Born out of frustration at an overseas deal locked in dispute, I sat down in 2017 and began to write a novel. Appetite for Risk tells the story of John Pierce, a former Royal Marine with a young family who heads to Baghdad alone in February 2004 to try and carve out a business. I’m also an ex-bootneck and the book is heavily inspired my efforts to do exactly that, but more by default than design.

Jack Leavers, Don't Play Dead With Vultures

Jack Leavers, Don't Play Dead With Vultures

Real life is often less believable than fiction. Events swing wildly and out of sync as we try to grapple with the uncontrollable elements that disrupt our plans. So, merging real events with fiction is a balance: try to capture the essence of place and experience that real life brings and combine it with the more organised structure of fiction – and a bit of sexing up as required.

Depth, consistency, and logical decisions (in an often-illogical world). These considerations led me to include far more realism about family and events in John’s story. And it is his story, not mine. The fictional plot lines take the context of my real experiences and turn them into fiction. But a good rule of thumb for the book – if you’re shaking your head at the plot, it’s probably the true parts.

Fast-forward to my second novel, Don’t Play Dead With Vultures. It features a skeleton of real events and experiences, which again provide depth, consistency, and a certain logic. But this time I introduced more fictional characters to populate John’s world. The fictional flesh of the story and plot needed the freedom granted by using those newly created characters, even if some might have been inspired by people I have known.

Reflecting the real situations I encountered, female characters are fairly thin on the ground in both novels. But those that do appear have agency and influence, and their influence on the story far exceeds the time on the page. Nearly all are inspired by real people.

As an aside, wives, girlfriends, and children (and no doubt husbands and boyfriends) often dominate the minds of soldiers and contractors during high-risk endeavours and extended separation. It’s a cruel irony that the deep love and longing felt by many whilst apart doesn’t always translate to happy times when actually together. I’m fortunate in this regard. Me and the long-haired general have had a good run!

Apart from the male-dominated environment, the varied cast in Don’t Play Dead With Vultures make it quite a diverse read. Important characters from West Africa, Australia, Canada, USA & the UK are mixed with an early smattering of Sri Lankans, Nepalese and Iraqis.

My character descriptions are on the minimalist side and I’m not a flowery prose kind of guy. And yet I‘ve received loads of feedback praising the sense of place and character. Including specific memories of events, places and people must have helped. After all, if I remember it now then it must have been striking at the time.

My intention with both books was to grab the reader and thrust them alongside John Pierce to experience as realistic a situation as possible. The motivations, dangers, risks, rewards. The physical factors, the pressures, the fear, the guilt, the excitement. I threw my memory behind John and ratcheted up the stakes with plausible, fictional plot lines, some of which are based on snatches of experience from different times and/or places.

In case you’re wondering, both books begin with scenes that happened for real and develop from there. John’s thought processes aren’t dissimilar to my own, but from the start of the first book it becomes his story and not mine. And if my wife is reading, that occasional roving eye is all John!

Don’t Play Dead with Vultures is available from The Book Guild, Amazon and all good bookshops!