Not many people know this but when I first started work on the manuscript that would eventually become Defender, I was living in the back room of my best friend’s house with no job, no money and no prospects.
I’d been medically discharged from the Army at the ripe old age of 32. Among other things, I’d achieved the rank of Major, was a paratrooper and had served on long term attachments to two foreign armies. And despite all that and despite literally hundreds of applications for jobs in civilian life, I couldn’t get a break. I was on a permanent rehabilitation merry-go-round of physiotherapy and counseling. I tried study but struggled to maintain the motivation to complete even the most basic of units. I joined various groups to try and network but apparently when you’re a nobody, nobody really wants to know. I’d gone from being 10 feet tall and bulletproof, invincible in every conceivable way, to little more than a discarded waste of rations. Nothing, and I mean nothing, I tried to do worked. Being a former Army Major and paratrooper was only of relevance as a semi-interesting anecdote which was normally followed by ‘What a shame.’
After almost 15 years of committed, dedicated service to my country, I was chucked out, unemployable and on the scrap heap. And I can tell you, I asked myself more than once, is there really any point in hanging around anymore. My father had been an alcoholic and had ended his own life. Perhaps that was the only respectable option left for me, too. Well, maybe it was?
But, there was something in me that was always very different to my dad. Dad was deeply melancholic and, yes, like many of us I can be a little morose now and then. However, I have always been someone who likes to keep a weather eye on the horizon. I’ve always been a dreamer and dreaming kept me on course. Because no matter how bad things got for me and no matter how low I felt, I always fundamentally believed that there was still more ahead for me to do, more to accomplish. I didn’t know what that was back then, but I knew it was out there somewhere. I just had to find it and to find it I had to keep moving forward. I was down but I wasn’t finished yet.
Through the smoke haze of a crippling depression that was endangering almost every relationship (very few) that I had somehow managed to maintain, I remembered something. I remembered that all those years ago, before I’d ever pulled on a uniform, there had been a reason why I’d been drawn to a life of service in the first place. I had wanted to be a writer.
You see, around the age of 13 or 14 I’d discovered the writing of Ian Fleming. Now, those of you who know me will already be familiar with my enduring fascination with Fleming as a writer and as an individual, so I won’t go on about that here. Suffice it to say that reading his stories fueled a desire in me to do the same – to write. But there was more. I discovered other writers of a similar ilk whose stories and storytelling also intrigued me. People like Alistair Maclean, Frederick Forsyth, Arthur Conan Doyle and John Le Carre. And as my hungry young mind absorbed anything and everything I could of these men and their work and, significantly, with the distinct lack of a father figure in my life (at such an important time in my life), I withdrew into their words and worlds and the escape that they offered from the sadness, despair and inevitable decay that had been introduced to our once happy home by alcoholism. I saw in words an immediate means of escape. I simply had to open a book to be transported away to somewhere, anywhere else. Moreover, these men whose words I so admired all had one particular thing in common. They had all undertaken military service and they had drawn on that experience to inform their stories and give them authenticity. So, at a time when I most needed direction and purpose I realized that my escape plan was comprised of two elements – writing and military service.
So, jump forward a decade and a half later and there I was again, in desperate need of escape and in desperate need of direction and purpose. I had to ask myself, what were those fundamental things that had so propelled me from the hopeless teenager to the young man who had, despite current circumstances, achieved quite a bit already. I’d already ticked the military service box, so was it finally time to tackle the original idea? Could I actually become a writer?
As many writers know only too well, sitting down to a blinking cursor on an empty page for the very first time is a terrifying experience. Still, I knew I had to do it. I wanted to do it. I needed to do it. But what the hell would I write about? And then, it came to me. I’d been carrying around a character in my head for years. He was essentially me. All of the core elements of his character, his wants and needs, his values, his dedication to the service and protection of others, his hopes and dreams, his fears, his loyalties, all me. Of course, in order to make him in any way likeable, I had to make him much more than just me. He had to be a hero. And so, Alex Morgan was born. And as I took those first tentative taps on the keyboard allowing the words to fall from my mind’s eye and tumble onto the trampoline of zeros and ones on the screen before me, I wrote the first scene of the story that would, over many years, eventually become DEFENDER.
Writing took me away from the travails of my life at that time, in the same way that reading the words of my literary heroes, Fleming, Maclean, Forsyth et al, had provided me with escape as a boy. The difference being that these words were my own. There was real therapy available at my finger tips.
Needless to say that I had found purpose again. My words had, at first, coerced and then encouraged me back to life. Back from a hole so dark and deep that on more than one occasion I struggled to believe there could ever be a way out of it. And as the words began to flow and I commenced the lifelong journey of honing my craft, I regained the confidence in myself to once again venture out into the real world. I was once again and after all, Chris Allen. And Chris Allen was once and is again 10 feet tall and bulletproof!
My journey back from those dark days eventually took me to East Timor as a humanitarian aid worker, to Sydney Airport as the officer-in-charge of the Counter Terrorist First Response capability, to the Sydney Opera House as the Head of Security, to the Department of Justice as the Sheriff of New South Wales. I was back. I had prevailed. Beyond that, I’ve led the Classification Branch for the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department, and I’ve been the Chief Operating Officer for Venues New South Wales. I’ve written five books in my Alex Morgan INTREPID series - DEFENDER, HUNTER, AVENGER, HELLDIVER and RANGER, and the entire series has been optioned for film and television. Most importantly, I married Sarah and I have two beautiful sons who I love and adore with every fibre of my being, every moment of every single day. I can’t imagine my life without them and I know how close I came to potentially never having had the opportunity to be their father. To this day, I only have to remind myself that no matter what life throws at me I will always have my writing. It started off as a simple dream and like all good dreams it eventually became a reality.
Writing saved me and every night I plant a little gem of wisdom with my boys as I kiss them goodnight to remind them to always keep a weather eye on the horizon:
‘Happy dreams,’ I say. To which they reply, ‘And big adventures, Daddy!’
What more could any man want.
All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars
‘The Pass’ RUSH (c) 1989