David Black

David Black is a former Fleet Street journalist and television documentary producer.


I came to novel writing late in life, having tried my hand at many jobs and a few careers.

Actually, that’s not quite true – I came to getting novels published late in life, is what I should have said. (My previous two stabs at this particular craft were nothing short of risible and I have, I hope, destroyed all evidence of them ever being.)

On the way, I have worked in a Clydeside shipyard, and aboard a friend’s fishing boat; read for the Bar, bluffed my way as a cub reporter on an English city evening newspaper, and then as a senior correspondent and news editor on several Fleet Street ones.

I’ve worked as a producer and executive producer in the world of independent television documentaries; segued into the global energy industry where I thought profound thoughts, then turned them into blogs and by-lined articles for a chief executive who’d rather have been playing golf.

All in all, it’s been a road less traveled, and the source of much material, all of it eminently usable for a writer…

The decision to finally get serious about writing a novel however, was more or less forced on me. For a number of years, I lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates. Not long after arriving, I realised I faced a choice; I could use my spare time to drink myself to death like many of my fellow expat rogue males, or I could do something useful, like write a book.

I’d remembered hearing Gore Vidal once telling an interviewer that you’d only advise someone to write about what they know, if you knew they couldn’t write. So, never having been in the Royal Navy, or to sea in a submarine, or in a war, setting my novel in the Trade during the Second World War seemed the best way to test his theory.

Growing up, I’d seen a lot of submarines – mostly sailing by my bedroom window. HMS Neptune, the Royal Navy’s submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde was just up the Firth; and next door to where I lived, in the Holy Loch, was a forward operating base for a squadron of Posiedon-armed US Navy ballistic missile subs.

My only knowledge of what life was like inside these steel tubes that could actually sink themselves on purpose and expect – or at least hope – to come up again, had been culled from the usual 1950s and 60s clutch of submarine movies; We Dive at Dawn; Run Silent, Run Deep; The Enemy Below.

But I came from a seafaring family; my father at one time had sailed with the Donaldson Line as an Electrical Officer, and during the war, my Uncle Joe had been an Electrical Artificer aboard the assault transport HMS Sainfoin in the Far East … to name but two. So the research would be a labour of love. I guessed the life of a submariner in wartime was likely to have been pretty epic, but it turned out I had no idea how epic!

If you want to get an idea, then I suggest you read the books.

Harry Gilmour’s first outing, Gone to Sea in a Bucket took me about a year to research and write, and my first break came when a colleague told me he knew someone, who knew the former First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Boyce. As a former submariner himself, Mike Boyce kindly agreed to read my manuscript. You can read what he had to say elsewhere on this site.

Another friend from my newspaper days, Mark Urban, BBC Newsnight’s Diplomatic Editor and the author of such excellent military histories as Rifles and The Tank War wasn’t just flattering, he passed it on to people he knew in the publishing world, and within weeks I had a publisher, Seattle-based Thomas & Mercer.

Fortune favoured me again when another old Fleet Street chum who’d decided to retrain as a boat-builder (very sensible!) found himself on the same course as the retired former Captain (S) of the Devonport Flotilla, Captain Iain Arthur OBE RN.

My chum stuck Gone to Sea under Iain’s nose; whose first instinct was to turn said nose up. It was full of technical howlers, he said. I know, I said, help me fix them. He did, and for all the books so far. So whatever whiff of authenticity there is about Harry Gilmour’s adventures, it is down to Captain Arthur.

There should be a few other Harry Gilmour novels left in the series, to take our hero to the end of World War Two; and there I plan to finish.

… although I might not.

It is historical fact, only recently admitted, that after the end of the last war, the Royal Navy submarine service found itself almost immediately plunged into an often hair-raising intelligence gathering contest with our former ally, the Soviet Union.

Lots to ponder on that angle.

If not, then I’m sure history will throw up another epic tale to explore.