The genesis of Betrayal began in 2015. After writing two major historical series, one set in the Middle Ages and one focused on the First World War, I wanted to explore a more contemporary subject.
In searching for a topic, I came across a soldier’s story, Rain, written by Barney Campbell. It’s about a British officer and his two tours of Afghanistan in 2009. I was completely absorbed by the book and read it in 48 hours. At the end, I was exhausted and in floods of tears.
Rain was the emotional spark that led me to think about Betrayal. Barney’s story made me think back several decades to my own modest time in the military and provoked memories which I had chosen to bury.
It wasn’t that my experiences were horrendous, like those described by Barney, but they were in the context of a time in our country’s modern history which does not bear much moral scrutiny.
It also led me to think a lot about myself: who I am, where I come from and what I have done, both laudable and not so laudable. I soon realised that I had the basis of a sort of cathartic novel, where I would be the central character in a fictionalised account, set amidst real events and real people in very distressing circumstances.
For me, the early 80s was a dark period in our history and Northern Ireland was one of the most shadowy parts of it. I wanted to tell a story of those times, which would cast a light on murky corners that have been hidden/obscured for many years and where, by making myself the central character, I could express my own thoughts and feelings.
'For me, the early 80s was a dark period in our history and Northern Ireland was one of the most shadowy parts of it.'
My own military experience was with the SAS, for which I passed selection in 1980. I applied for no other reasons than bravado and to feed my male ego; on reflection, not the most worthy of motives.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to try all sorts of challenges in all sorts of extreme conditions. It was a chance to play with some very special kit and meet some exceptional people. It was like a wonderful adventure holiday, paid for by the taxpayer. Except, of course, for the all-to-real business of Northern Ireland and Britain’s increasingly dubious role in the conflict.
I was able to go to Belfast several times during those days. They were visits that, added to my Anglo-Irish heritage, a lifetime of interest in Irish history and many other visits, both north and south of the border, have created a depth of knowledge that allowed me to weave the narrative of Betrayal.
So, I had a character and a context, but I also had a problem: My respect for the Regiment and its soldiers, quite apart from my signature on an Official Secrets Act document, meant that I did not want to compromise anything or anyone involved in one of the finest military cadres in the world. The details of Special Forces operations are kept secret for very obvious and good reasons and I do not want to disclose anything that would threaten the integrity of what some very brave people do on our behalf.
So in Betrayal, my account is entirely fictional, as are the central characters, including Jim, the fictional me. Jim is only loosely based on the real me and is no more than a flimsy caricature, but he serves my purpose.
Finally, for obvious reasons, I am the only one who knows which parts of the story are true and which parts are fiction and that is how it must remain.
More about the author
'Brilliant. An explosive thriller with true authenticity' Tom Marcus, bestselling author of Soldier Spy
January, 1981. They're undercover in Belfast.
Determined to put an end to a war.
But in doing so, who will they betray?
Jim Dowd and Maureen O'Brien, special forces soldiers, enter a bitterly divided Belfast with a mission: to go undercover, infiltrate one of the city's most dangerous Catholic neighbourhoods, and help change the course of a war that nobody is winning.
The Ardoyne is a perilous world, where even a hint of their true identities will prove fatal. But it is also full of courage and loyalty, and Jim realises he admires this community - and his guilt at their deception grows ever stronger.
When they receive shocking orders, Maureen knows they must act swiftly and ruthlessly, but can she rely on Jim? And if they rebel, are they betraying their country; or are they being betrayed?
'Stunningly realistic . . . A must-read for anyone who cares about the history of our islands' Nick Hewer
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