I was working on The Path of Duty in my small home office the other day, as I do pretty much every day and was finding it a slow, hard process to squeeze the words out of my brain and onto the page. As I often do when procrastination or writer’s fatigue hit me, I let my mind and eyes wander. Sometimes they wander into my web browser and I surf until I’m ready to squeeze some more. Sometimes I look over the room I’m in. You can probably picture it. A computer on an Ikea desk, with Ikea bookcases along the walls. This being the room officially termed “The Home Office,” the bookcases contain mostly non-fiction. Besides professional tomes, books on scuba diving and the normal reference volumes, they also hold a large part of my military and historical non-fiction collection, with books ranging from Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to Guderian’s Achtung Panzer! and everything in between. The cases also hold my favourite military fiction stories, in particular WEB Griffin’s many series. What struck me that day was the sight of a very old favourite among favourites, and mandatory reading in some military organisations, Anton Myrer’s most excellent novel Once An Eagle. I had forgotten it was there, piled on top of Liddell Hart’s histories and some old aide-memoires from my cavalry days.
For those who have never experienced Once An Eagle, I call it the most inspirational study of leadership, albeit fictional, ever written. I was first exposed to it in my early Army days, and have read it every few years since then. Naturally, I also own the mini-series based (quite faithfully as Hollywood goes) on the novel. Staring up at the faded, creased spine of the book while trying to shed a renewed bout of procrastination, I realized that I owed more than a bit of Dunmoore to Anton Myrer’s seminal tale of two officers, each rising through the ranks during war and peace, but in very different ways, owing to their very different natures, and the conflicts they experience. I’m not saying that Dunmoore is patterned on either of Myrer’s characters, but that the lessons I absorbed reading Once An Eagle and the reflection of its main message that I saw during my time in the Service helped me form the protagonist that is now Siobhan Dunmoore. She’s not Sam Damon, but she shares his sense of honour and duty. And yes, I’ve met Sam Damons and Courtney Massengales in my time. Fortunately more of the former than the latter, and I’ve always known which ones I would follow gladly.
It’s been a few years. Perhaps it’s time to spend a few evenings with an old friend – after the first draft of The Path of Duty is done.