They say that there is a novel in everyone… mine’s is called Ballyscadán and is in Amazon.
Twenty years ago I drafted a novel about the Troubles. Then I reflected on it and then proceeded put it on the shelf. I thought it was too close to the bone, even for 1999.
It was only after showing it to Joe McCoubrey more recently, a accomplished author of a clutch of excellent thrillers who lives in Downpatrick, that he said ‘”you need to print it, it’s too good to be sitting on the shelf.”
My concerns were that I was addressing a subject quite close to the knuckle and it was just a few years after the the ceasefire in 1994. So I let is sit. It gathered dust. But in that time my appreciation of the plot and characters grew and I refined the novel through a number of serious edits in 2019 assisted by Joe.
As you know, a writer can only write successfully from within his or her own personal subjectivity. I live in Ardglass, a small fishing community, I come from a fishing family. I have a degree in politics and I worked up at Stormont during the All-Party Talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement in the 90’s. On the back of this, I did a fair bit of research to try and ensure the social realism of the novel hung together.
For anyone who knows me, I have never been involved in security, intelligence, the army or police, and my brushes with the law amount to two speeding tickets!
I felt a compelling urge to write about this period in the history of the Troubles, but more, to create a story with a dramatic tension at a personal level that captivated the reader.
The main character is a young man, a fisherman, who comes to County Down from Scotland to meet his estranged father after his mother dies. His father lives in Ballyscadán, a small fishing village on the coast of County Down. Before long he is drawn into the IRA and becomes a key operator.
His father, an ageing, balding gent, co-incidentally happens to be an MI5 agent covering the fishing port. He is an old friend of the Assistant Director of MI5 when they both worked for army intelligence in post-war Europe hunting Nazi. The father does not know he has a son… and the IRA orders the son to kill his father when they suspect the father is in intelligence.
The action comes to a head after a trail of incidents and dead bodies when the father and son are pointing weapons at each other… a split second and either could be dead.
Leading up to this personal climax, there are a number of violent engagements. However, reading this at a deeper level, one could argue that the (attempted) reconciliation of father and son is a literary symbolic gesture about the unification of Ireland and the two communities historically divided.
The novel, 76,000 words long, has a few sub plots as it grinds to its conclusion.
But the grim harsh reality of the horror of the Troubles is set in the last page in an unexpected twist… a reminder that the Troubles are not over until they are over.
It would be remiss of me to tell you how the novel unravels and ends. I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of it!
There is still time to get a hard copy or a Kindle copy for Christmas from Amazon.
(I am now working on the Ballyscadán II novel… which I hope does not take another 20 years to finish!)