Mike Klidjian spoke to the OA about how he became a professional writer and his first novel Bluestreak.
Tell us about yourself
I joined the Royal Navy in 1999 as a warfare officer. Following basic training I was fast tracked into Fighter Controller training, before eventually becoming Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Boyce. Highlights of my career were serving as second-in-command of HMS Dauntless for two years, and working as Military Assistant to the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff. I finished off as second-in-command of Warfare Training for the Royal Navy at HMS Collingwood, in Portsmouth, before leaving in October 2017.
Why did you leave the Navy?
I had done everything I wanted to do in the Navy. I probably had one job left at sea, which would be as a captain. However, this would have required a good couple of years away from home, followed by another two years at sea. I did not want to be away from my family for that long, especially as I have two young children who would have been teenagers by the time I returned from sea.
What OA services did you use as part of your transition?
I came to the OA and met your Career Consultant, Clive Lowe, who helped me to understand what life was like outside of the Armed Forces, and the possible career paths I could pursue. We came to the conclusion that working for a big business was not for me, and that I would be better suited at a start-up or smaller company. This was a real eye opener, and the career consultation gave me a clear understanding of what roles I should avoid. I now needed to explore what jobs would appeal to me, and suit my skills.
When did you decide become a writer?
I wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone, and change my life on a big scale. If I had put myself right out there, I would find it easier to come back to a smaller change in the middle. After some discussion with my career advisor I found a Creative Writing Course in London.
The course was one day a week for six weeks in London. Despite having been in the Navy for 18 years, this was the scariest course I had ever done! I sat in front of 16 strangers reading out what I had just written. Having given up English after GCSE this was terrifying!
Fortunately, the course organisers liked my work, and invited me to attend the advanced course. This was held at the Groucho club, meeting published authors and rubbing shoulders with celebrities. I learnt first hand from their experiences and the different approaches to having a book published. I came away from that feeling I have to give professional writing a go.
How challenging is writing?
Initially I found it very hard; after my wife had gone to work and I had dropped the kids off at school, I would feel I had to tidy up and get the house in order before sitting down to write. For the first couple of weeks I kept distracting myself, maybe only doing half an hour’s worth of writing a day and so the book was going nowhere.
My wife said if we were going to give the writing thing a shot I had to treat it like a job. After that we worked out a roster and I sat down every day and wrote from nine until three. I wrote around 2,000 words a day, and up to 6,000 words if it was getting to an exciting bit. It was hugely enjoyable and I wrote solidly from October to February, meaning I finished the first draft early in the year.
What is it like to write a novel?
Writing a novel is strangely like reading one, because your characters react with each other and behave in ways you were not expecting. You know where the book will end, but the characters take over the route you are going to take. I hated finishing writing the first draft of Bluestreak because it was like going cold turkey! I felt I had finished reading a really good book, and I just wanted to start again straight away. Luckily a lot of my readers are saying the same!
How has being an officer helped your writing?
When running military training you are always using your imagination and thinking “what if” in every situation. You are constantly thinking of the worst thing that could happen at each stage of the operation, and planning for how your team will react. This meant I spent much of my time imagining worst case scenarios and how I would react to them. All of these scenarios helped to provide the basis of Bluestreak.
What did you do after the first draft was finished?
I had to decide what to do with it next. I searched around for someone to edit the text. Fortunately, one of my wife’s friends is a former BBC producer, who had previously spent years script editing. She had always wanted to write book, and had studied English at university. She volunteered to edit my first draft, and gave me really useful pointers, which made the final version punchier.
How did you get the novel published?
I was incredibly lucky in finding a team of people I already knew who were enthusiastic about the project. For example, the book cover was designed by my sister-in-law who is a graphic designer, and my publicist is a friend who works in PR. I have been lucky with the people who I have found to support me.
What advice would you give to Service leavers looking for a new career?
Look at your network and see which of your contacts can help. You will be surprised by how many people have useful skills that you do not know about. I did not realise I knew an editor, or that my friend in PR had always wanted to do publicity for a novel.
What is the novel about?
Bluestreak is somewhere between a modern day Hornblower and a James Bond. The story focuses on Lieutenant “Jack” Browne, who is chasing terrorists in the Indian Ocean, before being dragged into the world of espionage.
This is the first of what will be a series of Jack Browne novels, and his character will develop throughout the books – he is certainly a hero, but a realistic one. There are a lot of one-dimensional action heroes, where their aggressive behaviour has no personal consequences. They exist in a social vacuum. I always thought that the real heroes are those individuals who complete dangerous missions and then have to go back to their families. I do not think we have really seen that in an action novel and Jack Browne will tell the story of the real life heroes out there.
You can order your copy of Bluestreak via Amazon.