Special Forces veteran James Deegan is the latest ex-SAS man to join the literary ranks of Andy McNab and Chris Ryan by penning a thriller that has already sent film fans speculating after movie hardman Tom Hardy pictured himself on Instagram reading the book.
Deegan is no stranger to danger and no doubt stared down death more than a few times in almost two decades of service with the elite regiment – giving him hundreds of experiences to draw on for inspiration.
Once a Pilgrim, his debut fictional thriller, is already getting noticed but he remained tight-lighted on whether or not there could be film deals in the pipeline.
This is despite Tom Hardy, star of The Dark Knight Rises, TV's Taboo and Peaky Blinders, sparking speculation on social media after taking to Instagram with a picture showing him reading the book, with the caption "Options."
The former regimental sergeant major, who spent five years in the Parachute Regiment and 17 years in a sabre squadron of the SAS, is at pains to point out that his writing is fictional, even though he brings every ounce of his real-life, frontline experience to bear in his thriller storylines.
He is adamant, however, that his experience is there as inspiration only because, as a former member of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF), Deegan is sworn to secrecy.
Richard Hatch and Verity Geere spoke to Deegan about his career, how he got into writing novels and if there are plans to turn Once A Pilgrim into a film. He told them:
"I'm pretty sure you'll be aware that as a former member of UKSF, I've signed a contract to say that I won't talk about my life in the Special Forces, and I'll honour that contract. I've no desire to be in the public eye."
He also told them how writing is not the day-job, just something he turns his hand to in his spare time.
He added: "The book actually took three and a half years from concept to where we are today."
But fiction is different from the secrets he needs to keep, and he has had more than enough life experience in the Special Forces, with a Military Cross to prove it, for him to find the spark to create an enduring fictional character – matched by storylines to excite the readers.
His story gives life to the character John Carr, who sees his past among the Troubles in Ulster come back to haunt his new role as a security officer for a shadowy Russian oligarch in a thriller that evokes everything from battles with the Provisional IRA to the brutal killings of terrorists on the streets of Belfast.
It comes from a life that Deegan, who has a two-book deal with publishing house HarperCollins, knows well – with him described by his commanding officer as 'one of the most operationally-experienced SAS men of his era'.
British thriller author Stephen Leather also speaks very highly of the newcomer to the genre, saying:
"Move over Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. There's a new SAS veteran writing thrillers and he's good. Very good."
It is not hard to imagine film deals. Many similar books have been turned into blockbuster Hollywood movies.
Asked if this is the future for Once A Pilgrim and would we see Tom Hardy take on the role of John Carr, there is a long pause.
"Er, I think you'll understand why I'm not going to comment on that one. What I'll say is, it's an exceptionally well-written story, I'll say that with a humility."
"When I'm actually describing a scene in the book, I look at it as a third party and I try to describe it as I would imagine what it would look like on a screen."
Military life is in Deegan's blood. Both his father and uncle served in the Second World War so he was drawn to a career as a soldier from a young age.
"My dad was in the Second World War. He had me quite late in life and my uncle fought pretty much every single day of the Second World War with the Argylls."
"It was just something I always wanted to do and I was brought up on Commando comics and toy soldiers."
The main protagonist, John Carr is nevertheless based on a lot of Deegan's military experience as it was important to him that the novel was an authentic read.
"Anybody who reads it… will realise this can only have been written by somebody that's experienced what he's writing about."
Now on civvy street, Deegan has an intense job working for a major company as their head of security and he started to find writing had its benefits as a release from the daily grind. He said:
"Sometimes at night or at the weekend it was quite therapeutic to actually sit there, it was actually fun writing it."
"Did I actually think we would get to where we are now? Not really, if I'm honest."
Deegan has secured a two-book deal with HarperCollins so fans have less than a year to wait until his next work is published.
Cover picture: HarperCollins