Books: A book that changed me

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The Independent Culture
When did you first read it? My agent told me to read it in 1993, when Bravo Two Zero was at the proposal stage. I was having difficulty with the writing and he said, if you can do what he does - tell a story in such a way that all the sensations come across to the reader, so strongly that the reader can feel the weather - then you'll have cracked it. I've read it now five times. What Simpson does is give the ordinary reader something to identify with. For somebody sitting in London to be able to relate to a story about extremes, you have to describe it via the universals: the little things that everyone experiences. When I first read Simpson's book, I didn't see the quality of the writing, precisely because it is so good. It reads as if he's telling you the story over a cup of tea - so natural. It goes into all the technicalities of rock climbing but appeals to the senses and emotions as well, even though this is a world that very few of us know anything about. It also helped me as a writer, because I was looking at the way you can deal with things in the first person. The big test for me, is when you take a book into the toilet and you're still there half an hour later.

Are you a great reader? I wouldn't say that I am, particularly. I've got Simpson's other two books at home and I haven't even touched them yet. I love medieval history, anything about the Crusades, especially Terry Jones's books. I don't read much fiction, but actually a very close runner-up for my book that changed me is Pat Barker's Regeneration. It's the first book in a trilogy, but again, I haven't read the other two. It was so easy to read, which is great for me, and again it passes the toilet test. I've not got the skill to write like that, I know I haven't, so the quality of the writing didn't make much impact on me, but what I thought was great was the story. Sassoon has become a hero of mine, and I've now read Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Memoirs of a Fox- Hunting Man. He was a homosexual, and that was an absolute no-no at the time; he really cared about his men, so there's the class thing, and he admitted that he really didn't have a problem with killing Germans, he just disagreed with the reason for killing them. He could have got out of the war by claiming shell-shock but instead he made a stand against the establishment. Big bollocks to do that!

! Andy McNab's novel is 'Remote Control', Bantam pounds 16.99

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