I’m currently writing up chapter six of my novel, And The Buntings Flew, and its taking a long time; too long. I plan to end the chapter with the first major plot development, but I’m stuck on a descriptive section; something about what I was writing was bothering me, making progress slow.
I’ve had to undertake quite a bit of research for this chapter, including remapping a route through 1970’s Belfast using 2015 Google maps, and confirming which Peace walls existed in the time frame of the novel, but there’s nothing too awful related in this chapter, so I took some time out to wonder why I was dragging my heels (and to write this post).
I’ve mentioned before, I think, that elements of this novel are very autobiographical, including the chapter I’m currently writing; upon reflection I think that beyond the obvious challenges and fears of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, there were more subtle influences, and writing about them has been hard work, mentally. However these issues are at the heart of the novel. The themes of identity, concealment and a feeling of alienation, being physically, mentally and spiritually blocked off from parts of the city and its life, and from normality itself, are very prominent in this part of my novel, and purposely so. The peace walls are a very solid and real metaphor for the intangible barriers and blockades that children could encounter growing up in a working-class area of Belfast.
I reflected on my search for other novels dealing with the subject of childhood or simply living in NI during the Troubles, and found, unsurprisingly that these were common and prominent themes. If you’re interested in perceptions on the specific situation in Northern Ireland, please have a read of these novels:
Set during the 1980’s during the latter end of the Troubles, Fergus, an 18-year-old boy discovers the prehistoric body of a murdered girl in a peat bog; he also has to deal with elder brother’s imprisonment and hunger strike, his parent’s relationship problems and his own involvement with the IRA. Fergus is affected by the politics of his own time and that of the murdered girl in the bog. Siobhan Dowd’s novel set in Northern Ireland was a 2009 Carnegie Medal winner.
Another novel set in Northern Ireland during the 1980’s, Bernard MacLaverty’s novel tells the story of a young Catholic man living in a Protestant area of NI. Basically a doomed love story, Cal also explores the complexities of living during the Troubles, which affected every facet of everyday life, including the early loss of innocence for many.
Seamus Deane’s novel explores childhoods in Derry, Northern Ireland during the 1940s and 50s; a novel of childhoods haunted by historical and current events, and cloaked in silence, this is a dark and lyrical story; the unnamed young narrator is faced with injustice and intrigue; again there is a journey of discovery for the main character, intertwined with the political backdrop of the province.
If the novels explore some of the issues for people who grew up amidst the Troubles, what about the effects of such an upbringing and the aftermath of a typically harrowing event? A correspondent of mine advised me of a new novel by Lesley Grayson; the story concerns a young man whose parents are killed by a car bomb, and who finds out the identify of the IRA men who placed the bomb. A series of events lead to a brutal decision, one which has profound implications for all of the people impacted by the bombing. I’m currently reading this book, and it’s chilling to reflect upon how this could have been the situation in my own family. Please have a look for the book on Amazon, it’s a great read that explores some very real considerations for children of the Troubles.
Finally, my novel And The Buntings Flew will consider many of the themes touched on above; conflicts of loyalty, both within the family and the wider community, the restrictions of a tribal and actual separation across the province and a permanent feeling of a state of siege are some of the challenges that I hope to explore. However these very real troubles are never victorious; if not vanquished, they are at least defied by the courage and generosity so often found in the people of Northern Ireland, across all religious and political divides.