Safe From Harm
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THE advert posted on a website caught their eye: it was not your usual job offer.
“We are looking for an experienced Female CPO/ PPO/ Driver with a knowledge of security for our clients in Westminster. The gender restriction is due to cultural reasons. You will be driving the new Rolls Royce Ghost and MUST have previous experience driving luxury cars. You will be driving a young family with three children. Two to three months during the summer may be spent in Monte Carlo with possible short trips in the winter months to St Moritz...”
The request for a CPO – a close protection officer – became the starting point for a new novel published under the name RJ Bailey. It is a pseudonym for a couple who have created a character called Sam Wylde, an Army medic who has served in Afghanistan, now earning a living as a top-notch bodyguard for the rich and powerful. Wylde’s first adventure, Safe From Harm, published this week, introduces her background and a new job protecting the north London-based Sharif family, whose textile company spans the globe. But are the Sharifs all they seem? And will Sam’s background put her in danger? The book is a fast, original thriller introducing a very 21st-century heroine.
The couple who created Wylde have been married for 25 years – they say to call them Rob and Debs, as their publisher does not want their names revealed. Rob is a journalist and a well-established author of historical novels, while Debs has acted as a muse since his first novel came out in 1999. It was inevitable they would eventually, officially, collaborate on a book, they say.
“I have always been bouncing ideas off her,” says Rob, and for this first instalment of what is set to be a series of books, Debs came up with the starting point.
“I was looking through Gumtree and I saw the post for a close protection officer. I thought: Blimey, that is strange,” says Debs.
She has always had an important role to play in Rob’s books as a “sounding board,” she says, adding: “I wanted Rob to write something contemporary as I have always felt Rob is very much in touch with the zeitgeist.”
And because the lead is a female and the story is told in the first person, having Debs’ take on crafting the story made sense. With the opening scene featuring the heroine suffering from a nasty bout of cystitis – “something I don’t think I would have originally thought of as a starting point for a plot,” admits Rob – Debs’ influence is clear.
“Female close protection officers are very much in demand at the moment,” she adds. “This ranges from rich families from the Middle East wanting to employ female guards for daughters and mothers for cultural reasons, while others in the public eye such as Kate Middleton, Hilary Clinton and JK Rowling all have women as their principal CPOs,” adds Debs.
And a female CPO has a range of talents – revealed through Sam’s particular skill set as the story unfolds.
“The people who employ them don’t want a lot of muscle, they want someone who can blend in, be subtle,” says Rob.
As part of their research, they travelled to Dublin to meet Lisa Baldwin, a leading CPO.
“We met her in a café in Dublin, sitting with her back to a wall and eyeing up both entrances, as she would do,” says Rob.
“She said if something happens, you have done your job badly... If you have to intervene, you have not done your job properly.”
Debs says that Lisa’s experiences went a long way to creating a plausible back story for Wylde. “We came away with masses of material,” she recalls. “Lisa spends summers in London during what has become the ‘season’ for Middle Eastern families, to look after their children. She was very funny – she told us how she would go to eat at all the best restaurants in town, but was always sat with the kids and had to eat a hamburger as she could wolf it down quickly.”
Partnerships in fiction are nothing new – both Dan Brown and Dick Francis credit their wives with playing a key role in their work. They found collaborating was a case of working through the story together, with one of them taking the lead on a passage they felt they had a better handle on.
“We would sit opposite each other and email sections and say what do you think of this?,” recalls Debs.
She took control over certain parts where she felt her voice would be more authentic: “I wrote a couple of sections I felt strongly about – there is a sex scene and I wanted it to be very much from a female point of view. It was important for me: I was aware women have a different perception of sex than men. Other parts Rob was more comfortable with, so he would pen it, I would read it, and we would then discuss it and edit it together.”
Rob describes their heroine as being “like Modesty Blaise with childcare issues, a strong woman, but someone who is also vulnerable”.
With the action set in north London, there is plenty to recognise. Above all, they have created a story that grabs the reader and leaves you looking forward to the second Sam Wylde adventure, due next year.
“I love a cliff hanger,” he says. “And working together means you have someone you can discuss the crucial plot points with and ensure it is as exciting to others as it appears to you.”
• Safe From Harm. By RJ Bailey, Simon and Schuster, £7.99