Someone once said there is a book in everyone. Well, I want to share my book with you says Jim Masson.
Yes, I’ve written a book. It’s a novel set in County Down about the Troubles set in 1994. It’s called ‘Ballyscadán‘, the place of herring in Irish.
But before I begin to talk about it, I must explain that I have never been part of any police, intelligence, army or other military agency. Anyone who knows me knows this to be the case. So on the basis that as a ‘clued up’ individual, I’d like to introduce ‘Ballyscadán‘ to you.
It is only available as a digital Kindle version at the moment. To download it you will need to go to Amazon books and ensure you have downloaded the Kindle app first.
It will not be suitable reading for the under 16’s due to the violence in it and a couple of intimate scenes.
How did this novel come about you may ask. Well, it’s simple. I’ve always written short stories and even some poetry since I was young. Like many writers I have an inner voice I can tune into. Back in the early 70’s I did study English (and German) at Aberdeen University but ended the course for personal reasons. But my education has always stayed with me and I love literature and I indulge in it when I can – novels, poetry, and theatre.
I graduated from QUB Belfast in 1992 with a degree in politics, at a time when the Troubles had basically exhausted the community here. I had studied Irish politics as one of my modules in my single honours politics course. And like many people I had experienced the circumstances of the Troubles first hand, and had a couple of very uncomfortable experiences over the years.
Why politics ? I came from a fairly active family politically on my mother’s side. My grandfather was quite far to the left politcally and an active trade unionist (the Boilermakers Union) and attended national conferences etc. I remember one day when I was 13, he put a 78 on the record player and said: “Listen to this!” It was a Verdi’s piece, the ‘Rising of the Slaves‘ in the opera Nabuccu. It was very different from the diet of Jimmy Shand and country and western that my parents listened too! It was emotionally charged! And he never said anything more about it. He knew… he has planted a seed in my mind; he was a very autodidactic individual. This piece of music has been used as the rallying call for revolutionary movement anthems for over a hundred years eg Garibaldi’s Risorgimento which unified Italy.
My grandfather was a great influence in my political socialisation. And there were many other instances when he helped shape my thinking. And just as an aside, grandparents are important in a child’s development, almost as much as a class teacher, but that’s digressing!
Some of you may think I am doing a Ronnie Corbett and telling a story and digressing all over the place. But really, I’m trying to set the context of how my attention focussed on this story idea. I found the time to start researching this novel in many esoteric areas when I was reading a fair amount of Jack Higgin’s thrillers. I thought ‘I can do that’. So I started to read up on everything relevant across the board to the front page of the Belfast Telegraph to specialist periodicals such as Jane’s Defence in the QUB Library.
Well, the long and short of it is that I used a Shakespearean tragedy plot structure, and created a few key characters which before long started to talk to each other and interact, devised a couple of potent themes and noted a couple of useful stylistic techniques and started writing about a son who came to ‘Ballyscadán’, an imaginary fishing village in County Down. He came to meet his estranged father. His mother had died and in the murky past there were the shadows of a ruined marriage due to the religious divide, although that in itself is not what the novel is primarily about. No-one knows Con’s true identity – except an MI5 head.
The main character Con, is a fisherman, a member of the Provisional IRA, and is a feared sniper. He leads an uncomplicated life until the summer of 1994. In the run up to the ceasefire in 1994 there was much happening behind the scenes. In the novel, an MI5 chief who is not happy with security arrangements speaks to Con and a course of death and destruction ensues. A loyalist and a republican death squad are even killed and as the death toll mounts, Con has no-where to hide.
Within the republican movement there are tensions between the hawks and doves on how they should move forward – continuing to bomb the Brits or seek a political resolution. An IRA leader plans to subvert the movement and finally succumbs to a round from Con’s Barrett Light 50 rifle.
But Con’s father, who is he? He’s a low level MI5 agent and will he survive the final shootout? Will Con kill his own father in a desperate act of fratricide on instruction from the IRA ?
Ballyscadán ends with a chilling reminder of the heartbreak of the Troubles that affected so many people. It’s a place we do not want to return too!
And for those literature buffs, there is a hint of symbolism embedded in the relationship of Con and his father – unlikely parts coming together in a harmony. Could this be a symbol for political unification ? And even possibly opposing factions working together in a new reality which ultimately came about with the GFA ? History is fluid, it is never cast in stone.
This novel, however, is NOT finished. I posted it on Amazon Kindle. At this time of terrible difficulty when we are under lockdown due to coronavirus, it may prove to be a welcome distraction for a few hours of reading.
I will in the near future send the novel on to a developmental editor for a full appraisal and re-write whatever I have to do. It is not an easy thing to brave your soul to the public. But I trust people out there that they will understand what I am writing about and receive it in good faith. I will also get the book cover redesigned by a professional – the current one is something I drafted up myself. But, if it all proves to be a failed effort, then I will consign it to the shredder.
Most top novelists (note: I am not one!) use developmental editors as they not only know about the nature of the novel and how to optimise it, but they also know how the market works and advise where possible how to tailor the work to suit the market and increase the prospects of success.
So if Ballyscadán has merit as a novel then it will succeed hopefully. I am now writing my second novel and hope to have that finished later this year. Again, with a local theme and learning from the lessons of the first book!
All key characters in the novel are works of my imagination and bare no resemblance to real characters.
And a last word. The information contained in it too must be treated as fiction. It is there to develop the plot and provide some political context.
I hope you enjoy Ballyscadán…
… as much as I have enjoyed writing it.