27 Aug 2013

What’s worse than nobody coming to your event?

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– An author’s life #1

Being an author is a serious business.

Being an author is a serious business.

By Gareth Crocker

The reality of being a South African author is really quite interesting.

On a recent publicity trip to promote my current novel, Never Let Go, I found myself standing in the lobby of a fancy hotel, preparing to sign for my room. Feeling a little bored, I decided to have a bit of fun. When the lady behind the desk asked for my name, I answered, ‘Gareth Crocker … you know, like the internationally-renowned, world-bestselling author.’ When she issued me with the blank stare that I both deserved and knew was coming, I shot her an incredulous look as if to suggest that it was utterly impossible that she had never heard the name before. ‘He wrote Finding Jack, Journey from Darkness,’ I pleaded, stopping just short of thumping my fist on the desk. ‘Never Let Go! Look, I have a copy of it right here!’

‘Sorry,’ she replied, scanning the jacket. ‘Never heard of him. Are you related?’

I glanced at my publicist just in time to see her drop her head into her hands. Her patience, like her sense of humour, stretches only so far. I test both on a regular basis.

An hour later, I was on my way to a fairly standard book store event. This typically takes the form of a sort of ‘coffee morning’ at a nearby restaurant where a group of readers or a book club come together for a cappuccino, a slice of cake and to hear about the book store’s latest releases. If you’re invited as an author, the host (almost always the book store manager) will eventually introduce you and your book and then the floor is yours. You have around ten minutes to tell the assembled readers a little more about yourself and to discuss your latest offering in some detail. Invariably, you’re standing in front of a table stacked high with your novels and, once you’re finished punting your work, your host invites readers to come up to the table to buy your book.

‘And Gareth will even … sign it for you,’ your host says, often in the sort of conspiratorial whisper that suggests she dare not speak too loudly for fear that passers-by might hear her and immediately trample everyone to death in an attempt to get to the front of the queue.  

After this build up try to imagine, if you can, what it feels like to sit down at the lonely little table and stare out into a sea of faces – none of whom, you soon realise, have even the vaguest interest in buying your novel, let alone having it signed. What follows is the most uncomfortable five minutes of your life while you wait, by yourself, like a human cactus, while absolutely nobody buys your book. You smile, of course, as if you couldn’t be bothered either way, but inside you’re praying for a bomb to go off under your chair. You would practically offer up your right arm for some sort of almighty calamity that would bring an end to your suffering. You even consider faking your own death.

Of course, this is real life and there is no rescue from embarrassment. Instead, you sit at the head of the world’s quietest coffee shop exchanging awkward looks with the crowd who, by now, are starting to take pity on you. Eventually, some kind-natured soul stands up and comes over to you.

‘Uh … I’ll take one of your books,’ the voice says.

‘Oh okay,’ you reply in a casual tone, but your trembling bottom lip betrays your apparent coolness.  ‘Who should I sign it to?’

‘Er … rather don’t sign it. You can’t return novels to the bookstore if they have any writing in them.’

Ah, right.

After she takes her seat, you wait another three minutes or so – age twelve years in the process – and then you peel yourself off your sweat-soaked chair, thank your host, and beat a hasty retreat. As you leave, you steal one last glance over your shoulder at the forlorn stack of books and try not to burst into tears. That’s what parking lots are for.

Leaving the venue, you try to shake it off, but that’s a little like asking someone who’s suffering from the most apocalyptic case of diarrhoea if they can, quote, ‘hold it together until the next rest stop’.

To add insult to injury, you are about to head off to another event where, quite possibly, precisely the same misery awaits.

To be fair, this obviously doesn’t always happen – sometimes there is tremendous interest in your novel and your pile of books simply evaporates and, for the merest of moments, you feel every inch the successful author. But these events are not the ones you remember. They barely resonate. It’s the ones where you make an absolute arse of yourself that remain with you. After all, and as any author will know, ten positive book reviews are always sunk by one bad one.

I am pleased to report, however, that I am not alone when it comes to attending disastrous book events. I recently did a few events with the international best-selling author, Stuart MacBride, who told me that he was once invited to an event with the worst possible turnout.

‘What? Nobody pitched?’ I said, shocked that someone like Stuart would have to face an empty room.

