He spent seven years in prison after a failed coup in Equatorial New Guinea. Now the ex-SAS officer has turned to writing
Simon Mann wrote a book about a Bond-style heroine while confined in a cell. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA
Saturday 13 May 2017 19.03 EDT
The life story of Simon Mann reads like pages torn from a thriller. Now the former mercenary and SAS officer is to publish a thriller of his own: an international action adventure written to stay sane in prison in Africa.
“I wanted to write something for my son Freddie, who was 13 at the time, and I realised he would want to read something grown-up.”
The manuscript of Kass, hidden by him in prison, was also written partly in honour of Mann’s favourite book, The Thirty-Nine Steps. In a surprising twist, Mann’s novel, full of crime, violence and treachery, is written from the point of view of a woman.
“I decided to write it from a woman’s perspective to make it a little different,” he said.
Mann, 64, served a seven-year jail sentence in Equatorial Guinea for launching a failed coup, which he claims was sanctioned by the British government. He has kept a low profile since his pardon in 2007 and release in 2009, but when he was invited to speak at the Oxford Union next week, he decided to let readers see the suspensful story he wrote when confined to a cell, thousands of miles away from his second wife, Amanda, and his new baby son, Arthur.
The Old Etonian started writing after Amanda sent him a book with tips on maintaining mental health while incarcerated. “It put emphasis on tackling something creative and without creating Kass, I don’t think I could have stayed sane in solitary confinement,” said Mann. “I had my army training, of course, so I knew about having a disciplined regime. I would rearrange the cell. I had a daytime room and a night-time room. And I would clean everything regularly and exercise.”
The book, which Mann’s agent is showing to publishers, was inspired by John Buchan’s series of books about the hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps, Richard Hannay. His nanny gave him his first copy. “Unfortunately I thought it was a guide for life, not just entertainment, so I have lived the life of Richard Hannay,” he said.
Mann has plotted out two more books about his Bond-style heroine, Kass, or Kassandra Mary Rose Alndell – born on a week day in May, at King Edward III Hospital for Officers, just off Harley Street, London, the daughter of old Etonian William, Viscount Wharton, ex Coldstream Guards.
“The second book heads more towards the world I worked in. I would like people to read them now. There is no point having them in a drawer,” Mann said.
When he got home, he said, his wife was not sure about his relationship with the fictional Kass. “She said she supposed I was in love with her now. But I am not even sure if I like her. Kass is pretty mixed up.” Mann says he has been impressed by the women he met on active duty. “The women in special forces are phenomenal people. They have climbed a mountain to get where they are.”
In 2004, in an affair known as the Wonga coup, Mann and 69 mercenaries attempted to replace Equatorial Guinea’s dictator, Teodoro Obiang, with an exiled opposition politician, Severo Moto. A series of stories in the Observer told how details of the plot had been revealed to the British government, and that “Scratcher” was a nickname given to Mann’s associate, Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark.
Mann’s memoir, Cry Havoc, came out in 2011, but was heavily censored by government lawyers. “It is extremely painful to have a truthful story messed up when it is your one chance to tell it,” said Mann, who claims 20% of his story was lost.