My parents have a photograph of me, aged seven, sporting a crew cut, an army camouflage outfit and a mad grin. I was an outdoorsy, wild child and always wanted to be a soldier – which is probably why I ended up spending five years in the Territorial Army and working for Jane's Information Group, the world's leading publisher of defence intelligence information.
My parents were nonplussed by my obsession because our family has no military background. However, my interest probably developed from the many hours I spent hiding behind the sofa when I was supposed to be asleep, watching such Second World War classics as "Bridge On the River Kwai" and "The Dirty Dozen" through my dad’s legs.
I used to line my cuddly toys up at either end of the lounge and send them into battle. I refused to grow my hair longer than a number two. My favourite game was trespassing: travelling across blocks purely by climbing over fences, cutting through people’s gardens, sneaking through their open back doors and slipping out the front, unnoticed. My parents despaired.
When I went to University, they suggested that I join the Industrial Society to get a good grounding in business. Instead, I went straight to the Territorial Army and signed up. Joining the TA was one of the best things I have ever done. While at times it was difficult to exist in such a male dominated environment and there were moments where I felt marginalised because of my gender, it was, on the whole, a fantastic experience. To be successful in the military as a woman, you need, above all else, physical and emotional resilience. Many men hold negative stereotypes of how women will perform in traditionally male environments, and to considered equal women need to be better: work harder, deliver more and never become emotional. It shouldn’t be like this - but it is.
The heroine of White Crocodile is Tess Hardy, an ex-British Army combat engineer and mine clearer who, against her better judgment, is drawn to Cambodia to find out the truth behind her violent husband, Luke’s, death. Women are often portrayed negatively in both literature and in film, and in many crime novels women are purely victims. I wanted to write a novel that celebrated the huge number of amazing women I know. However, while Tess is strong, clever and independent, she is also a complex character who has her own very personal demons to deal with. If there is one thing I learnt though my military experiences, it is that everybody is multi-dimensional, with their own strengths and vulnerabilities, and that men and women who have traditionally macho roles in the army or in mine clearing are no different.
I had the idea for the White Crocodile while I was working for Jane’s, responsible for land-based weapons. As part of that role, I spent a month working alongside professional mine clearers from two clearance charities – the Cambodian Mine Action Centre and Mines Advisory Group - in the minefields of northern Cambodia. I was privileged to get to know both Western and Khmer clearers and to spend time talking with Khmers who had lost limbs to land mines. I also visited many of the locations that appear in White Crocodile, such as the Red Cross Hospital for the victims of land mines. Cambodia is a stunning country, but also a tragic one and an unbeatable setting for a thriller.
White Crocodile by K.T. Medina is out now from Faber & Faber.