International terrorism powers ex-RAF man's exciting debut thriller
Sitting in an Inverness city centre bakery with the coffeetime chatter of elevenses, Paul Hart is sharing his plans to destroy the world as we know it.
Talk of unleashing a new deadlier strain of Covid in the near future almost convinces you he has the psychopathic tendencies of a Bond villain.
But in fact Paul – who lives in Culloden – is simply fulfilling a childhood dream, to become a writer.
And though he has waited a lifetime to turn his hand to writing, his first thriller has just hit the bookshops.
Having retired two years ago, and with Operation Fulcrum Storm out, the former military man and businessman is now five books into the series.
Paul has finally become a writer, what he had always wanted to be, before he signed up to a 20-year career in the RAF, from airman to squadron leader.
Later he owned and ran five hotels in the Highlands before going on to operate commercial property company ASG Commercial, retiring in 2021.
Now with his books, Paul delves into the rock-solid experience of his own military background – and lets his imagination fly.
At 25 in the RAF he started as a chemical, biological and nuclear training officer, later spending some time in the British Army “on the intelligence side of things”.
He said: “As a consequence of that you have a perspective of how people would use biological substances in war.
“If your mind is often looking at scenarios of ‘what ifs’, and you have an imaginative mind, it is ‘Where are threats coming from?’, ‘What could we do here?’.
“Sometimes the scenarios are very fanciful but sometimes they are quite realistic.
“The book is a mix of imagination and knowledge.”
Does Paul call his books thrillers, eco-thrillers or something else – sci-fi, perhaps, as they are set in the near future?
“What I try and do, be it right or wrong, I try to use a bit of imagination to project technology within the concept of politics
and rule, but without being too fanciful.
“I could quite easily have made it a bit like Star Trek and gone way, way beyond where we are now!
“But I have tried to make it plausible and anyone who is worldly wise, you could say, could read it and go ‘Yes, I could see that happen’.
“I have a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but I’ve tried to make it about the characters as well, how they work and how they interact.”
With Operation Fulcrum Storm, more than anything, you find yourself embedded deep in an operation that is literally life and death.
You get to take every step of the intense training and planning – and banter – with the highly-motivated group of characters who are literally prepared to put their lives on the line to save the world.
The action begins in 2024, when Covid is still with us.
But a new strain – Covid 24 – is starting to appear with devastating effects.
Professor Johnathon King of Bristol University, who has been studying it, realises everyone he tries to tell in government about the threat of Covid 24 is “asleep at the wheel”.
So on an everyday BBC morning TV news show, he offers his theory that Covid 24 might have been tampered with or manufactured and that its effects could mean: “… a near worldwide extinction of mankind”.
As well as normal viewers hearing this and choking on their cornflakes, so do the UK’s military and intelligence teams in Paul’s book. Immediately acting to find out more on the professor’s research, they are swiftly trying to work out if Covid 24 has been created by hostile forces.
Quickly, we meet Squadron Leader Claire Walters, based at the HQ of the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) – MI6 – in London, and with an MSc in microbiology. She has already been analysing the worldwide threat of weapons of mass destruction.
Claire is someone Paul knows very well.
The character comes from Fortrose and – like him – she is slightly obsessed with playing golf there!
“She is my main character,” Paul said. “I wanted her to be a woman in the air force.
“I’ve never said where she was born, but in my mind she was brought up in Fortrose and went to Fortrose Academy. Her father was in the RAF, he retired and went on to live in the town, but died when she was quite young and ever since she has always tried to live up to her father’s expectations, something we all do to some extent.
“In the second book she will travel back there and will walk on the beach by the golf course with her mum’s dog Daisy!
“I try and bring in things from my own experience, so it brings some humanity and meaning.”
With five books and now a sixth being worked on too, Paul looks back at his early writing when he wanted to put everything in, a lot of extra detail he now realises he doesn’t need to include.
“I wrote the first book and it was 200,000 words!”
In one of his notes of thanks at the start of the book, Paul namechecks “A genuine angel”, Annie Diver-Stamnes and her “generous and highly-competent editorial support” which his “novel has only been possible with”.
He explains the intriguing tribute. Paul and his wife Mandy had been running a guest house in 2015 in Inverness when Annie – a professor of English in California and her partner had come to stay on a holiday and they had all made friends
“When I said I had 200,000 words, she fell off the chair almost,” Paul laughed. “When I sent it over to her, she was really supportive. She loved the plot, she loved the characters, she loved the way that it was written and was really positive. But, she said ‘I am really going to have to do some hard work on this’.
“When I got it back, it was down to 150,000, and they were still my words. But Annie had taken out so much fluff and things that I had repeated. She gave me a critique on my writing which was hard to take.
“But my wife Mandy – who had bullied me to write it – said 'It is all being done in good faith. She wants the book to be better!’.”
Paul says, so many words down the line: “When you can accept that, you grow and it becomes better.
“I think my sixth book is so much better than my first!”
With the intense period of writing the three books of the trilogy now complete, Paul still says of the writing process: “I just enjoy it so much!”
Mischievously he added: “I just hope I’ve got enough life left to write my next 25 books, that’s all …!”
Operation Fulcrum Storm (£12.99) is now out in Waterstones Inverness, ONLINE: pegasuspublishers.com and on Amazon. Look out for Operation Red Kite coming in early 2024.
More by this authorMargaret Chrystall