I have been preparing the new kindle edition of my first novel and thinking about violence. Set in the 1981, the year of the Hunger Strikes (a transitional year in terms of the Troubles), Violent Shadows looks at how and why somebody (a young woman), might get involved in political violence.
As it turns out, nobody wanted such a novel, not really, (though it garnered excellent reviews). The Irish because they still have a blind spot about the second generation, my family, because it was too close to the bone, the English because they don’t really want to know about this particular slice of colonial history.
For me, it was a matter of connecting the old war and the new war. When I was growing up we used to spend the summer in the border county of North Leitrim, my mother’ s homeplace. At the entrance to the cemetery where generations of my family are buried is a monument to the local members of the IRA who died in the War of Independence. The old war and the new war—apparently not the same. In 1981, I remember sitting with my uncle on the old famine road above the house. All over the valley, black flags had been raised as each hunger striker died. In the shops and pubs, commemorative posters featured the hunger strikers. My uncle gave me a little pamphlet containing Bobby Sands diary. He didn’t say anything and neither did I. ‘Whatever you say, say nothing,’ didn’t just apply to the North of Ireland. The Troubles was a risky subject and one where large numbers of people felt silenced. A number of years earlier, my mother had been forced out of her job as a dinner lady in York, for having the temerity to try and explain the background to the IRA bombing campaign.
Twenty years later, looking at political violence still seems to be a dangerous and taboo subject. We are allowed to write about why violence is bad, to condemn it, to portray its participants as psychopaths, to show the detrimental impact but not to explore the bigger picture, what it signifies, how it emerges and why it might continue to attract disenfranchised young people.
From ‘Violent Shadows’.
‘Violence is the voice of the voiceless,’ she’d said to Felix, but as soon as she said it she knew it wasn’t entirely true. Violence begets violence, she knew that. Violence is the instrument of repression but also its child. Before the injustices of the past can be forgiven, they have to be stopped. The expression of anger, violent or otherwise, was a stage along the way. Tara thought of Eoghan’s gleeful little face when, aided by his sister, they had toppled their father. Tara had seen that same look time and again. On the face of a women who had broken a vase over a violent husband’s head. On the face of a teenager who thumped a bullying father back. On the face of a daughter with weals on the back of her legs, finally snapping her mother’s stick in two. When the victimized strike out, the initial sense of power can wipe out years of humiliation, degradation, shame. A violent reaction to violence can break the victim mould, open up possibilities, ensure things will never be the same again.’