Tag Archives: border

The opening lines (and Happy Christmas)

One Christmas drink too many

One Christmas drink too many. (Thanks to savagechickens.com)

 Happy Christmas and a mellow new year from Belfast, which is where I am right now.

People sometimes ask me: If this blog is supposed to be at least partly about your book, where can I read some of it?

Fair question. The answer is here: Here. Now.

The most important lines in any story are the beginning. The stakes are high. Go wrong at the start, and that’s it. The reader has moved on before any emotional committment has formed. It’s easy to cut one’s losses before getting in too deep.

So – with trepidation – here are the opening lines of my book, Blackwatertown.

But first, here’s a little context to the story.  It’s set in rural Ireland, along the border,  in the mid 1950’s. The hero, Macken, is a police sergeant in the RUC, the then police force of Northern Ireland.

And so the story, Blackwatertown, begins – like this:

Sergeant Jolly Macken didn’t want to be a policeman anymore. He clenched his teeth, and sucked in through his nostrils the cool air of the Mourne foothills. The butt of his hand pressed down on the polished handle of the baton, not yet drawn. He hated his job. He hated the crowd pushing at his back and the string of men blocking the road ahead. All  of them waiting, impatient for his signal,  muttering his nickname. He  hated the verbal albatross that had been hung round his neck too. Jolly. Christ!

 The stoney slopes of fern and heather and gorse would usually lift his  heart. The open land a refuge from complication and regulation. He’d  feel the tension ebbing from his shoulders. The small smile that would  quietly creep over his face, unbidden and unwitnessed. If Macken believed in anything, it was that there was no better place, nor way, for a man to be at peace than by quiet water, with a rod and line.  Alone, but never lonely.

Today was different. Today he was only a hard-faced big man trapped inside a uniform. The Mourne mountain road he stood on was busy with intruders, eager for action. Stones bounced round his feet. The isolated serenity of this County Down emptiness had been shattered long before. But at this moment of decision, all the shouting and jeering, the drums and the flutes, seemed to fade to silence in Macken’s mind. The violence was about to begin – the striking out at head and body with stone and bar, baton and rifle butt. And he was going to be the one to start it.

That’s it. More to come in a while. But I would very much like your comments on the opening.

36 Comments

Filed under My Writing

What (Irish books) I’ve been reading 21st November 2009

Far Green Fields: Fifteen Hundred Years of Irish Travel Writing
Forget the proverb. You definitely should judge this book by its cover. The illustration is beautifully conceived and appropriate to the wide-ranging delightful tales of Irish travel inside. The cover artist is Philip Blythe (from Ireland, moved to Australia). The publisher is Blackstaff. I salute you both. (Unfortunately, nowhere could I find a good copy of the book’s cover to use in this post, so I’ve used a different Philip Blythe picture of Killyleagh castle in Co. Down.) Meanwhile, editor Bernard Share has put together a bunch of exiles, explorers, soldiers, deportees, imperialists, rebels, playwrights, actors and others, men and women, who wandered the world and wrote about their wanderings. You’ll not be surprised that the collection kicks off with St Brendan the Navigator (wasn’t he the first European to make it to America?) and includes the intrepid cyclist and muleteer Dervla Murphy. But apart from some flighty Earls, the action happens mainly in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s.

Luggage – by Peter Hollywood. It’s a long short story about a Northern Irish family’s driving holiday round France. On the surface, nothing out of the ordinary happens on this well observed family holiday. But a sense of creeping unease follows the father. It could be merely that hard-to-shift Troubles anxiety, or perhaps someone really is out to get them.

The News from Ireland and Other Stories (King Penguin) – by William Trevor. Short stories of regret, fear, loss, loneliness, alienation, passing youth. Not a bundle of laughs, but then, hey, that’s life sometimes. In Trevor land though, that’s life all the time. However, there’s gentleness too and the small ways in which people interact physically and emotionally are captured perfectly.

New Selected Poems 1968-1994 – by Paul Muldoon. Sure he wrote lyrics for Warren Zevon, and appeared on The Colbert Report. But it’s his poetry that I return to again and again. He writes about his quoof – a family term for a hot water bottle. (In our house we’ve invented the term broast – somewhere between bread and toast, ie very lightly done.)  Somebody else said about Muldoon: For sheer fun,verve,wickedness and grace, he has no rivals. So here’s an example. Just a wee quick short one:

Ireland

The Volkswagen parked in the gap,

But gently ticking over.

You wonder if it’s lovers

And not men hurrying back

Across two fields and a river.

What I am about to read:

Mystery Man by the prolific and funny Colin Bateman. The hero is a bookshop owner who turns private eye. But most excitingly (to me now) is that the shop he owns is No Alibis – a real life mystery bookshop on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue. I’ve been in it! The hero offered me a cup of tea! (He’s one of the charming men of Ireland.) Or did he? That is – is the real owner the same as the fictional owner? I’m looking forward to finding out. I’ll just take a little peek inside the book before I start reading to look for clues… Yes! Page 7. The owner makes a visitor a cup of coffee. It must be him! In no other bookshop have I been offered a cup of tea or coffee for nothing. (By the way, there are other good bookshops in Belfast. I must get round to telling you about them in a future post.)

And, as soon as I get my hands on it, I’ll be starting Soldiers of Folly: The IRA Border Campaign 1956-1962 by Barry Flynn. It’s about the ’50s campaign, which spawned the song The Patriot Game, and less forgiveably the film from the Tom Clancy book Patriot Games.

1 Comment

Filed under poetry, What I'm Reading