I am pleased to have been included in the tour for Topaz by Richard Robinson arranged by the lovely Lynsey Adams of Reading Between the Lines Book Vlog. The author has kindly shared an extract from his novel here to give us a flavour of the book. Thank you Richard and Lynsey!
This debut novel is set during the time of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and towards the beginning of the Peace Accord in the 1990s. It is a most interesting topic.
It’s the summer of 1995. The US Peace Envoy, Fred Martinson, begins to broker a peace deal for Northern Ireland. The world holds its breath as the first tentative steps are taken.
Jones, an 18-year-old from suburban England, has stumbled through education and yearns to be a football reporter. He is offered a place at Milton College, a former secretarial school with a clandestine partnership with GCHQ in seeking the communication stars of the future.
Before he knows it, Jones has been recruited, paired with Jenny Richmond, who is every bit his equal, and sent to Northern Ireland to undertake skills development and resilience testing with the Young Communicators Unit (YCU).
Training becomes a matter of life and death when a group of trainee spies learning on the job are betrayed to their death, and their most promising member, Isadora Brown, is taken hostage. MI5 and YCU are sent a video of her reading demands by a mysterious organisation called Red Line.
What if a group of young trainees were forced onto the frontline to deal with one of the most sensitive issues in UK history? What if political relations were so sensitive at the end of The Cold War, that only a group of deniable students could change history and keep super powers from ruining the first steps of a peace deal in Northern Ireland?
It’s a race against the clock to find and free Isadora, and make sure the US peace talks aren’t sent up in flames.
But who, exactly, is betraying who?
JONES HATED HEIGHTS. IN THE DAYS LEADING UP TO THE START OF HIS new employment as a labourer, he had imagined fetching and carrying, sweeping up, and even mixing cement. But scaling a large country house on a trembling over-extended ladder to re- point a chimney wasn’t part of the vision. His two colleagues, both older, wiser, and much better versed in the art of banter, found his inability to swing his leg over onto the top rung of the ladder whilst gripping a bucket of wet cement hilarious. Jones had been stuck up there in the same position for almost 15 minutes, gripped with fear and trying not to look down. Worse still, was the fact that he was horribly hungover. He’d spent the previous evening in the Seven Stars waiting for his three friends to emerge from the cinema. They’d gone together to watch Braveheart but at the last-minute Jones opted to see an entirely different !lm from everyone else. It was an attention-seeking move. He had a desperate need to be different from the crowd and had opted for an arthouse movie with Korean subtitles. On realising it was almost incomprehen‐ sible, he walked out and ordered a Kronenberg from the pub opposite. This became four or five Kronenbergs and by the time his friends arrived from Braveheart, he was hammered. Jones lied to his friends about the ‘astonishing’ Korean film and how they were too corporate and brainwashed to appreciate its brilliance. But at the top of the ladder, sixty feet up, he just couldn’t force his 18-year-old body to teeter over that huge drop and his head was spinning. The nightmare was over in a flash when the more heavily tattooed of the two men grabbed his shaking leg and thrust it on the second rung from the top. There was laughter. Jones felt foolish. This job wasn’t for him he quickly decided. At one point Jones saw himself cascading down the ladder as he momentarily slipped down a few rungs but once he’d steadied himself, he was safe. And he climbed slowly down to the floor . His Walkman, previously clasped onto his back pocket, dropped gently onto the shingle below and he glimpsed the foreman rolling his eyes. It hadn’t been a good start to the week, and he still had a beery aftertaste. “You’d best mix the cement and stay on the ground, we haven’t got time to babysit you,” the foreman announced at the bottom. Or Caddick, as the lads called him. “I’ll take a length of rope up and you can attach the full bucket and we’ll pull it up. Unless you’re scared of the ground too?” He added, with a grin. “I’ll be fine,” Jones replied, picking up his cassette player and looking for damage. With Caddick looking on he quickly grabbed a trowel and threw a pile of concrete dust into the bucket and started mixing. The foreman started up the ladder with a thick rope tied around his waist. “I’ll chuck the rope down when I get to the top, you attach the bucket. Can you manage that?” Caddick called down. Jones ignored him.
Richard lives in East Anglia with his wife and two daughters. He is a trained journalist and spent his early years freelancing or in agency positions across the UK, including a stint in Northern Ireland in the mid-1990s. He then transferred to the third sector, working in charities focusing on issues as diverse as international development (in India and Bangladesh), air ambulance operations, music and the creative industries, mental health and homelessness. He also acted as Chief Executive of the Olympic Park charity during London 2012.
He is currently the CEO of Hourglass, the UK’s only charity focused on ending the abuse and neglect of older people, a job he applied for after a family experience of neglect.
Richard wrote his first novel in the early 2000s but this has yet to see the light of day. Instead, he started with a new idea in 2020 and Topaz was born. He has written two more in the Topaz Files series, Wild Flowers and The Mainstay, which are expected to be published in 2024.
He is also happily in the dugout for Boxford Rovers F.C. on a Saturday, a committed cratedigger (vinyl collector) and can occasionally be seen in the stands at Loftus Road and Windsor Park.
Twitter at @TheTopazFiles
Richard on Instagram at @r_we_r
Email Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org