SEEING DOUBLE: THE BODYGUARD

Last Tuesday (April 18th) one of us had a piece published in The Times T2 about the rise of female bodyguards and how they are now paid more than men on the commercial “Circuit”. It featured interviews with Dublin-based Personal Protection Officer Lisa Baldwin and PPO trainer Neil Davis of Horizon, which is based in Glasgow. Later that same day an article appeared in the Independent (online) about how there is increased demand for female bodyguards etc. that featured quotes from, oh, Lisa and Neil. OK, so it mentioned The Times as a source, but there wasn’t anything original in the piece at all. And they managed to neglect to mention our book Safe From Harm, which was to some extent the object of the exercise. Still, as they borrowed the entire content from us, I am sure the Indy won’t mind if we borrow it back. Here it is:

 

 

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The chances are that when you picture a bodyguard, you’re imagining a tall, big, broad, burly man with biceps the size of tree-trunks and hands that could crush skulls.

But more and more these days, that image is wrong. Increasingly, women are being hired as bodyguards – and average-sized women too.

The reason is that huge stereotypical-looking bodyguards – technically called close protection, personal protection or executive protection officers (CPO/PPO/EPO) – actually draw attention to whomever is being protected.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be mistaken for nannies.

“Nine times out of ten the people I work for want someone who can blend in,” commercial PPO Lisa Baldwin explained to The Times. “They don’t want obvious security, like the kind used by Madonna or Britney Spears. Those bodyguards, the big guys, actually draw attention to the clients and put them at more stress and risk.”

Baldwin dresses down which allows her to look like a friend or nanny. “With the bulkier guys, people will think: ‘Why have those kids got a bodyguard?’” she says.

“And I’d like to see those big guys run. They are fine if you are just keeping fans back, but I am dealing with things like kidnap threat and might have to get out of a situation very quickly. Pure muscle isn’t enough.”

Baldwin is by no means a huge woman either and believes the ex-military look can be a disadvantage: “I remember the first job interview I had, when I was 20, I was up against another candidate who looked like GI Jane, all muscles and shaved head. And I got the job.

“They were more interested in whether I had protective driving skills, which I had, and a firearms cert, which I also had. In fact they didn’t want me to carry a firearm, but to show I had training in that field.”

       Since Baldwin became a PPO 13 years ago, the number of women in the industry has soared along with demand. She says that there’s been more interest from Muslim families in particular, “who might not want the women mixing too closely with men. And then there are the bathrooms — if you have a male bodyguard and a female client, that’s going to be an issue.”

But there are still relatively few female PPOs and not enough to satisfy demand, according to Neil Davis, a former army officer who runs a Glasgow-based security company called Horizon.

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“Clients who might not want their children looked after by a man often specify a woman,” he told The Times. “These days, the good female PPOs can work all year round while men struggle to find jobs, especially as there has been an influx from eastern Europe competing for work. Such is the demand for women, they get paid more than the men at the moment.”

However, Davis says women have to be the whole package – not only do they need to be trained but they usually have to be fluent in one or two foreign languages and qualified in something like scuba diving or skiing.

David Cameron and Tony Blair both had female bodyguards, and Davis says there are certain advantages to using a female CPO when the client is male.

“If I was putting together a security team of eight, I’d like at least two, maybe three, women in the mix. Do that and the group dynamic instantly changes. Women lower the testosterone level.”

To illustrate his point, Davis gives the example of when things start kicking off in a bar or pub: “If a man steps up to confront [your client] then the situation can escalate.

“If a woman does it, the aggression levels drop because, no matter how drunk they are, most men are conditioned to know it is wrong to hit a woman. A female PPO tends to be better at conflict resolution rather than making the situation worse.”

ENDS

Neil Davis by the way has a CV that reads like something from a Gerald Seymour novel:

“Neil is a former Warrant Officer in the British Army, serving for 24 years, leaving in 2006. His last 5 years was as an Advanced Agent Handler with JSG(NI) where he successfully recruited and ran covert HUMINT Sources from within terrorist organisations in various countries around the world and for which he was awarded a QCVS in the 2006 Honours List.”

       That’s not to mention a wealth of CPO experience in the world’s most hostile environments.

 

LANDMARK TRUST?

Our novel Safe From Harm features a number of North London landmarks, including this rather striking obelisk/bollard that sits on the slope of Parliament Hill Fields below so-called Kite Hill. It is known locally as the Stone of Free Speech. Towards the end of the book Sam Wylde is meant to meet her MI5 contact there and says:

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Just to the east of the bandstand on Parliament Hill Field is a white obelisk. Not very tall, it has no inscription on it whatsoever. Yet there it stands, a monument to.. something. I had heard it called The Pillar or Stone of Free Speech and it was mooted to be a gathering place for modern-day pagans. There were none of those about that I could see, but it made for a convenient landmark for a meeting with a spy. After all, aren’t they supposed to protecting free speech and the British way of life? Which included the right to call yourself a pagan without having a limb chopped off. Or your head.”

