As part the my visit to West Africa, I spent over week in Nigeria, starting in Abuja (the capital), then Kano up in the north and lastly Lagos. The regional hegemon, Nigeria is already West Africa's most prosperous country (in terms of GDP). Its natural oil and gas reserves have kept its economy buoyant over recent years, however, the current downturn in the price of oil is taking its toll in terms of reduced government income. It's also wrestling with a number of other problems, including the terrorist group Boko Haram up in the north eastern Borno District and a separatist movement down in the Niger Delta. The plot of 'Reasonable Doubt' involves the latter and it was therefore good to be able to talk to Nigerians first hand about what the government is doing to address the problem.
This year (2018), I was lucky enough to spend the last week of May in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). I'd never been there before and so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The West Bank (of the OPT) particularly surprised me. I'd expected it to be like something out of a war film but Ramallah, where I stayed, is like any other city and appears prosperous and organised. I didn't manage to get into the Gaza Strip but I did visit the areas around it. The Strip itself is effectively blockaded (both on land and at sea) by the Israelis as a result of which conditions for those living there are extremely difficult. Tel Aviv was a complete surprise. I stayed in a large hotel on the main beach and it very much reminded me of the South of France, though I thought the most attractive part was the area around the old port of Jaffa.
I was in New York for a week in November 2019. It was a great time to visit and I was able to take in some of the city's iconic sights; I walked down 5th Avenue, admired both the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, dropped into Macy's and Bloomingdale's to do a bit of Christmas shopping, went for a long walk around Central Park, pottered through Times Square, marvelled at the size of Grand Central Station's atrium-like entrance hall (with its stunning ceiling), spent a few idle hours admiring the amazing works of art in the Frick Collection, went on a tour of the iconic UN building - which gave me an opportunity to see the Security Council and General Assembly meeting rooms and became a Member of the New York Public Library, which enabled me to request a reference copy of one of my own books from the library's archives!
OTHER COUNTRIES I HAVE VISITED OVER THE YEARS
As well as the countries described above, I have also visited the following other countries which I hope gives me a fair amount of experience on which to draw in writing my books:
Australia, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Holland, Hong Kong, Italy, Ivory Coast, Luxembourg, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Thailand,
25 years of the RGR!
One of the highlights of our study tour to South Asia was the visit to Kashmir arranged by the Pakistan military whilst we were staying in Islamabad. Although Kashmir is not a separate country - it is divided between India and Pakistan - I have included it as a separate serial because of its divided status. Contrary to my expectations, the countryside was beautiful and, certainly when we visited, peaceful. We were escorted up to a border crossing point at Chakothi and briefed on the current situation before travelling back to Mazaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-administered territory of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, where the territory's President briefed us on the challenges facing the region and his plans to try to resolve them.
New Gurkha thriller
I was last in Afghanistan for a week in early November 2018 lecturing on strategy but I also spent 11 months there from November 2013 to September 2014. My job in 13/14 was to lead a team set up within HQ ISAF to support Afghanistan's 2014 Presidential and Provincial Elections. It was an amazing experience. Not only did I get to work with senior officers from NATO and from across the Afghan Security Institutions but I also spent a lot of time with colleagues from the UN and the international community. The experience I gained has provided valuable background for my books - indeed, Harry Parker, the hero in my adventure novels, finds himself tracking a particularly unpleasant villain over the mountains of south Afghanistan in 'Reasonable Doubt'. You can see some of the images from my time in Afghanistan at this link.
My wife grew up on Dartmoor and, as a consequence, we spend a fair amount of time on holiday there as a family. We therefore know the area well - my children even learnt to climb on Hound Tor and Heytor! Much of The Legacy is set on Dartmoor and in the towns and villages that surround it. It's a magical place and it's easy to see why Arthur Conan Doyle set the Hound of the Baskerville's there!
