The Accidental Spy by Sean O’Driscoll
The astonishing, gripping and long-awaited inside story of an ordinary man who became an extraordinary spy.
After years of living in semi-isolation, David Rupert speaks for the first time about how a trucker from New York ended up being recruited to the FBI and MI5 at one of the most crucial moments in British political history.
Including shock revelations about Rupert’s discoveries working within the Real IRA – such as sending plastic explosives and detonators, hidden inside toys, to a primary school in Donegal. Author Sean O’Driscoll tells the incredible story of David, ‘The Big Yank’, a 6ft7 American tourist who found himself at the centre of a chilling campaign of terror that targeted civilians, the forces and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Countless lives have been saved by David Rupert’s decision to risk his neck working for years within one of the most brutal and ruthless terrorist organisations in the world – an organisation whose language of violence left women and children amongst the dead in the Omagh atrocity.
An unprecedented bombing campaign was planned to destroy any hopes of a peace agreement. In a trial that rested entirely on the evidence of the ‘Big Yank’, those plans for ongoing bloodshed and an end to the Good Friday Agreement were brought to a halt.
Q&A with Sean O’Driscoll
Where did the inspiration come from for your new release?
I had heard about David Rupert for 20 years and always wanted to tell his story. He testified against the leader of the Real IRA in an Irish court so he was already quite well known in Ireland. Here was this trucker from upstate New York who meets a woman in a Florida bar who turns out be both very prominent in the Democratic Party and also an ardent IRA supporter. She leads him into IRA circles and he eventually ends up as a spy for the FBI and MI5, bringing down the Real IRA while a member of its ruling council. It was such a powerful story – to bring readers into the Northern Ireland conflict, and the spying world, through the eyes of someone who knew very little about it and had to learn fast.
How does it feel to know your characters are out and about in reader’s imaginations?
In many ways, people in non-fiction books are characters because you can never tell someone’s full story, you can only tell one aspect out of thousands. It’s been extraordinary to me to hear readers views. People are particularly fascinated by David Rupert’s wife, Maureen, who has to learn the spy business with her husband and who carried the operation in many ways. Readers have asked me about David – a very intelligent man who didn’t have much formal education so he had to learn by himself – usually by listening to audio books while cross-crossing America as a trucker. He had a very broad knowledge of politics and history as a result, which really helped in the spying operation.
Do you miss writing about them?
Yes, very much. Even now, some people mentioned in the book are coming back with new information, I feel the book could be twice as long. I immersed myself in their lives to deeply that I do miss it. Still, they are living people so they are still part of my life.
What was your publishing journey highlight?
Seeing my name on the bestseller list in Ireland and on the bestseller list at Heathrow Airport. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that in the age of instant gratification, YouTube and Netflix, there are still readers who are willing to pay to read about someone’s life. I remember seeing the bestseller list in Ireland and feeling a little dizzy, like I was having an out-of-body experience.
What was the last book that made you laugh out loud?
I buy a lot of serious non-fiction and wish I had more humour to read. I love the Ladybird books for adults. Last week, I read the Ladybird Book of the Hipster and fell over sideways laughing. The vintage photos worked perfectly for describing hipster obsession with ironic retro.
What was the last book that made you cry?
The Remains Of The Day. I read it again after many years. Its sense of loss amid such emotional repression is overwhelming
If you were on an island for a year what two books would you bring?
Wild Swans by Jung Chang
The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
Two very powerful and brilliantly researched non-fiction books
Lastly, what is your favourite book quote?
“To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world … do you wonder, then, that I was a heavy child?” – Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
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