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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Andy Gilbrook shares what inspired him to write his memoir An Ordinary Guy #SecretlyJustLikeYou about his time in the Secret Intelligence Service.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed former spy Andy Gilbrook about his life and career, the experiences he wrote about in his new memoir, An Ordinary Guy #SecretlyJustLikeYou, and his writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi, I am Andy. I am now retired, but very busy promoting and doing talks about my stories to various clubs. I was a British Intelligence Officer, MI6 for 17 years 1971 to 1988.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I didn’t set out to write a book. An incident happened in 2016. My ex-secretary Karen died. My wife didn’t know what I used to be. Nor did any of my family or friends. Hearing of Karen’s death upset me. I have PTSD from an incident that ended my career. I tried to explain to my wife what had happened and who I was. She could not understand what I was saying. So, I decided to write the whole story down for her. Halfway through I realized that I had had quite an interesting life and that it would make a good book. So, I continued with a view to publish it.
When did you take a step to start writing?
Shortly after 2016.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
First book about 4 months, second book about the same, my third, 2 years, because of extra research.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
About a month. This book is an amalgamation of the three books I ended up writing. I wrote and published my first book, I was asked by so many to tell more stories, so I wrote a second and then realized there isn’t a word for 2 books, so I wrote a trilogy. Because it is just all three books edited together and with 3 books behind me, I felt I could improve some things using the experience I had gained.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write An Ordinary Guy #SecretlyJustLikeYou?
I wrote my fourth book because I realized it would make a better read and one book would be cheaper to publicise and market.
What were your biggest challenges with writing An Ordinary Guy #SecretlyJustLikeYou?
Editing it so as not to repeat somethings was the biggest challenge. I had to read it and remember what I had said so as not to repeat things from the 3 separate books
What was your research process for An Ordinary Guy #SecretlyJustLikeYou?
I recall from memory. But, everything in the books has been double checked that my memories are as they should be. Every tiny detail such as the name of a hotel I stayed at forty years ago, type of airplane, places, everything in the book has been verified one way or another.
How did you plan the structure of An Ordinary Guy #SecretlyJustLikeYou?
Basically chronological, but that’s complicated. Because elements from one story may be over years and then the next story steps back in time. It would confuse the reader to keep the story strictly chronological.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did An Ordinary Guy #SecretlyJustLikeYou need?
For my first book I hired an editor. But her writing technique was very different to mine and quite feminine. I want a male’s brutality in the action and a male’s perspective regarding any sex content. So, most of her suggestions in the end were overwritten by me. After that I just relied on Grammarly and other grammar checkers. The biggest bit of advice I got that I did take on board was that my story had no ending. Which at the time it didn’t because I’m still alive. So, in order to make an ending to the first book I did move one part of the story by 25 years. It provided a good solution and satisfying end to the story. Although everything is true, one part has just moved. I think I have license to do that, it still happened, just 25 years earlier.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
I can only advise on non-fiction. Don’t worry about formatting, or even the content. Just write, read, reorder if necessary and improve, and then repeat. Repeat over and over until you are happy. Of course, my story is relatively easy as its just my recollections, I didn’t have to figure a plot. Then finally format for publishing after adding pictures if there are any.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I am not going to write any more, I’m done, my story is told. Unless something new happens.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I’m proud. My first 2 books received “Book of the Month” awards from my first publisher, Tredition in Germany. I am not a trained writer or really have any writing experience at all, so to win over experienced writers is testament to my story and how I have told it. I am constantly told my story should be a film. I have written a script, anyone want it?
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
My website: www.gilbrook.org.uk
Miscellaneous: Google secretlyjustlikeyou to be taken to some interesting sites. This is a strange magic word!
I don’t use Instagram or anything else, I am a dinosaur in that respect.
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