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Wild Flowers by Richard Robinson

I am pleased to be part of the tour for the new book, Wild Flowers, by Richard Robinson and published by SpellBound Books Ltd. The tour is being run by the force of nature that is Lynsey Adams of Reading Between the Lines. Thanks to the author for taking time to provide information about his new book and to Lynsey for including me on the tour.

What inspired you to write this particular book?


Wild Flowers is the second in the Topaz Files series. However, readers can enjoy this without having read Topaz (book one) equally. It’s a coming-of-age spy fiction book where a young man is learning to be a spy on the job. He’s trapped on one of the largest container ships in the world (the General Eduardo) tracking a huge stash of arms bound for Belize. However, he’s fast running out of provisions and confidence. He’s reliant on a rather ramshackle team of experts and retired spies, headed up by  the brilliant Jenny Richmond, to try to rescue him and save the mission. There is also the rather sinister backdrop of the Wild Flowers Project and a Zimbabwean farmer called Irvine Terre Blanche who has his own plans for the arms. 


I was inspired to write the book for the same reasons as the first, as this was (initially) part of Topaz. It was very much the end of the story. But as Topaz grew, and Wild Flowers blossomed, I had to split them into two distinct episodes. The inspiration to start writing the Topaz Files was my time in Northern Ireland during the 1990s and then the death of my father. I needed to get away from real-life and create a new universe. Belfast and Lisburn in the 1990s is well-known to me and I made some fantastic friends. Following Jones to Bermuda, exploring the British Virgin Islands and researching genocide was the next natural step! Writing it was my escape from grief and I never anticipated the response I received, and for it to be published by Spellbound. 


Can you describe your writing process?


The writing process was relatively straightforward. I work as CEO of a Domestic Abuse charity, Hourglass (www.wearehourglass.org) by day. In the evening, after I’ve put my mother to bed (she is disabled), I write for a few hours and then edit at the end of the week. I created a storyboard and then finished the first draft in about five months. I’ve since written three other books, which will be published in coming months (The Mainstay, the third book in the Topaz Files series is due in the early part of 2025). 


But, as I say, I’m rather an accidental writer. It was simply a means to escape from life! 

 

What themes or messages do you hope readers will take away from your book?


Whilst the tensions of the Troubles are referenced in the first book, it’s not about sectarian issues or the process of finding peace. Likewise, the second book touches on genocidal issues, racism and moral corruption. However, the characters in the book have a day-to-day, they exist and they are happy/sad like the rest of the world. I wanted to get away from lots of the myths of espionage. 


The main two characters are English (Jones and Jenny) and they are introduced to the life of a spy in spectacular circumstances. They are both based on real people, or their character traits are. Likewise, the supporting cast are pastiches of friends, contacts and stories. As I find you have to create an authentic base-layer. Carl and Tom are the comedy characters, and yes, they are very much rooted in real life, but I’d best not say who! 


I’d want people to feel positive about the settings in the Topaz Files, the drive of the leading characters and the pictures I’ve painted of NI in 1994/95. It’s definitely a love letter to my years in Belfast. Wild Flowers take this a stage on and asks questions about why Jones wants to be a spy and where his push-points are. 

 

Did you conduct any research for the book?


I’ve been prepping the book for many years, mostly in my head and in notebooks. I’m traditional in that sense. For Topaz, I visited Northern Ireland at least a couple of times a month, and I took narrative sketches of things I want to shape or hone for the book. There’s a huge scene on the roof of Europa, there are scenes in Lisnabreeny and Cregagh Glen, likewise in Thiepval and Lisburn. Some of the locations (Limehall and Lennoxville) I’ve made up, for obvious reasons, but I’ve tried as hard as possible to be as accurate and sympathetic as possible. 


In the sequel (Wild Flowers) I’ve relied on a smattering of facts in a fictional storyline. Where I mention a fact, I try to provide context for the reader. But this isn’t a history book and I’m not trying to rewrite anything. It’s simply a story within a real-life setting. I couldn’t visit some of the more outlandish places – so I researched hard, spoke to the right people and ensured the facts were as bulletproof as possible – especially when it came to the Wild Flowers Project storyline with Irvine Terre Blanche. 

 

What were some of the challenges you faced while writing this book? 