Several people have mentioned that, in fact, this is incorrect. Although many sources claim it is a 200 year-old rallying point for protestors against censorship or a cut-price Stonehenge for pagans/druids, the truth is more quotidian. It is a triangulation point for surveyors. There is also an MOD arrow on the base, which suggests it is a relatively recent addition to the Heath.

However, we did know this at the time of writing. It was just that we invoked what might be called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Principle: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

That black shape is Joe, our Cockapoo (included for scale).

HOW TO WRITE A THRILLER

 

We don’t know.

We aren’t being facetious or disingenuous. What we mean is, we can’t give you chapter and verse about how to write your thriller. Plenty of the questions we get online and at events are about writing techniques, plotting, characters, research etc. and mostly our answers are a variation on “it all depends”, “it just turned out that way” or “I don’t know how we did that”. What we can tell you is how we wrote Safe From Harm.

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That blank page moment (“Cat on a…? On a what?”

But before that, a couple of recommendations. If you are interested in plot and storytelling, try John Yorke’s Into the Woods (Penguin). It is subtitled “A Five Act Journey Into Story”, which tells you it is mainly aimed at film and TV writers, but plenty of what he says applies to any form of storytelling. And unlike most how-to-write-the-perfect-script books, this one is very readable.

For the sorts of thing we can’t tell you about structure, we would also suggest Writing Crime Fiction: An introduction: a 60-Minute Masterclass by William Ryan and M.R. Hall, which you can get on Amazon’s Kindle site for a bargain £1.99.

We know Bill Ryan and he is a skilled, insightful and thoughtful writer with a quartet of excellent books under his belt. M.R (now Matthew) Hall is the author of the very successful Coroner Jenny Cooper series. Both writers have backgrounds in the legal profession (Hall got his big break writing Kavanagh QC). Both know of what they speak. And their suggestions on narrative, pace, character etc. applies across the genres.

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Now, what about Safe From Harm? Well, it all began with an ad on Gumtree. One half of RJ Bailey had been writing reasonably successful historical novels but had reached the point where a change was due. Something where the good guys could send a text for help, rather than a carrier pigeon.  A contemporary crime novel or thriller. But what? Psychological thrillers tend to be one-offs, and we wanted to produce a series. And the police procedural is a crowded field, although there are writers out there continually finding fresh angles (for example, Eva Dolan’s excellent Zigic & Ferreira novels and Stav Sherez’s Carrigan & Miller, whose latest outing, The Intrusions, is top notch). But we wouldn’t be among them.

After a few days of musing (i.e. staring into space), it was the other half of RJB who found the ad on Gumtree that would kick-start the novel:

“We are looking for an experienced female CPO/PPO/Driver with a knowledge of security for our clients in Westminster.”

       PPO/CPO means Personal Protection Officer/Close Protection Officer. In other words, a bodyguard. I didn’t think I had read a novel with a thoughtful or sympathetic bodyguard in it. And female? That piqued our interest. It got better.

You will be driving a young family with three children who are all schooled in London. During the summer 2-3 months may be spent in Monte Carlo with possible short trips in the winter months to St Moritz.”

Sounds great, eh?

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The family car

“You will be driving the new Rolls Royce Ghost and MUST have previous experience driving luxury cars.”  

       There was more, but that was enough to start our imaginations running. Who would apply for such a job? And why a female? Are there even any women bodyguards out there? We both were aware that Kate Middleton had a female PPO, but she would be employed by the state, not answering ads on Gumtree. The answer is: yes, there are lots of women bodyguards  – JK Rowling, Beyonce and Rihanna have all used them.

So this is where we began. With a character to create. This is our preferred entry to writing.  Some hugely successful thrillers, I know, are more high concept. They have tag lines such as:

Amanda thought she had the perfect life. The perfect husband. The perfect child. And then she discovered she didn’t.

To which our response is always: Welcome to the club, Amanda. (We’ve been married for a while now). Actually, we are being unfair. There’s some great psycho-, grip-lit, whatever you want to call hem, out there. We have particularly enjoyed Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre and The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. But it might be time for a moratorium on missing children/partners.

I think plenty of these start with the plot and twists, but rather than map out our arc from the get-go, we opted to try and flesh out our PPO before we even had a plot or set pen to paper (although in reality only one of us does the actual typing).

There was an immediate barrier to this. We knew nothing about the world of bodyguards. So, as always, the first rule of research kicked in: find someone who does. Which is why we flew to Dublin to meet Lisa Baldwin.