‘Oh no,’ he shot back, in his thick Scottish brogue. ‘It was much worse than that.’

I looked at him and shrugged. ‘What’s worse than nobody pitching?’

‘One person pitching,’ he replied sombrely. ‘And not only did he expect me to give my whole 45-minute talk, but he refused my offer of doing it face-to-face in the pub across the road. For reasons unknown, he absolutely insisted that we do it in the venue. And so I spoke to eighty empty chairs and one rather oddball guest for over an hour. And do you know what the funniest thing was?’

I shook my head.

‘He had driven almost a hundred kilometres to attend the event. He owned every one of my previous novels, but refused to buy the hardcover that was on sale at the venue. He told me that he could save two quid if he waited for the paperback.’

The truth about being an author with a new novel to promote is that some days you present to a room bursting with keen and enthusiastic people – some have even read your previous work and, at a stretch, you could even label them as … gulp … fans. Other days the room’s half empty and nobody really cares. But some days, if the weather’s right, it can just be you and one weird die-hard reader who may, or may not be, someone who likes to make lamp shades out of human skin.

On a final note, I was recently invited to speak at the Franschhoek Literary Festival which, I must say, is a brilliant event held in one of the most spectacular little towns on earth. The people are great and the food is heavenly.

The big star at this year’s event was the wonderful and charming, Alexander McCall Smith – and I can comment on the man with some authority having enjoyed a two-hour long chat with him over dinner recently. Anyway, his attendance at the event would ultimately spell disaster for me.

I was part of a three-member author panel who happened to be speaking at precisely the same time as Alexander was scheduled to talk at the adjacent venue.

As I stared out across the room, I counted twenty souls amongst all the empty chairs. Twenty folk who, bless them, had chosen to come and listen to us as opposed to the wonderfully engaging and all-round amazing gentleman that is Alexander McCall Smith (hell, even I wanted to be in the room across the road).

But then I noticed that seven people in the audience were, in fact, from my own publishing team. Ah, okay. So that leaves thirteen people who are genuinely interested in us. And then the two authors sitting beside me waved to their respective publishing teams.  Twelve people winked, nodded and gave their authors the thumbs up. That left one last person in the room who didn’t work for a publisher.

Well, I thought, at least one member of the reading public is keen to hear from us.

And then the author to my left waved to the lone guest. ‘Hi mom, thanks for coming.’

‘My pleasure, darling. Wouldn’t miss it,’ she replied with a bright smile. ‘By the way, do you know when Alexander McCall Smith is speaking? I really don’t want to miss him.’


Gareth Crocker’s debut novel, Finding Jack, was published in New York to international acclaim. It was translated into several languages and featured in eight volumes of Reader’s Digest Select Editions with combined sales of more than a million copies. In 2012 Penguin Books published his adventure novel, Journey from Darkness, followed by the kidnap thriller, Never Let Go, in 2013. Both Finding Jack and Never Let Go are currently being considered for films in Los Angeles. His new novel, King, is due out in October. Gareth continues to attend book events around the country. Sometimes there are even guests.




01 Jul 2013

Prominent Hollywood film producer teams up with SA author, Gareth Crocker

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July 1, 2013 – Best known for the critically-acclaimed blockbuster, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly, renowned Hollywood film producer, Gillian Gorfil,  has formally attached herself to two novels written by the South African author, Gareth Crocker.

Apart from producing the five-times Oscar-nominated Blood Diamond, Gorfil has worked on a number of A-list films with the likes of Patrick Swayze, Halle Berry, Michael Ironside, Ice Cube and Elizabeth Hurley. She is currently in pre-production on her latest film (which she co-wrote), Brilliant, for Lakeshore Entertainment in Los Angeles.

The two novels being optioned by Gorfil are Finding Jack (Crocker’s debut novel in 2011) and his latest thriller, Never Let Go.

Never Let Go – A kidnap thriller with a difference

Never Let Go (Penguin, 2013) tells the story of an American author whose young daughter dies in a botched kidnapping. In the aftermath of her death, the author realises that he cannot live on in a world without his child. He is on the verge of taking his own life, when a stranger delivers an envelope to his home. Inside the envelope is a single white card. Written on the card are six words. Words, that offer the impossible: I can bring your daughter back.

