The Danger of Life: Why the Commandos?

I've been asked why I chose to focus the main strand of 'The Danger of Life' on the Commando Basic Training Centre at Achnacarry Castle.

I've been fascinated by the story of the commandos who trained in Lochaber for over 40 years, since I first stumbled over Scott Sutherland's magnificent Commando Memorial standing beside the A82 near Spean Bridge while hitch-hiking though Scotland in the 1970s.

When I began to write the second of my thrillers set in Scotland during World War Two, it seemed the perfect opportunity to find out more about these amazing men and what they went through in order to become the best soldiers in the world. My research included a week spent with my wife and grandson staying in the steadings at Achnacarry Castle, once home to the Commando Basic Training Centre, in order to absorb the atmosphere of the place.

What I unearthed forms the background to much of 'The Danger of Life' and gives my second novel a vivid sense of a world that was very different to the one we live in today.

I've never been a diary-keeper, but in my hitch-hiking days I did keep a log of the lifts I received. Thinking about this fascination with the commandos drove me to unearth and consult the log, abandoned for decades.

It seems that in the early afternoon of Sunday 28 August 1977 I hitch-hiked into Mallaig with the intention of catching a ferry to Skye: only to discover that in those days the ferries did not run on that route on a Sunday. So I spent a wild and stormy night in a seriously inadequate tent on a hillside overlooking Mallaig before a wild and stormy ferry crossing to Armadale on the Monday morning, 29 August 1977.

In the utterly foul weather the hitching on Skye was abysmal, so I got the ferry from Armadale back to Mallaig and hitched back inland to the edge of Fort William, and then north along the A82 and west along the A87, intending to get to Skye via the Kyle of Lochalsh ferry: though it didn't actually work out that way.

It was on this trip, probably around mid-afternoon on Monday 29 August 1977, that I first saw the Commando Memorial. By that measure, 'The Danger of Life' has been in the making for a few months short of 42 years!