You walk on eggshells when you write about this place – and, even in fiction, we are never far from actual events.
Although differently described, they are a mere scratch beneath the words.
John McClintock’s debut novel – FINDING ARTHUR – is set in the early phase of the peace process; its pages a grim reminder of the horrors on that road to and beyond the ’98 Agreement.
In the turning of its pages, we are both taken back and taken aback.
There are jolts and shocks in his writing informed by his decision to weave actual detail into the pages and chapters of this novel. The narrative has been influenced by real events.
While this 20th anniversary year has rightly remembered and celebrated the political achievement of Good Friday 1998, McClintock’s book reminds us that there is no such thing as perfect peace. No magic wand that makes everything better.
We are brought back to the anger and the traumas of that period, the rawness of an irrevocable past, the pain and the price of peace and the challenges of change – whether prisoner releases or police reform.
In McClintock’s story-telling, Arthur is a journalist contacted anonymously and given information that is instrumental in bringing to justice men responsible for a bombing atrocity that killed 23 civilians – men later released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Who talked to the journalist? Who betrayed them?
Who was the Judas who nailed them to the cross?
This is the story line that the writer pursues and develops.
By the end of chapter two, Arthur has been abducted but, at page 395 – the book’s end – his disappearance has not been answered or resolved.
To whom had his wife been speaking on the morning of his abduction, when, just after he had left for work, she lifted the phone, dialled a number and spoke the words: “He’s gone now.”
McClintock has left the door open for a possible return to this story – perhaps for another page turn at some point in the future.
The informant is eventually identified and brutally executed; again, a reminder in the pages of this novel, that peace gives no protection – no hiding place – to those accused of such betrayal; the touts and the traitors. For them, there is no peace of mind.
McClintock also takes us inside prison and into the troubled mind of one of those jailed for that bombing atrocity and the slaughter of those 23 civilians.
“He remembered waking in the middle of the night, sitting suddenly upright in the deafening silence with a voice in his head that screamed of guilt and blame and unyielding remorse.”
That sentence reminded me of the words of a former prisoner I interviewed in the period of the Good Friday Agreement when he spoke to me about the sense in which prisoners “sleep with the victims” – meaning, of course, they must sleep with what they did; replaying and rewinding their actions, their decisions, thinking and turning in the darkness and the loneliness of every night. In such circumstances it really is prison, there is no escape.
So, again, in his novel, McClintock has identified this reality – the haunting ghosts of conflict and jail.
He has walked on the eggshells of this place. At times, trampled on them; reminded us of a peace that was hard won; of its high price and of why it should never be taken for granted.
His work of fiction has given us something to think about.
(Brian Rowan was in conversation with John McClintock on June 7th at the launch of FINDING ARTHUR published by Shanway Press www.shanway.com).