A scene I've been working on recently builds up a picture of the troubles which the main character has been encountering, and the effects it has on him and his emotions. He has been through a recent traumatic experience – this occurs at the beginning of the novel and (hopefully!) the reader will be able to emphasize with his feelings as he tries to come to terms with what he has seen. The scene involves the central character suffering a nightmare, one which seems all too real as it is a powerful echo of what he has already seen over the past few days. The dream sequence follows on from an earlier occurrence, where the central character has a vision of his deceased family amongst a scene of devastation. This time, the nightmare is so traumatic that he wakes up, screaming in terror.
This main character has recently experienced conflict and battle, and the resultant images of carnage still have an effect on his subconscious – a condition commonly known as Combat Stress Disorder. It is essentially the same as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, though psychologists refer to the CSD element with particular reference to those who have developed the condition through exposure to armed conflict. I have heard it said that experience of combat is like being exposed to a road traffic collision, over and over again. I can understand this myself, but fortunately I have never been in such a position personally. However, the difficulty comes in trying to imagine that situation vividly, and transfer it over into an explicit, written format.
One thing I have found useful in my research in this respect has been Andy MacNab's 'Tour of Duty', a DVD produced last year which tells some of the stories of the contacts which British and American troops have engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan. You may recognise the name of Andy MacNab as the writer of 'Bravo Two Zero', the story of the ill-fated SAS mission in Gulf War 1. He has written many fictional novels since and, as a former Regiment soldier, he is in a far better position than me in terms of adding the realism of conflict into his writings. Nevertheless, his DVD is very helpful in putting across some of the experiences of modern war, and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this area. Another good one is 'Ross Kemp in Afghanistan.' I did enjoy the first DVD, though I've yet to get round to buying the second one – I intend to soon! (The good thing about these DVD's is that the publishers make a contribution to the Army Benevolent Fund for every one sold – well worth it!) As well as giving support to the brave guys who do this job, it also illustrates exactly what they are up against. Also, it demonstrates that a lot of them are no more than youngsters fighting a very grown-up war.
One of my aims in writing my book was to show some support for those who serve in the Armed Forces and the type of job they do. This may seem strange for a book set in the near future after a catastrophe, but there is reason to this. The first is that though warfare changes (and there will plenty of it in the book), it still remains the same dirty, horrific and brutal business as it has ever been. Second, two of the main central characters suffer the experience of combat and are subjected to similar effects. One, indeed, is a highly experienced soldier and my portrayal of him is intended to be a reflection of what is and has been happening in the present, and, hopefully, something of a tribute to the people who serve in our Armed Services and the sacrifices they make.
This link is to one of my favourite charities, which supports those injured, both physically and mentally, in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts: