For several years Lorna McCann was a private in the British army, driving soldiers and high-profile army personnel. The mum of one, 51, who now works as a hospital personal assistant, has drawn on her experiences of life in the Forces – from witnessing SAS soldiers leaping out of a plane to accidentally shooting a captain in the foot – to pen her first book…
BY LORNA MCCANN
Book name, publication date, who book is published by.
How Not to be a Soldier: My Antics in the British Army, published by Ant Press October 2015.
Is this your first book?
Yes, this is my first. I have a couple of ideas for future books, one of which I have already started so I’m excited about letting my stories evolve.
What is the book about?
The book covers my six years serving as a soldier in the British Army. I was a bit of a mischief magnet so my time was quite dissimilar to 99% of female soldiers. In all honesty, I was never captain material but I did have an absolute hoot! My antics were often out of my control and at times were all too serious, involving the bomb squad, Special Investigation Branch, and the drugs squad to name but a few, but it was all meant in good fun and I did take life seriously much of the time. Well, some of the time…
When did you start writing?
I started writing the book in 2003 having got the idea from various people who had enjoyed my random army stories. Tired of hearing their “you should write a book” comments, I decided to take their advice and, once I got going, it all fell easily into place. I have always had the gift of being able to make people laugh, usually at my expense, but a gift it is! I wrote the bulk of the material in three weeks and found that I couldn’t type fast enough to get the stories down. After that, I had a block for while and made a note of any incidents that sprang to mind that I had omitted from the book. Once I had everything down, I was all booked-out and left it for many years. A good friend of mine encouraged me to re-open the file and finish what I had started. It was difficult to fit in around raising my daughter as a single mother and working full-time, but I persevered and completed it this year.
At the beginning of the project, the fact that I was my main character was quite novel and exciting. It was only as the book began to take shape that I realised what a liability I had been and just what a nightmare I must have been to train. Now of course, as the book is published, I face the new horror that everyone who knows me and works with me will get to see a side of me that is sometimes (mostly, actually!) a little embarrassing to say the least. I hope it doesn’t change their opinion of me as it all took place a long time ago!
I had quite a few issues with my daughter when she was a young teenager. I seemed to be in constant “bad cop” hat (having placed “good cop” hat back on the peg). I was so worried that the only adolescent memories she might have would be of me constantly laying down rules and having run-ins with her that I wanted to be able to present one book to her. This I would give to my daughter so that she could read it as an adult and think “wow, my mum was once totally wild”. That became a large part of my reason for wanting to finish it.
My family and friends are waiting with bated breath to read it which is leaving me a little anxious, but it is what it is and they will think what they will think. Hopefully positive things!
How did you get published?
As I had never written anything in my life other than letters, I was clueless as to what to do so, initially, I approached military publishers. Whilst the replies were very positive about the manuscript, they also rejected it on the grounds that it was not the type of material they publish. Just as I was about to give up, my sister mentioned three books she had recently read and enjoyed, all by the same author. She explained they were memoirs and suggested I approach Ant Press as they had published them. I did so and here I am — proud owner of a book contract with Ant Press!
I didn’t know anything about literary agents at all so it didn’t occur to me to try that route. Ant Press have been terrific in that, once they decide they like your book, they edit, proofread, format, and publish it for you in paperback and e-book versions so an agent hasn’t really been necessary, specially as my Ant Press contact has helped me with marketing and publicity too.
Any advice for other writers?
If you have a knack for storytelling and have a head full of stories, transfer them onto paper and let the rest of the world share your experiences.
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