Finding Jack – the story of the abandoned US war dogs

After losing his family in a tragic accident, Fletcher Carson joins the flagging war effort in Vietnam. Deeply depressed, he plans to die in the war. But during one of his early missions, Fletcher rescues a critically wounded Labrador whom he nurses back to health and names Jack. As Fletcher and Jack patrol and survive the jungles of Vietnam, Fletcher slowly regains the will to live. At the end of the war, the U.S. Government announces that due to the cost of the withdrawal, all U.S. dogs serving in the war have been declared “surplus military equipment” and will not be transported home. For the hundreds of dog handlers throughout Vietnam, whose dogs had saved countless lives, the news is greeted with shock and disbelief. Fletcher knows that if he abandons Jack, then he too will be lost forever. Shoved onto the last chopper headed for home, Fletcher looks down into Jack’s confused and hurt eyes. Without a second thought, he jumps out of the chopper, falling to the ground in the now abandoned US camp deep inside Vietnam. And so begins their journey as, together, they try to make it to freedom.

Finding Jack has sold more than a million copies in its various formats and Crocker continues to receive letters and emails from all over the world.

Flattered and surprised

‘To have someone of Gillian’s calibre interested in my work is both flattering and tremendously exciting. Having now spent some time with her, it’s very easy to understand why she’s such a successful producer. She’s simply the most driven and dynamic person I’ve ever met. An absolute force of nature. She has a sense of raw purpose and energy that’s both rare and tremendously infectious. I’m very pleased to be going on this journey with Gillian,’ says Crocker.

Gorfil will be meeting with a number of Hollywood studio executives and agents in the weeks ahead to look at both Never Let Go and Finding Jack.

‘I am an avid animal lover, so when a friend of mine suggested that I read Finding Jack and told me briefly what it was about, I downloaded it on my Kindle right away. The next thing that I did was to cancel my plans and switch off my phone. I read the book in one sitting and when I put it down, I emailed Gareth Crocker immediately to enquire about the film rights. Anyone who has ever owned a dog needs to read this book and see the movie when it’s made. It is a moving and important story about courage, survival, loyalty, friendship and healing,’ says Gorfil.

‘I flew in to Johannesburg to meet with Gareth to outline my plans for developing Finding Jack into a movie. When he told me why he had written the book, I was more determined than ever to make this happen (*see postscript).  At the meeting, Gareth gave me a copy of his latest novel, Never Let Go. I started to read it on the plane and had a similar reaction to my Finding Jack experience. I read it in two days. Gareth is very good at finding a subject that tugs at the heartstrings, an essential ingredient for any film. Anyone who has a child, or anyone who is planning to have a child, will be pulled along with this story at an alarming rate. It is original, hip, exciting and completely different from his previous book. It was a no brainer for me; I wanted to work on developing both of these books into films,’ explains Gorfil.

Gareth Crocker has written three novels to date, Finding Jack (2011), Journey from Darkness (2012) and Never Let Go (2013). His fourth novel, King, will be released in October this year. Gillian Gorfil is represented in Los Angeles by Bob Wallerstein and Alan Gasmer.

For further information, please email info@garethcrocker.com or call 082 78 78 757. Visit
www.garethcrocker.com to find out more. To view the book trailers for Gareth’s novels, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNkYG_oxzwo  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=078S46VLJBo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwA4eAQ3SNg

* Postscript
: While visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, several years ago, Gareth Crocker saw a Vietnam veteran dressed in full military gear place an old dog harness against the foot of the wall. When he asked the man about the harness, the veteran explained that he had been a dog handler in the war and that his dog had saved his life—and the lives of all the men in his platoon—on no less than three occasions.  He said that not a week goes by that he doesn’t think of his loyal and brave friend and wonder what happened to him.  He explained to Gareth that after the war, the government left these heroic dogs behind in Vietnam, declaring them “surplus military equipment” and simply too expensive to transport back to the States.  So, despite estimates that some 4,000 highly-trained combat, tracker and scout dogs saved the lives of some 10,000 American soldiers, few ever made it home.  Although a token number were handed over to the South Vietnamese, most were left to fates unknown.  Inspired by the real-life story of the Vietnam War Dogs, Gareth Crocker set about writing Finding Jack as a tribute to the dogs who never made it home and to help make sure that this never happens again.