Finding the confidence to write the book in the first place was the biggest challenge. Lots of big-name authors are already well known these days (Richard Osman, for example). But I’m just a bloke that wanted to write a book. I never wanted to put my head over the parapet! But two years on, and whilst you get the odd nasty comment, 99% of people have been generous and want to hear more about Jones, Jenny and the YCU. That’s been a real boost. The reviews have been fabulous.  


There are a couple of explosions in Wild Flowers, there is a very sinister undertone and there are moments of utter despair and grief. Putting those into words was incredibly difficult. I had to move away from my journalistic training and into author-mode and that was quite a switch initially. 

 

How would you categorize your book in terms of genre?


It’s not a traditional spy novel series. I’m not expecting anyone to see Ian Fleming or John Le Carre in my approach. I wanted the series to have a very human element. You never hear Bond’s anxieties but Jones is utterly petrified on more than one occasion. So, it’s a coming of age spy novel series with a relaxed narrative. I’ve been told it’s quick and easy to read. Even the more distressing parts of Wild Flowers are then quickly eased by the moments of dark comedy from Carl and Tom and Mr Singh’s innovations. There’s something for everyone.

 

I wanted the book to be immediately engaging and for the readers to see parts of themselves in Jones, Jenny and the other characters. Therefore, I chose to make the language open and thoughtful rather than technical. Although there’s a wee bit of that, when it comes to the guns, ammunition and tradecraft.

 

Are there any authors or books that influenced your writing or inspired elements of this book? 


Certainly Charles Cumming (A Spy By Nature) and Eoin McNamee (The Ultras) inspired me. They paint such vivid narrative landscapes – and Eoin’s combination of fact and storytelling in The UItras gave me confidence to explore this theme. But, away from espionage, Tim Lott’s White City Blue book made me want to write in that engaging manner about relationships and becoming a grounded adult. 

 

Who do you envision as your target audience for this book?


The beauty of the Topaz Files is that they seem to interest a wide spectrum of readers. Whether you’re into spy fiction, murder mystery, thrillers or technical dramas – this seems to cater for everyone. There are elements of all of these styles. Likewise, it has some dark humour and some stupidity that grounds the book a little. There is also quite a lot of drinking!

I hope readers find Wild Flowers engaging and a page-turner. There are not pages and pages of description or build-up, it’s aiming to be digested quickly be an enjoyable roller-coaster. 


Are you working on any new projects?


Next we move onto The Mainstay, which is more of a murder mystery, set in Ballycastle, Lisburn and Millisle (as well as the fictional village of Ballyramsey). This is far more focused on organised crime. Finally, Deep Swimmers, is due some time in 2025 and follows a WWII veteran, Edward O’Callaghan, but with the same supporting cast (Jones, Jenny et al). I am now writing the fifth instalment, which is a prequel to Topaz, this focused on the early life of Declan McNally. But that’s all I can say at the moment!

 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers, based on your own journey? 


I’d advise any aspiring writer to knuckle down and get as much down on paper as you can. But make sure you write about what you know. Create adventures you’d like to experience with people you find interesting. If you find it boring or too obvious, the chances are the readers will too. But write whatever you can on paper and enjoy the process.


I’ve learned that there is an awful lot of editing to do, that the readers will often out-think you and the characters sometimes feel far more real than you intended. The readership often feels for them in ways you didn’t expect. I’ve killed off characters in the series, I won’t say who, and one of two of my early readers have been mortally offended!

The Blurb


In 'Wild Flowers,' the second explosive instalment of the Topaz Files inexperienced spy Jones Is thrust into the heart of danger aboard the General Eduardo—a colossal container ship laden with stolen arms worth millions. 


Trapped and desperate, Jenny Richmond is the linchpin in a daring operation by the Topaz team, racing against time to recover the lethal cargo hijacked by the Russians and bound for clandestine camps in Belize.


But in the shadowy world of espionage, they are not alone. Joseph Armstrong, a double agent ensnared in a deadly game, is torn between his loyalty to Russia and a tempting offer from an enigmatic Zimbabwean farmer, Irvine Terre-Blanche.


What’s at stake?


Millions of pounds and the sinister secrets of the Wild Flowers Project. 


As the operation hurtles towards a catastrophic finale, a band of retired spies join the fray, seeking one last explosive job in this high-octane thriller of deception and betrayal.



The Author


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.

The Links


 

  


Twitter at @TheTopazFiles

Richard on Instagram at @r_we_r

Email Richard at thewash_house@live.co.uk


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