Salesman with an AK47: a rollercoaster ride of a life lived on the edge
Alan Barry was a second-generation Irish British soldier, made his fortune in business and lost it all, had a breakdown then rebuilt his life working in high-risk places abroad
Alan Barry: I hope people will enjoy my story. If I have one wish it would be that it will help others to come to grips with their own demons, and bring closure to events that maybe need addressing in their own lives
People would often say to me, “Alan, with the life you’ve led you should write a book.” I guess reflecting upon the past 50 years, and without wanting to sound arrogant, it has been one hell of a rollercoaster and a life that couldn’t be described as your normal average Joe’s. However, I will let the reader reach his or her own verdict on that, and on the story as I tell it. The title for the book came about as a result of an invitation I received in early 2014, after returning from a six-month contract in Uganda. I was invited to participate in the judging panel for the Mobile News Awards in London; this is a leading industry event within the telecommunications field and I felt honoured to be included.
During the course of the day, I started talking with the editor of a major trade magazine. He was intrigued with the places I had seen and worked in over the previous decade. He asked me if I would be willing to do an interview, and the following week a double-page spread appeared in the publication under the headline “Salesman with an AK-47”. This was the birth of what has now become my first book.
I started writing in May last year. It was balancing act, as I was also holding down a full-time job. I had taken up a contract rolling out a major satellite network across Africa, so on my many overseas trips to places such as the Congo, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda, I would while away the evenings in my hotel room writing my memoirs and recalling past events. The book itself is a factual account of my life, and those who have read it have found it to be an intriguing adventure, with a capital A. If I had not been through it myself, I would probably describe this book as a work of fiction, but I can report it is all true, and evidenced by the photos within the plate sections. The only parts of the book that have been changed are the names of some of the individuals involved, in an effort to protect certain identities, for obvious reasons. My goal in writing the book was to make it as accurate an account of true events as possible, and this has been achieved.
In the early parts of the book I talk about how I grappled with my own national identity, and I hope that the majority of Irish people can understand why I joined the British army. I also hope and believe that the majority of my countrymen and women can relate to my experiences in Northern Ireland. In writing the book I have relived past events long forgotten and, in certain ways, this has proven to be a soul-cleansing exercise. However, in other instances, it has brought me back to places that I had chosen to lock the door on and throw away the key. Confronting the past has therefore been a challenge at times, but putting these events on paper has brought closure, and that in itself is a major relief.
I hope people will enjoy my story. If I have one wish it would be that it will help others to come to grips with their own demons, and bring closure to events that maybe need addressing in their own lives. The book will take you into the life of a young Irish immigrant growing up in the UK in the 1970s, during the height of the IRA onslaught on mainland Britain. It will then explain what it was like to serve with one of the most elite regiments in the British army, and my experiences and why I joined up.
I explain the training that the military put me through in order to turn me into a professional soldier. Then we arrive in Northern Ireland and straight into the mid-eighties storm of violence and I recount how I witnessed the death of friends. I then talk about how I grappled with blatant sectarianism, and this awoke in me my own national identity.
We then move on to the rollercoaster of the 1990s, the Filofax era of yuppies as I became a highly successful executive, and made a fortune in the early years of the mobile phone boom after leaving the military. I then take myself down the road of failure and desperation after the failure of my business .
This brings me to a junction where the only hope of redemption is to take work in Afghanistan. These chapters, which describe my time in this unique and incredible country, will open your eyes to the things that I witnessed, the people I met, and how I survived, living and working in a place that most people wouldn’t be willing to fly over , let alone work in . Then Pandora’s Box opens, as I reveal how one day my world turned upside down when I was diagnosed with PTSD from an incident that had come back to haunt me from past military service .
The final part of the book explains how I worked my way out of what I can only describe as the darkest hole I’ve ever been in in my life. This part of the story takes us to Papua New Guinea. I explain the culture of the country, the people and my experiences as I worked my way back from the abyss, surrounded by cannibals, army mutinies and political unrest. What I’ve tried to do, is to give the reader a very honest account of a life on the edge, and the impact wrong decisions can have on your overall path in life.