authentic scenes and characters – and the high action underwater sequences as a stealth submarine penetrates the nation’s defences to put a joint team of SBS and SEAL saboteurs ashore.
Their mission? To bring down the government of the biggest country on earth and to free its people.