Why I wrote Run & Break by Hugh Pryor.
One night, Hugh Pryor was having a beer when a lovely blonde forensic scientist from Yorkshire came up to me and said: ‘Hugh, we’ve run out of books to read. Go and write us a book! You write articles for magazines, so just make them a bit longer!” That was to be the start of Hugh’s writing career.
He tells The Founding Fields all about how his experiences flying in Africa on contract inspired his first book Run & Break.
I went to Kenya and got my pilots licence in 1972. My crop sprayer was a 1947 Piper Super Cruiser. We sprayed 24d, a broad leaf weed killer, but I had to stop spraying at 9am as the wind takes the spray to neighbouring farms. I was getting so good at this crop spraying, flying with the wheels right on top of the crop, and one day I completely forgot to check my watch, and I carried on and killed an entire coffee crop! That cost me a box of Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Having a plane was vital, as Tanzania was communist so you had to fly to Nairobi for supplies. It was only 120 miles away, but too dangerous to drive. We lost friends who tried, mainly from hitting giraffes. The farms were nationalised in 1975. My family lost the entire farm, although I effectively stole my aeroplane and my car from the government.
We went from having a very comfortable life to having not enough money to buy one beer in one week. They turned our world upside down. It was an interesting experience. After four years in Oman, I worked with Ziegler for 16 years. My first job for them was flying for a seismic survey company in Yemen. Then I was contracted by them to work in Libya for oil companies such as Schlumberger and Agip, and in Algeria for BP. Ziegler also did a lot of work with the Red Cross, so I flew in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan, and all over Africa.
I was flying in Ethiopia during the great famine of the mid-1980s. The Red Cross had seven aeroplanes there at that time. I had never seen anything like that in my life before. You opened your door in the morning and there would be a lady holding her baby dead. It was a harrowing experience, and humbling too.
Flying could get quite hairy at times. Angola was particularly bad, and we lost many planes in Sudan when I was flying for the United Nations. That was shortly after the genocide in Rwanda, and the UN were trying to rebuild infrastructure and communications again. The only time though that I was shot at was in Mozambique. We went to a place called Meringue, a government garrison in the middle of rebel territory.
The Red Cross had a good system, whereby we flew over our destination at 3000ft, circled around the perimeter so they know you are not a threat, and if the airstrip is safe there would be a white sheet at both ends of the runway. On one occasion, there was just one white sheet at one end, so we did our circle but then bullets started hitting the nose of the plane! We flew back safely but we were not happy as people did not shoot at Red Cross aeroplanes. We complained to the military and the Meringue commander said that they had fired tracers in front of us to warn us of danger below, but that we had flown into the bullets!
Before retiring, I spent the last four years in a tent in a rather unpleasant place in Sudan. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun, as I was flying some of the most interesting, challenging people in the world. But sometimes it wasn’t pleasant. As we were contractors for the UN, we weren’t allowed to stay in their super tents with en-suite toilets. Although we at least did have a bar! One night, I was having a beer and a lovely blonde forensic scientist from Yorkshire came up to me and said: ‘Hugh, we’ve run out of books to read. Go and write us a book! You write articles for magazines, so just make them a bit longer!” I wrote myself away to a little hunting lodge in the middle of winter in northern Scotland. My first book, Run and Break, was published in Kenya as a paperback and sold pretty well so it’s now here as an E-book.
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