KILLING TIME AT CATTERICK
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This book, previously published as The Skinback Fusiliers, is short, funny, bitter and uncompromising, and retells the real experiences of three young men who join the army because they think it will deal them better hands than life has offered so far. All perfectly intelligent, if short on education, they accept recruitment promises on pay, job training, and future prospects. Andy is white, Ashton is black, and Shahid is a Blackburn Asian. They do not expect that they will ever be friends.
In fact they have to be – and close and vital allies. The novel charts, through a series of actions and events, their growing awareness of how deeply they have been conned, and the vanishing opportunities for doing anything about it. Far from being trained as heroes, they come to see themselves as cannon fodder, face savers, and sacrificial lambs. They are paid, pro rata, far less than the minimum wage, and charged for their accommodation and their food. Their prospects, among other things, are to leave the army as a pale pink vapour in the air, or go home in a body bag.
Being young, they don’t believe that that will ever happen. But they know that there are ways to leave the army, and over time their feelings gel. To talk of leaving is sedition, and walls have ears. But they are determined to get out. There is more to life. For Andy, love with Emma and a second try at education, for Ashton marriage and a daughter, for Shahid the hope to foster peace and understanding. What better place to start than Blackburn!
Frank Cottrell Boyce: Reading this book gave me a feeling of inescapable immediacy. It's so vivid and it really buttonholes you and the prose is so urgent and gripping. Envious. It's bloody fantastic.
Laurence Boswell (director/writer, Royal Shakespeare Co., West End, Broadway): Very powerful, very tough, people should know this stuff. Loved that you could make room for the joy of a great curry, amidst all the violence and the bullying. Thanks.
Carl Grose (writer, director at Kneehigh Theatre and the National):
BRILLIANT. It's one of the most startling, shocking, funny, tragic, and truly political books I've ever read about this country. I absolutely love it.