Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Genius of Betrayal by Stewart Binns

An autobiographical/first person approach to a fictional novel is a tried and tested technique, but it has advantages and disadvantages. It allows the reader intimate access to the character’s/author’s innermost thoughts, whether they be their positive aspirations or their darkest fears. It also offers the immediacy and tension of reality, but lays bare things that have been hidden away, or, are best not said.

In my case it offered a convenient way of telling a story I wanted to tell and saying some things I wanted to say, without compromising anything for which I have huge respect and without damaging anyone who doesn’t deserve to be damaged.

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, one that could have real meaning for people living today.

In searching for a topic, I came across a soldier’s story, Rain, written by Barney Campbell. It’s also a first person/autobiographical tale 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, and I certainly didn’t do anything even vaguely heroic, 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 am a child of the 60s, when I was appropriately radical, a persuasion that has survived to this day, even though I have to admit to many periods of doubt and introspection.

Anyway, the thoughts prompted by Barney’s novel made my realise that I had the basis of a sort of cathartic novel 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.

My own military experience was with the SAS, for which I passed selection in 1980.  I applied for no other reason than bravado, 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’s interest in Irish history and many other visits, both north and south of the border, allowed me to weave the narrative of Betrayal.

So, I had a character and a context, but 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 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.

So Betrayal 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.

Betrayal by Stewart Binns (Published by Michael Joseph)
January, 1981. Jim Dowd is a British Special Forces soldier, highly-trained and loyal. With his colleague, army intelligence officer, Maureen O'Brien, he enters a bitterly divided Belfast with a mission: to go undercover with new identities, infiltrate one of the city's most dangerous Catholic communities, and help change the course of a war that nobody is winning. The Ardoyne is a perilous world, cut off from the law and run by dangerous men, where even a hint of Jim's and Maureen's true identities will prove fatal. But it is also full of pride, courage and loyalty, and Jim realises he admires this community - and as relationships form, his guilt at his 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?

More information about the author can be found on his website. You can also find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @StewartBinns

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