May 29, 2018
Andy McNab, who you may have heard of, has taken an advisory role at Biteback Publishing
by Tom Clayton
Last week, the UK publishing industry was united in what can only be described as “gentle puzzlement” upon learning that Andy McNab has taken an advisory role at Biteback Publishing just a few months before they publish Sean Spicer’s “book” in July. If you’ve got to ask who McNab is, you’re probably not from the UK: he’s the selfie-shunning ex-Special Air Service operative who wrote the bazillion-selling Iraq War memoir Bravo Two Zero. He’ll likely be crossing paths with the departing Iain Dale, who’s currently leaving Biteback to “concentrate on his broadcasting career.”
According to a report by Katherine Cowdrey at the Bookseller, McNab will be taking on “a consultancy role providing advice, contacts and ideas to take Biteback onwards into a new publishing programme whilst providing an experienced and stablising influence to help continuity.” This all sounds nice enough, and I should say that I once worked a book launch with Andy and he was a perfectly friendly chap. We had to put a black cloth over the door of the store, the audience gamely agreed not to photograph the event, and we all had a grand old time. What’s more, Bravo Two Zero is a genuinely chilling and extraordinary evocation of the limits of human endurance.
All that being said… couldn’t resist a little playful speculation about how his first staff meeting might go. Written in the style of best-selling author Andy McNab.
Scene: Biteback Publishing HQ
Time: 0900 hours (plus two minutes)
The main meeting room lies in darkness, like a dense jungle made of chair and human legs. One of the interns is sitting in for this one, but there wasn’t enough room for him at the big table, so he’s in the corner on one of the emergency fold-outs, new notebook atremble. All employees have handed in their phones, keys, watches, belts, shoes, and glasses at the door. The prevailing mood is nervous and squinty, like a mole on the run. The big clock on the wall above the projector screen ticks over to 0903. One employee leans in and whispers to another: “He used to be in the SAS, surely he wouldn’t be late for the start of his first staff—”
But her words are cut off as the sky, or more accurately, ceiling, explodes above them, sending clouds of dust and spinning ceiling tiles everywhere, and spoiling everyone’s hot drinks. A siren starts up from somewhere, for some reason, and then stops abruptly again. The terrified Bitebackers drop to the floor and roll under the table as one. Above them, a thin rope descends from a hole in the ceiling, like a mouse’s tail, but black, and made of rope. And with a practiced smoothness that only comes with decades of experience at the highest level of tactical combat, a masked figure slides down the aforementioned rope and drops silently on to the table.
The figure picks up the remote control for the projector and presses play. A recording starts up, a gruff voice instructing the employees to take their seats again — which they do, nervously. The recording continues, announcing a swathe of changes to the Biteback schedule… including ten new Andy McNab books in the next month. “How will we manage this?, you might ask,” the gruff recorded voice ponders. “Well, the answer is simple… you’ll ALL BE WRITING THEM.” The figure stands silently at the front of the room, daring anyone to challenge the new regime.
However, amazingly, mutiny does indeed begin to break out. Some of the bolder employees start to head for the door.
Then the figure speaks.
It is a woman’s voice.
“Stay where you are, everyone. It’s all going to be fine.” She takes off her mask to reveal… Debbie from accounts.
“Debbie? But, what… how did…?” say the employees, speaking as one to avoid having to establish any new characters at this late stage. Confusion reigns. What on earth is going on here? And, more worryingly, where is their new consultant?
Debbie executes a perfect salute to the back of the room, and makes an abrupt exit. But who was she saluting? The only person left over there is — no, surely not…
The intern peels off his latex mask to reveal, finally, the face of McNab. He speaks in a now-painfully-familiar gruff voice.
“First rule of the SAS, folks: don’t believe everything you see. Now, let’s get down to business. Mine’s a camomile tea, please.”
Tom Clayton is the publishing executive at Melville House UK.