All about strategy
I was last in Brussels in November 2017 to visit both the EU and NATO. It was a fascinating visit and provided a teal insight into how these two institutions function. Inevitably, the UK's impending departure from the EU was a main topic of discussion, as were President Trump's recent comments on NATO and, in particular, his insistence that NATO member countries spend 2% of their GDP on defence. It was also a chance to see some of the city's iconic sights. I was particular keen to explore the Grand Place (pictured left), not least because I used a building near it as a setting for a rather unpleasant murder in 'Reasonable Doubt'. I'm planning to visit Brussels again in March 2020, a visit I'm really looking forward to!
The Gambia has earned something of reputation over the last decade or so as place where middle aged European women go to find young Gambian men for 'pleasure'. I'm not sure how well deserved the reputation is but I found the country fascinating. It's going through an interesting period of transition following the elections of December 2016. In a surprise outcome, long term incumbent Yahya Jammeh, who'd come to power in 1994 following a coup, was defeated by Adama Barrow. I was lucky enough to have an audience with President Barrow which gave me a privileged insight into some of the challenges facing the country. Interestingly, the ex-President is alleged to have absconded with a fair amount of state money so, although I haven't yet included The Gambia in any of my books, there's plenty of scope for it to make an appearance!
One of the things that I hope distinguishes my books from the work of some other writers is the emphasis I place on describing locations. I try to ensure that my descriptions are physically accurate and that they capture the atmosphere of a place. I have been lucky enough to travel extensively throughout my career, however, places change over time and I therefore try and re-visit a location if I intend to set a significant part of one of my books there.
This page - and the links it contains - show some of the places I've visited over the last few years which have made a real impression on me. As a result, I've already used some of them in my books and its highly likely that I'll use the others as possible settings in future international adventures. I'm was disappointed earlier this (2020) when a planned research trip to Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as there's a fair amount of Gurkha history in the first two locations and Harry Parker, the fictional hero in my action adventure thrillers, taught diving in the latter!
Gurkha adventure thriller
In May of 2018, I spent a week in Jordan. What an incredible country! I started off with a few days in Amman, the capital. This was fascinating as I had the privilege of facilitating (think David Dimbleby on 'Question Time'!) a 50 minute session with his Majesty King Abdullah II. He spoke for about 20 minutes before taking questions from the 20 Members I was escorting from the Royal College of Defence Studies in London. I have met a lot of strategic leaders over the years (including Presidents of countries, politicians, generals, diplomats and CEOs of large multinationals) and His Majesty was without doubt the most impressive of all of them. I also met lots of government and military types whilst I was in Jordan, as well as religious leaders. I then had a few days to see some of the tourist sites. Petra was truly impressive. I would definitely go back with the family. The Treasury - the picture on the left shows me in front of this amazing building - is truly remarkable and looks as though it was carved out of the rock yesterday. It hits you as you exit the mile long entrance route which follows the line of a fissure in the rock. I also had the chance to spend a night in a Bedouin camp in the desert at Wadi Rum and got the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea. All in all, a fantastic visit to a superb country. Not only will it feature in future books but I also intend to take the family there for a holiday!
It was also a great privilege to visit Pakistan for a week before going on to India. Having read so much about Gurkha operations on what was referred to as the North West Frontier during the so-called 'Great Game' and Britain's rule in India, it was fascinating to actually see the border country with Afghanistan at first hand. A highlight was spending several hours with the Khyber Rifles being briefed in an observation post at the western end of the Khyber Pass which actually overlooked the border with Afghanistan. Another highlight was the visit to Gwadar Port down in the south of Pakistan. The port's manager briefed us on the impressive progress made to date and what the port will look like when completed (see the model opposite). Although it has its critics, Gwadar Port is an important part of China's Belt and Road Initiative and is already bringing considerable prosperity to the region.