22 May 2013

Gareth Crocker’s Never Let Go attracts major international interest in its first month

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– South African’s LA-based novel about a child rescue ‘from beyond the grave’ captures the imagination

 May 21, 2013 – As South African author, Gareth Crocker, continues to launch Never Let Go (Penguin 2013) around the country, the novel has already attracted interest from both Hollywood and publishing giants, Reader’s Digest International.

The novel, a high-octane thriller, tells the story of a famous American novelist who loses his young daughter in a botched kidnapping. Following her death, the author is on the verge of taking his own life when a stranger arrives at his gate, promising the impossible: to bring his daughter back.

Never Let Go has just been released by Penguin South Africa and has already attracted an offer from Reader’s Digest’s international Pegasus Programme. The programme selects what it believes are among the hottest fiction titles from around the globe which are then condensed for their various Select Editions volumes in territories such as the United States, Australia, Asia and The United Kingdom. Crocker became only the second South African author (after Alan Paton) to have his work selected by Reader’s Digest when his first novel, Finding Jack, was signed to Reader’s Digest in 2009. On that occasion, Gareth’s novel appeared in seven different volumes together with the likes of Lee Child, Mary Higgins Clark, Jeffrey Archer and James Patterson.

In addition to this, Gareth’s London agent is currently in negotiations with attorneys on behalf of a top Hollywood producer who wants to make films out of both Never Let Go and Finding Jack

‘It’s all been quite overwhelming,’ Gareth explains. ‘While you hope your work will be well received, it really is quite something when it attracts this sort of attention. I’m thrilled that Reader’s Digest wants to condense another one of my novels and am even more excited by the interest from Hollywood. The producer concerned has put together films that have been nominated for multiple Oscars and currently works with some of the biggest names in the industry.’

Crocker is unfortunately unable to reveal the producer’s name until the contracts have been finalised.

‘While there are never any guarantees in Hollywood, I’m just grateful that my work is being considered for production,’ says Crocker. ‘I’m desperate to play a driver or a pizza delivery guy in the films, just for a laugh.’

For further information, please contact Gareth’s publicist, Jean Fryer, on (011) 327 3550 or email  jean.fryer@za.penguingroup.com. Alternatively, you can email Gareth directly via info@garethcrocker.com Visit www.garethcrocker.com to find out more. To view the book trailer for Never Let Go, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNkYG_oxzwo

01 Apr 2013

A few questions about the craft – a Q&A

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Hey everyone,

I was recently asked by the magnificent Tracey McDonald, from I Love Books, to answer a few questions about how I go about writing my novels. If you’re interested, here is the Q&A:

From first draft, to published book, how much editing do you do?

My process is pretty much the same from book to book. First of all, I create a basic outline for each novel. These are really just rough notes that chart out a basic path for the story and its characters. Once I’m satisfied with the skeleton, I start putting down the skin – chapters. I don’t do much editing at this stage, but rather allow the story to flow onto the page as naturally as possible. Once all the chapters are down, I’ll go though it a second time – taking much longer to fix and rework each chapter. I then pack the laptop away and go through it a third time a month or so later – this is a critical part of the editing process as the time away from the novel gives you some much-needed perspective. Once I’m satisfied with this third ‘draft’, it goes off to the publisher (and the editor). He or she will then go through the novel and suggest changes at which point I will go through the book a fourth time, accepting and rejecting the proposed edits. After that, I have a final read and then it’s off to the printers. A fair amount of drinking follows this milestone moment…

What research do you do for your book?

I absolutely loathe research, but it’s a critical part of the process. Depending on the subject matter, research can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year. However, for the type of novels that I write, research is just a tool to lend authenticity to my stories. For me, the story and the characters are far more important than any technical information. But neglect research at your peril. In my first novel, Finding Jack, I got a few small things wrong about the helicopters and weapons that were used in the Vietnam war and a good few war veterans went out of their way to inform me of this fact. Poor research can also ‘break the spell’ that you are trying to conjure up with your story. So it’s important to do a good job in this regard.

How many words do you write, on average, per day?

