Tag Archives: Jolly Macken

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.

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The Banned / A New Name

Everyone’s getting banned. Aung San Suu Kyi is banned from leaving her house arrest in Burma. Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya is banned from leaving the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. And now I’ve been banned from using the computer on Sundays. I proudly stand with my fellow bannees. But Sunday is past. So I can now mention a couple of things.

  1. Worrying/odd treatment of the British National Party (BNP) by BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat show. See Guardian newspaper news story and Roy Greenslade comment.
  2. Something delightful I saw on the Cultural Snow blog.
  3. I’ve changed the name of the main character in my novel, Blackwatertown, to (ta dah) Macken. Or more fully. John Oliver Macken, aka Jack Macken, aka Jolly Macken. There now. Isn’t that a heroic moniker?

Macken’s previous name was too close to living people, who might themselves be displeased, or might themselves incur the displeasure of others incapable of differentiating fact from fiction. Bad for the health and all that.

Macken is a conflicted Catholic policeman serving in the RUC in the 1950s. After farcical encounters in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains of County Down, he is demoted from sergeant and banished to sleepy Blackwatertown near the Irish border. His arrival has far-reaching consequences: It wakes the place up; stirs up the murkiness round the mysterious death of the police officer he is replacing; sparks a new border war; and begins a sometimes dark, sometimes funny, wild ride through the politics of sexuality, sectarianism, loyalty and what it means to belong.

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