Sierra Leone has had a number of problems to contend with in recent years. The civil war which lasted from 1991 to 2002 had devastating consequences for the country and was characterised by its brutality. Just as it was starting to get itself back on its feet, the country was hit by the ebola crisis of 2014 which killed several thousand people. Sierra Leone is now starting to recover but it's a slow process. Notwithstanding the problems they have had to contend with, I found the people upbeat and positive about the future despite their extreme poverty. Interestingly, a fair amount of the national income comes extractive industries (diamonds and iron ore) and piracy is on the increase off the coast so there's plenty of scope for an adventure for Harry Parker to get involved in, though I haven't yet used the country in a plot.
As a Gurkha officer, I've spent a fair amount of time in Nepal over the years and I have a real affection for both the country and its people. I was last there in October 2015 to see the work of the Gurkha Welfare Trust (the charity which receives the royalties from 'The Gurkhas: 200 Years of Service to the Crown'). I was particularly interested in how it was helping people to rebuild their lives after the devastating earthquakes of April and May 2015. Nepal features in all of my novels as Harry Parker, an ex-Gurkha officer and the 'hero' of the current series of books, lives in an extremely cool flat in the capital Kathmandu. Some of the places that feature in the books are shown at this link.
It was a genuine privilege to visit India for 10 days in 2019 as part of an Overseas Study Tour by the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS). As well as visiting the amazing Taj Mahal (shown in the image on the left), I had the opportunity to visit Delhi, Lahore, Mumbai and Bengalaru (previously known as Bangalore). What made the visit particularly interesting from a Gurkha perspective was the opportunity to see some of the historical sites mentioned in my own Gurkha histories at first hand. For example, I got up early one morning to go and see what remains of the Kashmir Gate, the entrance to Delhi that was stormed on 14 September 1857 by Brigadier John Nicholson and soldiers from the Sirmoor Battalion (later to become the 2nd Gurkhas). At the time Delhi was held by mutineers.
I spent a week in Lebanon in May 2018 meeting political and military leaders. Although I was based in Beirut throughout the visit, I had the chance to see a fair bit of the country, including the Beqaa Valley. I also had an opportunity to meet the President, Michel Aoun. He was very generous with his time, giving us his personal view of the challenges currently facing Lebanon before taking questions from the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) team. Again, I would definitely go back to the country as a tourist. The picture to the left shows me and the team from RCDS with the President.
I spent a week in Senegal in early June 2017 as part of a tour of West Africa looking at the prospects for regional security, stability and prosperity. I thought Senegal was a remarkable country. Having spent the previous week in Nigeria, my first impression as I travelled from Dakar airport to our hotel was of an orderly and well managed state, an impression that was reinforced as the week progressed and I was able to see more of the country. The soldiers in the picture were our escort from the Casamance region in the south of Senegal, where the government is still fighting a counter-insurgency campaign against a terrorist separatist movement, to The Gambia, a remarkably small country that follows the line of the River Gambia, effectively bisecting Senegal. I plan to use Senegal as a setting in my next Harry Parker novel.
Having spent a few days in New York, I then went to Washington to get feel for the US capital. It was a great visit and the second time that I've been to the city. As well as attending briefings by key personnel from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), I also had an opportunity to tour Congress and see some of the sights on Capital Hill. During the few days we were there, we had several briefings about the US political system, from both Democrats and Republicans as well as from the British Embassy team and a number of seasoned lobbyists who provided an invaluable insight into how special interest groups can influence the political process, all good background for the next novel!
I'm a frequent visitor to the town of Javea on Spain's Costa Blanca, mainly because my parents lived there for many years and I know the area well. I was last there in mid 2016 to complete the background research for my next novel, 'Reasonable Doubt'. It's a great place and I used it as a location in 'The Legacy.' Its combination of ancient town, vibrant port and excellent beaches make it the ideal place for a holiday (and a great setting for an action adventure thriller!). The town is dominated by a mountain, known as Montgo, which, from some angles, resembles an elephant's head! The foothills of Montgo are prime real estate. One of the villains in 'The Legacy', an unsavoury character called Diego Velasquez, has his villa there.
200 years of Gurkha history