Stories from behind the frontline at Canberra Writers Festival

Bram Connolly knew he wanted to join the army when he was about 12 years old. At 17 he headed off to basic training and just two years later as a "really young" 19 year old, he was on the front line in Somalia.

Over the course of the next 20 years he would be deployed to East Timor and Afghanistan and awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for leadership in battle. In 1997 he was selected on Australia's first course for service as a commando, in 2002 he was selected on the first course run for domestic counter terrorism outside of the Special Air Service Regiment. He spent five years as an operator in the Tactical Assault Group and was the Officer in Charge of Selection for Special Forces before departing from service life as a major in 2011.

The idea that he could write didn't come to him until much later.

In 2013 he was working with one of Australia's foremost investigative journalists Chris Masters as a technical editor on Masters' acclaimed book Uncommon Soldier.

Masters' publisher suggested that Connolly might like to turn his hand to writing. Connolly initially thought she meant a non-fiction account of his service.

"While I think I've had a very special career, I think it's a little narcissistic to think mine would be any more special than any other guy in special forces," Connolly said.

"And I didn't want to write just one non-fiction book so we discussed the idea of writing a factual yet fictional account of Afghanistan and then have that character continue with other adventures."

And that character has. In his first military thriller The Fighting Season, Connolly introduced us to Matt Rix, an Australian special forces soldier, and now he's back in Off Reservation.

And Connolly and Masters have joined forces again too, presenting Tip of the Spear: The Operators in Action at the Canberra Writers Festival on August 26.

Journalist Chris Masters spent time in Afghanistan researching.

Journalist Chris Masters spent time in Afghanistan researching. Photo: Supplied

The pair will take the audience to the centre of fierce combat, the heart of the relationship between Australians and our allies and inside the minds of our country's elite fighting forces.

Connolly has a soft spot for Canberra, being based here for a year, enjoying runs around the lake and heading over the border to Queanbeyan to find spots in quiet cafes to dabble in his writing.

Connolly and Masters' session is not the only one at the festival with a military or terrorism bent, given the festival's theme of Power, Politics and Passion.

Michael Brissenden is talking about his latest thriller The List; former Canberra Times journalist and now national defence writer for News Limited, Ian McPhedran is presenting two sessions on the Royal Australian Navy, one of them in conversation with Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett; former director-general of the Office of National Assessments, Allan Gyngell is talking about foreign policy matters in uncertain times; Robert Macklin and Ian Townsend are joining forces for Gripping War Yarns; and Walkley Award-winning war photographer Gary Ramage presents War and Peace through Australian Eyes.

For more events with a similar theme go to

The CWF runs from August 25-27, 2017.

This story Stories from behind the frontline at Canberra Writers Festival first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.