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Safe From Harm: a woman in a man’s world

Lisa doesn’t look like anybody’s idea of a bodyguard. The former professional swimmer is the complete antithesis of the brick-outhouse-with-earphone model – petite, in her early thirties, fit and gym-toned but certainly no heavyweight. She has been a PPO for the best part of a decade. She gave us a list of why the wealthy might want female protection. Firstly, the principal client (almost always male) might have seen The Bodyguard and not want their (possibly much younger) wife hanging around with a handsome male. Or, for cultural/religious reasons they might not want their wives and daughters hanging round with any men.

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Geri Halliwell: Bodyguard? What bodyguard?

Plus there would be situations where a woman would blend in more than a man – taking the kids to a playground, for example (black-suited heavies tend to draw attention to themselves and the client), shopping for underwear (again, men always look awkward and obvious among racks of lingerie) or, crucially, visiting the lavatory. The main perceived risk to the family members she guarded was kidnap and ransom. Lisa’s job was to make sure that didn’t happen.

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This bodyguard blends in

But what about her lack of bulk? What if she had to fight off would-be kidnappers? “If it ever gets to that stage,” she said, “then I haven’t been doing my job properly. It’s all about assessing the situation and getting your clients out safely if something isn’t right.”

Armed with her advice and on-the-job stories, we returned to London and worked up our PPO character, creating a whole “legend” for why she was on “The Circuit”, as it is known (she is ex-army, like many of them) and imagining the strains of being both a bodyguard and a single mother. After three weeks of “woodshedding”Sam Wylde, PPO to the rich and not-always famous, was ready to keep her clients safe from harm. The idea was that this strong female character (and a cast of supporting characters) would keep readers engaged across several books in an on-going series.

All we had to do then was write the first one.

However, before we began, we had to have an ending. I have read many a good thriller that slightly fades in the final furlong. I think this is often true of psychological thrillers, where the heart-thumping set-up ends with: Meh. Really?

So the first thing we wrote was the opening line:

“There is a man coming to hurt us.”

Which is also the start of the climatic fight scene. And then, to make sure we knew where we had to get to, the epilogue section opens:

“I am waiting to hurt a man.”

Which suggests it’s a revenge thriller. But it turned out to be much more than that. And we still don’t know how we did it. But we do know we’ve got to do it again.

 

Safe From Harm is out now from Simon & Schuster; the sequel, Nobody Gets Hurt is due in 2018.

 

 

Armoured Cars

One of the first things we discovered when we started researching Safe From Harm is that cars feature prominently in the life of a Personal Protection Officer. They rarely like their clients to travel on regular transport – the general public are to be avoided (there is a phrase for them in the book that cannot be repeated here) – and they will often be driving specially modified vehicles. Companies such as Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW offer powerful, off-the-shelf bullet- and blast-proof models for diplomats, potentates and unpopular oligarchs (although I suspect every oligarch is unpopular with someone; I guess they just have to hope it isn’t Putin).

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In Safe From Harm Sam Wylde drives a long wheelbase, armoured 7 series BMW. The 7HS is compliant with the requirements of the class VR7 ballistic protection standard. Which means you can fire 400 7.62mm rounds at it from every angle with zero penetration. It is also blast-proofed against fragmentation and ordinance hand grenades. Each of the corners is reinforced for those times when the driver has to punch through parked vehicles or reverse his or her way out of trouble.

Sam’s version has been somewhat modified by a character called One-Eyed Jack. He is actually based on a guy who used to do my MOTs when one of us was involved in the car business (racing and renovating) in South East London. The real Jack had two perfectly good peepers, but if he spotted a fault he’d always say: “I’ll turn a blind eye to it this time, but get it fixed.” Hence the nickname.

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Sam regularly loses her no-claims bonus

When air bags first appeared, one of his customers came in and asked for them to be disabled on the driver’s side. Why? I asked. Because if you collide with another vehicle, Jack explained, you don’t want a Rover-style balloon (that’s a reference to The Prisoner for you youngsters) exploding in your face. It turned out the customer was one of the last of the old-school robbers who liked to stop armoured cars by ramming them. So it gave me the idea that Sam would have her air bag disabled in case she had to ram her way out of trouble. Which she does.

So, cars of many stripes play an important role throughout Safe From Harm, as a means of secure transport, rapid escape and, in two cases, as a lethal weapon. They figure even more prominently in the sequel, Nobody Gets Hurt, when Sam is faced with that old conundrum: how do you bump-start a vehicle with no battery? In this case a vintage Facel Vega. You’ll have to wait and see for that one.

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The beautiful but capricious Facel Vega.

 

Part of this piece first appeared in Crimetime (www.crimetime.co.uk). Thanks to @BarryForshaw3.