I normally aim for between 1000 and 2000 words a day and will feel like absolute muck if I miss the mark. However, some days I can barely manage a few sentences. That’s just how it goes. Sometimes it’s better not to force it, if it isn’t there.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?

It’s all reasonably challenging really. However, certain aspects are certainly more challenging than others. Having the discipline to write day in and day out can be difficult. It’s such a lonely business that, after a while, you begin to feel quite isolated from your friends and family – from your life really. I call it the ‘Author Zombie Zone’. It’s important to make time to socialise on your off day, just to create a sense of balance. Dealing with self-doubt can also be quite tough. Often while writing your first draft you can become quite concerned about your story. Is it enticing enough? Is it believable? Are the characters going to resonate? Is this too close to other novels you’ve read? And so on. But, if you love writing as much as I do, these aren’t really major issues. Ultimately, writer’s write, regardless of the challenges that come with the craft.

What do you do when you have writer’s block?

I get my subconscious to do some work. What I’ll normally do is stop writing for a few days and go and do something away from the craft. Invariably, I’ll be sitting in a movie or playing a game of football and the answer will simply come to me. A writer’s subconscious is a powerful tool. I’ve even had dreams that have helped me with a roadblock in my story. In fact, I think Stephen King credits a dream with saving his most famous novel, The Stand. He was 500 pages in when his story beached itself. In his case, however, the answer only came to him several months later.

When you submit your manuscript to a publisher, what information do you include in your proposal?

It’s not really an issue at the moment, given that I have a multi-book deal, but when I was starting out I bought The Writer’s and Artists’ yearbook (it’s an annual) and followed their advice to the letter. They provide very strict and accurate guidelines on how to submit your manuscript to both agents and publishers. Going on memory here, I used to submit a synopsis, a market analysis explaining where and why I thought my story could be a success in the market, as well as the first three chapters of the manuscript. You also need to include all your contact details, a brief biography and a word count of your work.

What advice can you give aspirant writers?

Well, on this score, I have great news. I believe I know the secret! The golden egg, one might say. And I believe in it completely. The key is this: persistence. When I was starting out, I received enough rejection slips to wallpaper my house. There were many times when I could have thrown in the towel, but I chose to keep trying. After a while, my rejection slips would carry a small handwritten note from an editor offering some modicum of advice. As I took the advice, so my rejection slips became more encouraging, with even better advice being offered. And then, after years of constant rejection, I finally broke through. It is my belief that persistence is the single most important ingredient in becoming a published author. Of course, you need to be honest with yourself as well and try to ascertain if you have any talent. But, if you believe you have some genuine ability … stick at it. It will make all the difference. Take advice from professionals who know more than you. Be humble. Be hungry. And don’t lose your desire. See your rejection slips as rungs on a ladder. Finally, it’s an absolute fallacy that you need to have ‘special contacts’ in the publishing world in order to succeed. The real truth is that when you’re good enough, and your work is strong enough, you will break through. Publishers want to make money – it’s as simple as that. After years of rejection and knowing not a soul in the industry, I landed a major New York publishing deal. That pretty much says it all.

All right, that’s enough for now.

Much love, everyone. And keep writing.

27 Feb 2013

NEVER LET GO – Coming in April, 2013

Finding Jack, Journey From Darkness, Media, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Hi everyone,

In only a few weeks time, my biggest novel to date will be released.

Entitled, Never Let Go, it tells the story of a famous American author, Reece Cole, who after losing his young daughter in a botched kidnapping, decides to end his life. But, before he can go through with it, a stranger arrives at his front gate. Speaking into the intercom, the man tells Reece that he knows something that has the power to change his life and that he will return in a week’s time to share more information. Before leaving, he slips something into the mailbox. 

Torn between walking down the passage to his room, where his revolver is waiting to send him home to his daughter, Reece decides to see what the stranger has left for him.

He runs out to the mailbox and withdraws a small grey envelope. Inside the envelope is a single white card. Written on the card are six words.

Words that offer the impossible.

I can bring your daughter back.

