openDemocracy and Our Kingdom are proud to serialise The Skinback Fusiliers, a fast, funny and deeply disturbing novel about life in the British army today seen through the eyes of three young men.
Melvin Burgess says:
"An important book about how we lure our young men into the armed forces... how we train them, how we treat them while they're there and how we treat them when they come out."
Michael Rosen says:
"Daring, immediate, painful, powerful... It's the stuff we've got to confront in order to figure out what is being done in our name."
Presented as a novel, the book is based on hundreds of hours of conversation with three teenage soldiers – one black, one Asian and one white – who joined the army more out of desperation than for any other reason. Despite realising that the Afghan war is a lost cause and possibly a lie, Shahid, from Oldham, joins for complex reasons to do with race and religion, while Andy and Ashton – young men of dubious education and low self-esteem from Blackburn and Manchester – see it, tragically, as their only hope.
Ashton needs to escape from an encroaching life of crime, Andy from inevitable failure, and although perfectly intelligent, they buy into recruitment promises of a better life, with good pay, job training, and prospects. Within a year or so – brutalized and coerced – they realise they were wrong.
The novel charts their growing awareness of how deeply they have been conned, and the vanishing opportunities for doing anything about it. Over time their feelings gel. They are determined to get out.
Although for many reasons Unknown Soldier feels unable to use his real name, he is an acclaimed writer. But despite positive reactions from many contemporary authors and theatre practitioners — (‘Reading this book gave me a feeling of inescapable immediacy,’ says Frank Cottrell Boyce. ‘It's so vivid and it really buttonholes you and the prose is so urgent and gripping.’) — British publishers seem to want nothing at all to do with The Skinback Fusiliers.
Given the book’s bleak and uncompromising view, perhaps this is not surprising: but this is a book that urgently requires to be read and talked about.
The Skinback Fusiliers will soon also be available on Kindle Store and Amazon.
As Melvin Burgess says: "Next time you see an ad on the TV suggesting the armed forces are like some kind of adventure playground for men, think again."
More praise for The Skinback Fusiliers:
Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, who served four months in jail for refusing to return to duty in Afghanistan:
"Reading it was like being back in the mob."
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."
Robin Thornber, Guardian theatre reviewer:
"Absolutely brilliant, and utterly terrifying. Horrific."
Carl Grose, writer, director at Kneehigh Theatre, actor/writer for National Theatre and Radio 3:
"BRILLIANT. It's one of the most startling, shocking, funny, tragic, and truly political books I've ever read about this country."
- Clare Sambrook, Rosemary Bechler, Niki Seth-Smith