writer and previous MI6 spy, Andrew Gilbrook, talks as regards writing his memoir, An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy.
I interviewed Andrew Gilbrook as regards his lifetime and career in the British Geist Service as an Officer in MI6, what stimulated him to start writing, and the work that went into his memoir, An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy.
Tell Andrew Gilbrook who you are:
Andrew Gilbrook retired from his normal work, author, father, grandfather, and husband.
I follow many people. At the age of 16, I left school and was invited to an interview for the British Secret Service. I was accepted and after spy school, I started my career as an MI6 foreign affairs officer. My special ability was HUMINT (human intelligence). I have found that I am very good at getting people to become agents and sending information about many cases around the world.
My cover at the time worked with my father who had a printing business in Hertfordshire. My father was the only person who knew about my other role. It helped protect me when I had to leave.
I think I’m quite normal, I treat people the way I would like to be treated. I have a great sense of humor and I don’t trust anyone.
I was and still am the only person admitted to the ministry who has NOT gone through the university system. You can read about why I believe this could be the case in my first book. This is the story of my life: “An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy.
My profession ended in Angola in 1988 when I was held, ask, and tortured by Russian counterintelligence. I was taken to a nearby forest to be shot. I escaped and, after an epic 700-mile tour, boarded a small plane with only four hours of flight time and no license. I returned to London suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and physical injuries.
I’ve been a bit lost since I left the service. I have no training in normal civil trades, except city and guild in lithography. I did not know, what I should do. So part of my book is how I dealt with it or did I deal with it?
When did you first want to compose a book?
In 2014 I was on vacation in Spain and stayed with my wife in a beautiful villa. I received a message from a former MI6 colleague that my former secretary, whom I loved dearly, had died of cancer. I sat crying in the garden. My wife asked what was going on. So I gave him a brief overview of my past. He just said he didn’t believe me. No matter how hard I tried to explain, he couldn’t relate what I’d done to how he perceived me. Over time I realized that I had to write the whole story for her. Halfway through writing, I realized my story could make a good book, and it did.
When did you decide to start writing?
In 2018 I converted my one-letter story into book form.
How long did it take you to full thine first book from the first notion to release?
It took me about ten months. I had no notion of how to write professionally. I was helped to ask the editor to read and make suggestions. He had a very girly style, I wanted the words to be my own, so I listened to some of the things he said but ignored most of them. I realized that his help wasn’t for me and started writing my way again. I tell my story only by remembering the events.
How long did it take thou to complete thine latest book from the first notion to release?
The very quick process is similar to the first book. I wanted to find a story that would captivate my readers, and I think I succeeded. The writing process took about the same ten months.
Zoom to the latest version. What prompted you to write An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy??
The reader asks for more. After reading my first book, readers turned to me and asked for more. They asked me if I could write a little more about certain surgeries. Which I can’t do for obvious security reasons. I found the story “An Ordinary Guy, Operation Saponify” worth telling because most of the story was an unofficial investigation. It only became official when the investigation became an operation to prevent the Falklands War. This story changes history. Remember that the story covers the years 1974-1982 and the events described in the book are only now being revealed by many other people.
What were thine maximal challenges writing An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy??
My biggest challenge is not revealing government secrets. I have been writing under the strictest professional secrecy laws for 65 years, mostly on terms that will never be disclosed.
Personally, a lot of historical content can be pretty boring, so I try to lighten things up after a particularly boring section (my readers tell me otherwise). I’m trying to introduce a funny story or sex. I was young and sex played a part in my life as most normal guys do, so why not include it all? I’ve been told it’s not necessary for the historical work, but others say I should tell my full story. I guess I can’t please everyone. It’s hard to write about my sexual accomplishments with my wife looking over my shoulder. My aunt tells me sex sells.
I change my name in my books for obvious reasons. My third book has many characters, it’s very difficult to know who I named, so I use a program called Scapple to map the names and their associations. It looks like a spider web.
Another challenge was the introduction of humor. It’s hard to show my sense of humor in an essentially tragic story. I’m sure everyone will find my spy school test story amusing. Blue challenge. My poor wife suffered the same fate on April Fool’s Day. Luckily he saw the funny side, or should I say he saw the blue, not the red.
How was the information-gathering process for An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy?
I tell my story and remember from my head. But the research work I have to do is enormous. For example, if I remember flying to Angola on a Boeing 737, I have to double-check whether it was a 737 or whether that particular plane didn’t exist in 1988. I can’t rely on my memory.
I was recently writing my third book and couldn’t remember the name of the hotel I was staying at in Butuan, Philippines. I could have given the name of each hotel. But to be correct I needed to know the real name. I remember the way from the airport. I checked with Google Earth, but couldn’t find the hotel where I expected it to be. I remember what the terrain was like and where. So I reached out to a friend who lives nearby on the island of Mindanao and asked her for suggestions, none of which worked.
Finally found an area on Google Earth that I remembered but the building there used to be a registry office. I told her and she knew the hotel at the edge of the gardens. I googled it again but didn’t realize it, maybe it’s been renovated in the last 40 years and research shows it was. All for a very simple line in the book.
Simple but time-consuming search. I like to tell the truth.
How did you design the structure of An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy?
I am the format, beginning, middle, and end. My first book, the story of my life, never ended, I’m alive (apparently). The publisher said I had to come to an end. So I cheated a bit. I moved an event from 25 years ago to today. It was a good ending with very few changes other than the date. This is the only compromise I’ve made with the truth, but not in 2018.
As an unknown author, I knew I needed a catch to grab the reader right away. When I started telling my story as a student, no one would read more than a page. So the first chapter is the end of my career. When I invite someone to read my book, I ask them to read the first chapter, it’s only a few pages long. By the time they read it, no doubt everyone said, “I can’t put this down, I have to keep reading.” My editor told me I couldn’t put the ending at the beginning, but it works well. I suggest you read my first chapter now.
Did you get editing assistance and how much did it cost you for An Ordinary Guy and An Unknown Spy need?
I had very little time with the help of the editor. I made the wrong choice by choosing a woman who had a very feminine tone and point of view, she couldn’t change her style and I wouldn’t change mine. I had to tell my story from my point of view. I have never recorded in any of my books what anyone else has said unless they address me directly. For example, I can never say that someone left the room, went to their boss, and said this or that. How should I know?
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give someone that inspired you to write a new book?
Record your story. Then read it again and see if you like it. If you’ve read it as many times as I have mine and it’s still interesting and entertaining, then this is probably a great book.
Can thou give me a hint as regards any further books you’re planning to write?
My third book will be my last, I’m 99.9% sure of that. I have no more stories to tell without falling into the realm of a trade secret violation. I do mine with every book. The website people contacted me. So far they have enjoyed my story and expressed a desire to learn more. It happens very rarely, I don’t want to exaggerate, they are great at screwing people up.
And finally, are you proud of your result? It was worth it?
I’m proud that I wrote a book, then another. had it in me. I am very proud that both books have won the title “Book of the Month” from my German publisher Tradition Publishers. It might be a bit of a stretch for great writers, but for me, someone with little to no writing skill or training, it’s an honor to win against those who have.
Add any links to your books, websites, and social media here so readers can find you:
An Ordinary Guy An Unknown Spy:
An Ordinary Guy, Operation Saponify: