Interview session with The Potato Chipper author Paul Irons.
In The Potato Chipper, author Paul Irons tells a gripping story based on real events. Drawing from his experiences in medicine, competitive sport, martial arts, investigations, and risk mitigation, he constructs a narrative filled to the brim with action and heart.
An academic meets with a covert surveillance specialist, who agrees to mentor him in the dark arts. Fast forward eighteen months and he jets off to Afghanistan, the ‘Graveyard of Empires’. There he undertakes information-gathering missions, saving numerous lives, carrying only a concealed stun grenade, a pistol and a laptop, all the while battling his inner fears. Mexican standoffs, truck bombs, missionaries, romantics, plus the roll call of over 31 fallen friends and colleagues, remain a constant reminder of lurking danger. Inner alchemy guides him through the kryptonite and maelstrom of his later-diagnosed psychological shock.
We talked to writer Paul Irons about his experiences overcoming trauma and what he wishes his readers take away from his story.
Why did you decide to write The Potato Chipper and what makes it stand out?
Three reasons principally: one, as a form of cathartic release; two, to educate/entertain; and three, to show people WHO I am and WHY I am doing this; in the event that I sell other, linked products.
I’d attended a Digital Entrepreneurship seminar in San Diego in 2016 and during a lecture on how to draft copy for marketing purposes, an Emmy Award-winning scriptwriter ran us through the 12-step ‘Hero’s journey’ used to produce movie and television plots.
I’d been working in Northern Iraq as an embedded Security/Paramedic Consultant to an oil construction firm during a number of ISIL-related crises of the 2014–16 period and had flown out for some leave to attend this seminar training. Some of my fellow students were enthralled by what I had to say before adding that it was a story that they would love to read. The light bulb went up.
I was actually developing a digital audio product called the ‘Dynamic Carefree Installation Formula’ that basically encouraged people to be successful, but carefree at the same time. The Potato Chipper was offered as a 188-page PDF ebook accompaniment. However, the book was what people were far more interested in, and a mixed bag of friends and colleagues read the draft PDF.
This group comprised a Doctor, Military War Veterans of some major engagements stretching from 1982 through to 2009; one was a Computer Scientist, and the other was a Hypnotist trainer living in Bali who was a self-confessed Hippie. They all loved it for different reasons.
As I have trained in hypnotic techniques, I looked to take the reader into a form of trance as they read it, so that they feel as if they are experiencing what is taking place. They feel as if they are present, basically as an eyewitness or dealing with the challenge themselves.
The book differs from some Medical, Sporting and Police/Military books because I’m constantly on the move, going to different places, confronting vastly different challenges, therefore encouraging adaptability/flexibility. It aims to educate as well as entertain at the same time, and when compared with some military books where ‘kicking in doors’ and other forms of kinetic activity abound, I look to be a bit more cerebral.
As an example, one moment, I am on an Essex Country road, dealing with a Road Traffic Accident victim suffering massive puncture wounds to his head; later on, I am running an Operations Room in Kabul through a siege scenario, suturing a man’s face back together in a cabin on a windswept Kurdish mountainside, smoking Sheisha with an ex-Taliban Afghan Intelligence official to gain information; then I’m sat in a clinic in London for neurotherapy, or having my legs kicked from beneath me by a Greek Martial Arts exponent…
What makes you happy NOW, and what made you happy during the years described in the story?
During the story, I would say that, for me, life was purely one of pursuing dopamine hits, being a CHAMPION, being Number One, winning, achieving…. A mixture of hedonism and indirect self-harm – a real rollercoaster ride. Now, I find myself in a tiny village, where a lot of love has been shown to me, and it coincides with learning a lot about connections, living in a small, tightly bound community that promotes oxytocin, a much better feel-good hormone. My desire for dopamine hits has reduced, although I do still strive. After all, we need dopamine, in small measure, and I still want it from challenge-based pursuits, not the superficial buying of items or seeking of casual relationships. I am still highly motivated, just in other areas of my life, and I believe a tad more in eudaimonic principles where a ‘Good Spirit’ is nourished.
What were the three most pivotal moments in the story?
Gosh, where do I start? Well, there were many pivotal moments, but to name three:
First, I would say the road traffic accident to which I was called involving the 15-year-old boy. I ran through the full resuscitation protocol, so I professionally learned much, but it wasn’t just that; it was seeing how people behaved in situations of extreme trauma.
Secondly, meeting the Surveillance Specialist who himself had survived numerous near misses in Iraq, who mentored me in so much, and gave me exposure to an extremely high standard of operating. That was a major turning point as he gave me skills and advice that probably kept me alive for the following years.
Finally, running the operations room featured in “Meet the Haqqani’s” and getting the job done in very difficult circumstances. As chaotic as it was, I knew I could make it in this business when I got myself and others through a city coming under siege.
If you could go back in time, what would an older, more enlightened version of yourself tell your younger self?
Realise there is always a price to pay for whatever you do and take care of your Shen/Spirit joyfully. Two ideas to reflect on – The Law of 70% and the work-to-rest ratio of two:one. The former is basically where you plan your day or week, in your diary – Whatever you feel you can do, in a day, on your to do list, skim off 30%, and that’s what you can ACTUALLY do. The latter is basically another old Chinese philosophical theory of taking a day of rest after two days of work. Follow these principles and you shouldn’t go too far wrong. I would also advise myself not to waste money on educational courses that aren’t going to make me money.
While not explicitly mentioned, it appears that you could have been directly commissioned from school into the military. Why didn’t you follow this path?
I was being lined up to join either the Royal Air Force or the UK Army Air Corps as a pilot/navigator. I had visited Middle Wallop at the invitation of the British Army Air Corps, and the RAF Careers Officer at my school was impressed with my interviews, so was prepared to put me forward to crack on to RAF Cranwell.
However, at the age of 15, I suffered horrendous migraine headaches and became short-sighted in my left eye. That scored me out of both options, although I could have looked at other options in the Air Force. My morale took a hit from this, and educationally, I lost a fair bit of motivation and left school at 16 with average results.
At the same time, I was in a Cadet Force Unit where we received training from regular Army NCOs who were very competent. I would hear their stories on operations and think to myself, ‘How would I command them as a 19-year-old 2nd Lieutenant?’ I wouldn’t know anything compared to these blokes and started to question why people should go straight in as an officer. The police and other military units in the world had a ‘fast track’ system where everybody entered at the bottom and an option existed for you to take it from there, after at least a year or two. I decided that I would join the ranks and get some experience. As it goes, when I joined, I met many very bright people who felt the same way.
Do you feel fortunate to have emerged relatively unscathed?
Yes! Approximately 40 of my friends and former colleagues were killed in these conflicts, so I would have to say yes. However, as you can read in the book, I did suffer psychologically, so to what extent one feels that I was “unscathed” is open to interpretation.
Would you recommend people follow your path?
Well, it was a very unconventional path, and we are all unique in our own way. It has been very exciting. I just continued to learn, open myself up to new experiences, and take on challenges; some of which I did very well in, some not so well. The trade-off has been that I lived in a form of isolation for periods, and coming from a small family, my non-professional life took a hit as a consequence. As I say, there’s always a price to pay!
I would just urge people to strive to find their purpose and test themselves. It’s rare to hear a parent say to their offspring, ‘Go and take some risks,’ but you can’t keep people wrapped up in cotton wool forever. The risks have to be calculated, measured and manageable, not reckless.
What are you doing now?
I am developing an online coaching business, specifically to assist people recovering from trauma and mental suffering, and I offer motivational talks on this and similar subjects. I still do other work on the side, to make ends meet, while I get fully up and running.
How can people contact you?
I’m happy to receive email enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for the interview!
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About the book
Title: The Potato Chipper
Author: Paul Irons
Content: This engaging, non-judgmental story by Paul Irons covers his experiences of lurking danger, medical, competitive sporting and risk mitigation across the World. A diagnosis of psychological shock and his subsequent recovery serves to educate the reader.
About the author
Paul Irons was born in England, with mixed Anglo/Irish parentage, and enjoyed a relatively happy childhood and travelled the world as a boy, where his independent, libertarian spirit was honed. A Masters’ Graduate and International Martial Arts representative who left school at 16, he joined the UK forces to work in a specialist role, before catapulting himself into Emergency Medicine. 120+ Operational Cardiac Arrests later and the onset of George Bush’s “War on Terror” sucked him into the Specialist Hostile Environment World where his versatile risk mitigation, medical, driving and foreign language skills were tested to the extreme. By 2016, and suffering from burnout, he attended a clinic in London to receive neurofeedback training, after receiving a traumatic psychological shock diagnosis. Sufficiently recovered, he lives peaceably between Spain, Australia and England, giving motivational talks and coaching to those ready to advance themselves.