Check out the book trailer as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XkdMqr8Izk



10 Feb 2013

The madness of ‘Never Let Go’

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My upcoming novel, Never Let Go, is scheduled to be published in April, 2013 and is (hopefully) a high-octane thriller/love story. It tells the story of a famous author who loses his young daughter in a botched kidnapping. Shortly after her death, and as the author prepares to take his own life, a stranger arrives at his gate. Before leaving in a hurry, the anonymous man speaks briefly into the intercom and slips an envelope inside the mailbox. The envelope contains a single white card. Written on the card are six words.

 I can bring your daughter back.

What’s interesting to me is that while Never Let Go is quite obviously a work of fiction, it is also something else. Something which, rather bizarrely, only occurred to me recently. Allow me to explain.

As a father of two young girls, I’ve grown increasingly concerned for their safety. A concern which, over the past five years, has driven me to the corner of Despair and Paranoia – a particularly unpleasant intersection where my car promptly broke down. Trapped in this place, my psyche has apparently been hard at work because Never Let Go is, unquestionably, the product of my obsession with my daughters’ wellbeing.

So as much as Never Let Go is a novel, it is also a sort of coping mechanism for its author. It’s my mind’s way of trying to deal with the unthinkable. The absolutely unfathomable. What if something happened to my children?

Interestingly, I have very little memory of writing the book. In fact, I’m not even sure how long it took to complete. My two nearest guesses are about five months apart. Which, I suppose, should worry the pants off me. But, somehow, it doesn’t. The simple truth is that bringing Never Let Go to the page was as close to an out-of-body experience as I’m ever likely to have. Some days it felt like someone else entirely was sitting in my studio, churning out the pages.

Which, in its own way, seems a pity. Because I’d like to have a word with that guy, and maybe shake his hand. I’d like to tell him how much I enjoyed what he did on those pages. And I’d like to thank him.

Because, somewhere along the way, he managed to get my car going again.




14 Sep 2012

Journey from Darkness – a Q&A

Journey From Darkness 1 Comment

Gareth Crocker’s latest novel, Journey from Darkness (October, 2012, Penguin), was co-written with his father, Llewellyn Crocker. It tells the story of two brothers who, after surviving World War I, escape to South Africa. Following in their late father’s footsteps, they devote their time to trying to save the country’s last remaining elephants from savage poaching. However, soon after their arrival, they discover a badly wounded Desert Elephant – an animal believed by many to be a myth – following an ancient ghost trail to Bechuanaland. But the enormous matriarch is not alone. She is being pursued by a blackness that has followed the soldiers down from the war. To save her, the brothers will have to journey back into the darkness. A darkness, that is waiting for them.
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13 Sep 2012

What a journey it’s been

Journey From Darkness 1 Comment

Hey, everyone.

Now that Journey from Darkness has finally made it to bookshelves, both real and digital, I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am. If you’ve read some of the other literature on the site, you will know that I co-authored the novel with my father, Llewellyn. It has truly been one of the great privileges of my life to bring my father’s story to the page.

Dad, if you’re reading this, I just want to thank you for the opportunity to share what I know is a great story with the world. As mentioned elsewhere, I just hope that I have done it justice. While I have absolutely no idea how readers will react to the book, I’m already very proud of one particularly important thing.

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30 Sep 2011

Why the Vietnam Wall is eighty three feet short

Finding Jack 1 Comment

(A column written for Animal Talk magazine)

by Gareth Crocker

During a trip to Washington some years ago, I spent a good few hours just standing quietly at the Vietnam Wall. It’s pretty mundane I have to say when viewed through a camera lens thousands of miles away, but in the flesh, so to speak, it’s really quite something. It’s made of black-polished granite and is almost 500 feet long. It carries the names of the 60 000 or so American soldiers who were lost in the fiery blizzard of the Vietnam War.

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13 Feb 2011

New novel about abandoned war dogs is capturing hearts around the world

Media 2 Comments

– ‘forgotten’ dogs still an open wound for scores of Vietnam veterans

A controversial new novel, entitled Finding Jack, (St Martin’s Press, New York, February 2011) offers a fictional account of what a soldier endures after learning that the dog which served his platoon with such distinction in Vietnam, has been classified as “surplus military equipment” by the U.S. Government at the end of the conflict, and is ordered to be left behind. Although Finding Jack is a work of fiction, it is based on actual events at the end of the Vietnam War and was written to highlight the little-known plight of the Vietnam War Dogs.

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