An SAS veteran turned best-selling author, who famously survived the longest escape and evasion in the history of the Special Air Service during the Gulf War, is taking a creative workshop into UK schools to encourage children to read.
Former Special Forces soldier Colin Armstrong, more commonly known by the pseudonym Chris Ryan, wants to help children who struggle to express themselves find a creative way to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Chris decided to embrace a new challenge and will be taking a creative workshop into UK schools, a venture that starts in The Wirral this month.
Chris was part of the doomed eight-man Bravo Two Zero mission in Iraq, made famous by his first novel 'The One That Got Away' and a book named after the same call sign, written by ex-SAS operative Andy McNab.
The eight men were deployed deep behind enemy lines, along the main supply route between Baghdad and north-western Iraq.
During the ill-fated mission to gather intelligence, three members of the patrol died and four were captured. Chris was the only one to escape as he detailed in his first book 'The One That Got Away'.
Speaking about the mission with Richard Hatch and Verity Geere, broadcasters for BFBS the Forces Station, he said: "There was a lot of mistakes made.
"We lost three good men. One was shot and killed in action and he actually, Bob Consiglio, should have been given the VC.
"He sacrificed his life to save four men and sadly two others died of hyperthermia. I was with one when he succumbed to the cold."
Watch: Chris Ryan speaks to Forces News in February 2021 about the ill-fated Bravo Two Zero mission.
A year after leaving the Armed Forces in 1994, Chris wrote 'The One That Got Away', his personal account of the eight-day, 190-mile trek without food or water to cross the border into Syria where he was taken into protective custody.
This novel started a successful writing career during which he has published 76 books written using his experiences in the Armed Forces.
The veteran, who in 1991 was awarded the Military Medal "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the Gulf", has also written a romance novel - 'The Fisherman's Daughter' - which he wrote under the name Molly Jackson.
For the past two decades, Chris has taken this passion for writing and used it to encourage children to seek adventure in the pages of books, in the hope of improving their reading skills to help give them a brighter future.
He does this by writing action-packed books with a teenage reader in mind like his fiction series 'Agent 21' and 'Code Red'.
Speaking about why this educational mission is so important to him, he said: "In this day and age, if a kid leaves school and he can't read, he doesn't stand a chance of doing anything."
Since the start of his career as an author, Chris has visited schools to inspire children to fall in love with reading, but one child's story has stuck with him ever since.
Chris was asked by this boy's teacher if he would speak to him because the child came from a "troubled background" and she could see he had the potential for great things but needed some guidance.
Chris says that speaking to the boy was like getting "blood out of a stone" but he persisted and discovered the child had never read a book.
Moved by this, Chris sent the child some books from his adventure series written specifically for teenage readers, 'Alpha Force'. Little did he know what a powerful impact this kind gesture had on the child. He said:
"Some 15 years later, I'm sitting in a bar in Hereford and this big burly guy comes up to me and said, 'you don't recognise me do you?' and I said no.
"Well, this guy was that kid and he was a Staff Sergeant in the SAS.
"I tell you what, it floored me and we sat there having beers and he said he didn't really have a role model at that point.
"He didn't have anybody driving him or just telling him the basics, open a book and read it and he's an avid reader now so I feel a responsibility to putting something back into the system.
"I'm not going to change the world but if I change a couple of kids, I'll be really happy."
Meanwhile, the author's new book 'Outcast', released today, is inspired by the extraordinary story of a friend of his who, Chris says, single-handedly saved more than 100 hostages and took on a terrorist group. He said: "His book is being blocked but I know him really well now and he inspired me to do this storyline of Outcast.
"He is a hero of mine so I just thought, right, I'm going to twist this story and get it on paper and I just hope it's well-received."
Cover image: Chris Ryan at the Hay Festival in 2019 (Picture: Keith Morris / Hay Ffotos / Alamy Stock Photo).