The Sound Of Crying – training to be an assassin. 2017
How I trained to become a sniper/assassin as part of the research for The Sound Of Crying.
With all my novels I put in an immense amount of research, which typically involves spending lots of time looking things up on the internet, getting in my car and driving to locations, speaking with experts in their field on the phone, via email, Skype and the like. In the past I’ve found myself being given the grand tour of mortuaries and speaking to those who carry out forensics post mortems. I’ve visited prisons, been given the tour of various police stations (even being locked in a cell in one), going on police ride-alongs, and a whole lot more.
While I was researching The Sound Of Crying I had to go above and beyond the usual research routine. The main character in The Sound Of Crying, Helen Kramer, plans an assassination via a long-range sniper shot from an elevated position on top of a building, shooting half a mile across a park to her target. For me to write this up with authenticity and total accuracy I decided that I would have to know what it felt like to take such a shot. Being something of a pacifist I’d never been near a gun before, let alone a high-powered sniper rifle with an accuracy of over a mile.
After a bit of research on the internet I soon discovered a UK-based company called Accuracy International, who make some of the finest and most accurate sniper rifles in the world, so good that the MOD use them. The current Guinness world record for the worlds longest kill was made with an Accuracy International L115A3 rifle. Corporal Craig Harrison took out two Taliban machine gunners south in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan from a distance of over 1.5 miles (2,475 meters).
So, I phoned AI and asked them if they could put me in touch with a sniper who could help me with my research for my latest novel. They duly obliged and put me in touch with an ex Para/Sniper called Frank, who now works as a consultant and sniper trainer. Frank and I spoke on the phone and before I knew it he’d invited me down to Bisley shooting range in Surrey to give me some hands on training.
When I arrived (on the first visit, these photos where taken a few months later on the second visit) it was absolutely hammering down with rain. Frank and I chatted for a while and he talked me through the basics, then we got down to business on the shooting range. The target was a meter square white piece of paper (mounted on a large board) with a black circle about the size of a mango in the center. This target was half a mile away and (with the naked eye) I could only just see the large square piece of paper, but could not see the black circle on it and the heavy rain and mist didn’t help either.
Following Frank’s instructions I lay down on the rubber mat on the grass (which was covered in pools of water) and took up my position at the AX308 sniper rifle. By now, I was soaking wet, if I’d jumped in a river I would not be any wetter than I was right now. Frank explained that I’d have to use the chamois leather to wipe the scope between shots, the rain was that heavy. He explained about being relaxed and taught me about breathing techniques, breathing out slowly and holding it for the count of three before gently pulling back on the trigger.
The scope on the rifle was so powerful the black circle became quite large, though there was so much rain and mist it was very blurry and hard to define the edges. The AX308’s magazine had five rounds in it. I kept perfectly still, breathed as Frank instructed, let out my breath slowly, held it and gently squeezed. Even though I was wearing ear protectors that Frank had supplied, the crack/bang of the rifle going off was still pretty damn loud, well it would be considering that miniature explosion went off just a few inches from my right ear. The recoil of the gun as it fired caused it to jump to the left a trifle, enough for my target to vanish from my sights. But Frank, who was by my side viewing the target with his spotting scope told me I’d hit the black circle.
Wow, me, the pacifist, who’d never fired a gun in his life, hit a target the size of a mango from half a mile away, on the first attempt. I fired off the remaining four rounds in the magazine and hit the target with all five shots. I was thrilled and Frank paid me a great compliment after the third shot misfired too. I hadn’t pushed the bolt all the way home so the round didn’t load into the gun properly so when I pulled the trigger there was simply a little click, but it didn’t fire. Frank was watching me closely when this happened and he told me, to his amazement, that I didn’t blink or flinch, which is what most people do as they anticipate a very loud bang/crack and the recoil of the rifle slamming back into their shoulder. The fact that I didn’t even blink during this misfire told Frank that I was a natural!
I returned to the shooting range a second time some months later, and I hadn’t lost my touch. Frank taught me a lot about snipers, sniping and rifles to the point that I felt that I’d done a diploma in the subject. He taught me all about the various factors that have to be taken into account when taking a long range sniper shot, both out in the open and in urban situations, the latter I needed to learn about as my character in the book was going to be taking a long-range shot across the city of Cambridge. I was surprised at what had to be taken into account and the various calculations required to compensate for wind, travel time of the bullet, humidity, temperature, elevation and even the earth’s rotation. So many factors have to be taken into account and carefully calculated. If you are taking a shot like Craig Harrison did in Afghanistan the bullet can take 6 seconds to reach the target and a lot can happen during that time.
Using Google Earth I figured out the exact elevation of the building (the Job Centre roof in Chesterton, Cambridge), the range across the park to the bench on the other side and took some screen grabs and emailed them to Frank, who carefully worked out the exact ballistics of the shot so I could get it totally accurate and authentic in the novel. I also read books on snipers as well as Craig Harrison’s excellent autobiography entitled The Longest Kill, which I can highly recommend.
Training to be an assassin was just one part of my research for the book, The Sound Of Crying, but it is this kind of dedication and attention to detail that allows me to write very visually and with great accuracy and authenticity.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Frank for giving up so much of his time and expertise, both in person, on the phone and via email. Thanks, Frank, you’re a top man and a real gentleman.