Interview with author of The Contact – Rossa McPhillips (105)

Rossa McPhillips

Author and former member of the Intelligence Corps, Rossa McPhillips shares more about his first novel The Contact– a spy thriller set in Northern Ireland.

Rossa also shares more about his real-life experiences working in the shadows and how that influences his writing.

We also put him through his paces in the world-famous Spybrary Quick Fire Round

More About The Contact

The war she wants means peace; the peace he wants means war.

MI6 officer Frank Oatley opens up secret talks with the IRA as the conflict teeters towards civil war in 1990. What he didn't bank on was falling head over heels for his IRA contact, Naomi McGinty.

Now dark forces on both sides of the conflict are set to exploit the torrid affair for their own murderous agendas, potentially jeopardising the whole peace process…

More about Rossa McPhillips MBE

Rossa McPhillips MBE spent 10 years in British Military Intelligence, which included tours of Afghanistan and an attachment with UK Special Forces. This role also involved working with the UK and other intelligence services on worldwide operations.

Rossa left the army after receiving his MBE for a mission in Central Africa, and is now pursuing a career as a screenwriting, specialising in military and spy projects. He also provides a script consultancy service for those writing about military and intelligence affairs. 

Spybrary Host Shane Whaley's Review of The Contact by Rossa McPhillips

As regular listeners to our Spybrary podcast know, I prefer spy books where the protagonist is not a Rambo Special Ops character, no blood and thunder stuff for me, I like my spies to be realistic, authentic with flaws and weaknesses.

The Contact is centered around an MI6 officer, Frank Oatley who is working on a secret backchannel with the IRA. Author Rossa McPhillips has himself worked in the secret world and admits he has an MBE for ‘services I can’t tell you about.’ So this should be good and not another shoot em up ‘thriller’ that seems to be all the rage in the book charts these days.

The Contact opens with the main character Frank Oatley, sat naked in a deserted hanger waiting for his IRA handler, who happens to be a female, the feisty Naomi McGinty.

The opening dialogue between the two is fun, full of barbs, laced with the ‘in your face’, often vulgar humor that just sounds funnier in an Ulster accent.

‘Is it procedure to tug one out before a meet?’ asks McGinty. ‘No,’ said Oatley. ‘We…we dress down to show no bugs.'

This continues throughout the book as Naomi jousts with the upper class, polished MI6 man Frank Oatley.

I chuckled when they are both offered a drink and our Frank is taunted by McGinty when he asks for a glass of Sherry.

‘Sherry? How old are you? Fifty?’

McGinty is a hardened Irish Nationalist, growing up on the rough streets of West Belfast, her hatred for the British seethes in every sentence. That bitterness fueled by the murder of her father by the British army.

Oatley suffers from a messiah complex, he wants to save the world. He wants to be the hero in Northern Ireland to secure promotion and prestige within the security services. Naomi spots this right away which needles Frank who has managed to conceal his true ambitions from his seniors and peers.

You know right away they will fall in love, the blurb even mentions it but this is no Mills and Boon style romance. There is also a love triangle with an RUC Special Branch Officer who hates the IRA with a passion.

Mix that in with a dodgy MI5 Officer, Semple who has been sent over to Ulster to cause unrest between the IRA, the British and the Loyalist paramilitaries, all because someone does not want peace in Ulster…yet.

The IRA characters are not your usual Hollywood style Republican hoods, I appreciated how the author gave some of the terrorists backstories that explained why they were hell-bent on bombing the Brits out of Ulster.

For instance, Donal McGinty’s first love an innocent young woman was gunned down and murdered by a loyalist gang as she walked home. This gave me an understanding of why these people were drawn to the IRA, it wasn’t just the Protestant v Catholic thing, these people had lost loved ones.

No spoilers here so I won’t discuss the plot other than to write that the plot is realistic, Nixonian in fact.

The characters are believable (for the most part) and there is a turf war not just between the UVF and the IRA but between MI5 and MI6 not to mention a trigger happy SAS squad.

What I especially enjoyed about The Contact is the author’s intimate knowledge of Northern Ireland, its geography, its politics and his understanding of what it is like to live and operate in the rough streets of Belfast.

Most importantly I liked the realism that ran throughout the book.

At times Oatley is scared, ‘the stories of what the IRA did to intelligence officers in the province put the fear of God into him.’

The author explains that ‘MI6 had one job and that was talking to people and convincing them to do something they wouldn’t normally do. Fast-roping into the bad guy’s lair and throwing grenades was the job of the SAS, not of professional agent handlers. James Bond reflected the musketeer dalliances of MI6 when it was still maturing, when it was still a largely pseudo-military outfit in the First and Second World Wars.

Oatley had no gadgets from ‘Q’ Branch, no Walther PPK and certainly hadn’t bedded any glamorous Russian femme fatales.’

That being said there were a few events in the book that had me raising an eye. For instance, the SAS are chasing McGinty and Oatley, they are hot on their heels, in fact the soldiers are just steps away from them and yet they manage to remain concealed. I mean this is the SAS we are talking about here not the Salvation Army.

On another occasion, and I will be vague here as I don’t want to spoil the book for you, Oatley manages to escape from a police car whilst taking out several officers whilst cuffed. He then rocks up at his boss’s house hours away, still cuffed. Hmm…

Overall, I enjoyed The Contact. McPhillips dialogue is entertaining, his plot believable and the pace changes gears smoothly. McGinty and Oatley are intriguing characters who do evolve and grow as the story unfolds.

If you enjoy agent handler style stories with realism and limited action/fight scenes then do give this one a go. Plenty of twists and turns.

Support the Spybrary Podcast today!
Support the Spybrary Podcast today!

Today's episode of the Spybary Podcast would not have been possible without the generous support of our Spybrary Patreon supporters, if you enjoy our content and want more, please consider supporting us? Are we worth the cost of a Latte a month? Details here.

Spybrary Spy Podcast Discussion Group
Talk more about spy books in our Spybrary discussion group

Talk more about spy books, spy movie and spy tv shows in our Spybrary discussion group

Spybrary Facebook Group – come chat with like-minded spy fans and authors.

Links and Resources Mentioned in this episode with Rossa McPhillips – Author of The Contact

Related Posts