PTB: The Tuzla Run is quite a thriller. I understand that it’s fiction, but it has the ring of truth to it. How did you manage to achieve that sense of realism?

Bob: I drew on my personal experiences as a UN Relief Convoy Manager during the Balkan War in writing the book.  In Croatia there were plenty of rumours, myths, folklore, as there is in every war zone. There were some that I thought colourful enough to form the background for a novel.   When I got back to the UK I played with the idea and The Tuzla Run was the result. My previous military service in Northern Ireland and other locations helped to complement the Balkan segment.

PTB: Can you tell us about some of the rumours and facts you built on?

Bob: There was a story that the best snipers among the Serbians were women so one of my characters is Jelena, an experienced shot. Incidentally, quite a lot of the sniping that took place in Sarajevo, that everyone  thought was the Serbs, turned out to be Bosnian black marketeers who did not want the UN getting through with supplies and destroying their livelihoods, so they kept the pot boiling by killing the occasional civilian. It was a fact that the Croatians had a levy on the Bosnians for the passage of supplies, and that the UN did pay tribute, with an occasional convoy of supplies to the Serbs, in return for safe passage. We did one of those.

Foreign mercenaries did operate in the region, with Iranians and Mujahedeen there in force. A lot of their transport needs were met with four by four drive vehicles, such as Range Rovers, that were stolen from nearby Austria, on a daily basis, and which would appear in the war zone the next day, after a rough hand painted job.

PTB: Did you have any close calls yourself?

Bob: There’s always an element of danger in any war zone. You try to minimise the chances of becoming a victim. What was remarkable was that the Serbs, highly accurate with small arms and the heavier weaponry, rarely inflicted heavy damage on any of the convoys. Obviously, it took a while to become aware of this, but when we did it helped although one never knew when this might change. Additionally, the risk increased because of all the other para militaries and renegades who had their own agendas and were, in many respects, more dangerous than the Serbs.

PTB: What about the drivers on your convoy? They must have been unique to accept such an assignment. Were there any similarities to the characters in your novel?

Bob:  Absolutely none whatsoever, although I’ll admit that Rath does bear a physical relationship to a good friend of mine who is Black Irish. I mean in my minds eye, as I wrote, I saw him in the story. But that’s all. You’ve got to remember it is fiction, and although I’ve used some of the rumours that existed whilst there, that’s where any similarity ends.

PTB: How did you get involved in the relief effort in Bosnia?

Bob: I had accepted redundancy from a job in Frankfurt in late 1993 and intended to return to the UK. Before I left a friend approached me with a job offer that I couldn’t refuse. We both reckoned that my previous military service could stand me in good stead as a Convoy Manager on one of the relief convoys operating in the former Yugoslavia. The convoy, staffed by civilians of varying nationalities, operated under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees although it was funded by the German Government who also supplied the vehicles.

PTB: Tell us more about the runs. What areas did you supply?

Bob: Initially, we were based near Zagreb and made runs into Bihac, Cazin and other locations in the north of the country. We also did longer runs, of three or four days, because we would avoid  where possible the  Serb held areas, into southern Bosnia. Eventually we moved to Metkovic, in the Neretva delta, which drastically shortened travel times when we ferried supplies into towns and cities such as Sarajevo, Zenica, Tuzla.

PTB: How many runs did you make?

Bob:  Quite a few, though in all honesty there was a period when caution on the part of UNHCR kept us in base. My main job was to attend the daily intelligence briefings, prepare our vehicles for the tasking, and based on the current Intel, determine the route we would take. As Convoy Leader I would make the decision, when problems occurred, whether to go on or turn back. Always, I might add, in the light of policies established by UNHCR.

PTB: Are you working on a new project yet?

Bob: Yes. Very much in the early stages, it has a working title of The Poisoned Chalice. Some of the characters, in The Tuzla Run come together for another adventure. A sequel, if you like.

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