A novel born out of troubled times in Ireland

The last thing the people of Northern Ireland need is for some fictional jockey to come riding over the hill with gung-ho recounts of past episodes that still touch deeply into the hearts and minds of individuals.

Since the launch of my full-length thriller barely two weeks ago I have been asked repeatedly about how I came up with the story, where did I draw inspiration from, and, crucially, how accurate are the events portrayed?

When you’ve lived in troubled times and you’re a writer, it’s probably inevitable those troubled times will feature heavily in your first novel. For me the journey started more than thirty years ago, at a time when fear stalked our streets and one atrocity seemed to pile up on another, even before the ink dried on our newspapers.

In my case, as a young reporter caught up in the conflict in the seventies and eighties, I had an urge to tell a story that went behind the headlines, a story of hard-hitting fiction that sailed uncomfortably close to the truth.

And so it was that Someone Has To Pay was born. It was more than two decades in the making and became subjected to endless rewrites and updates to keep pace with the frantic events unfolding around it. Fiction it might well be, but it had to be set against the stark realities and historical milestones that would lead eventually to peace in a troubled land.

It’s a story as cruel and uncompromising as the events which drove it. Those were the times we lived in. There was no shortage of factual material from which to draw inspiration; indeed there were almost too many real occurrences that could have been used to over-glamorise or over-sensationalise what lies between the covers of my book.

I witnessed some harrowing things, some too raw and graphic ever to recall. Evil walked the land, and it was often hard to keep a rein on emotions. As a reporter I tried to be dispassionate and impartial but rarely with much success. Determined to shine a light into the shadows I found myself questioning not only the events themselves but also the motives of those behind the planning and commissioning of such events.

In the best traditions of investigative journalism I would like to be able to say that I succeeded in getting at the truth. I didn’t come even close!

What I did discover, however, is that nothing is ever what it seems. All sides to the conflict were equally to blame for allowing events to escalate and for stubbornly resisting any attempts to stop them.

It shouldn’t have surprised me to learn that, but it did. I was determined to use what I knew to produce a hard-hitting story that would dispel the myths still existing about those days.

I knew I had to step warily. All conflicts have their victims, with hardly a family in Northern Ireland untouched by those troubles. The result is that too many are still living today with the pain and memories of the past.

The last thing they need is for some fictional jockey to come riding over the hill with gung-ho recounts of past episodes that still touch deeply into the hearts and minds of individuals.

I made a conscious decision to avoid these at all costs. My story simply didn’t need them. Instead I stuck with what I knew, and what I believed could have happened, as international pressure to end the conflict gathered an inexorable momentum.

I made sure too that the story was told from a balanced viewpoint, choosing no political or religious ascendancy for any side. That’s how it was, and that’s how it should be.

My bottom line for writing Someone Has To Pay was to produce an exciting and entertaining action thriller. Certainly I wanted its backcloth to be one that I knew and experienced, but it’s just that – a platform for telling what I believe is a cracking good yarn.

It will be for readers to judge whether or not I succeeded.

NOTE: Someone Has To Pay has now been released by Master Koda Select Publishing. It can be bought from the following links:

Amazon USA:

Amazon UK:

 

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13 Responses to A novel born out of troubled times in Ireland

  1. Jane Carroll says:

    Great post, Joe! I particularly connect with this statement:

    “What I did discover, however, is that nothing is ever what it seems. All sides to the conflict were equally to blame for allowing events to escalate and for stubbornly resisting any attempts to stop them.”

    I believe that is so true regardless if the conflict is between nations, friends, family, spouses…well…anyone. A valuable lesson to learn! Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Susan Condon says:

    They were indeed harrowing times for all involved but I feel confident that you have written this fictional novel with the sensitivity it deserves. I look forward to reading it, Joe.

  3. Kevin Taggart says:

    Great novel from someone who lived through and reported on ‘ The Troubles’.

  4. JJ Toner says:

    As you can tell from my name, my family comes from the nationalist side of the divide. My grandfather was a solicitor based in Strabane, my great-grandfather was a land-owner in Donegal. My father was a strong republican all his life. My mother’s uncle, Tomas MasDonagh, was one of the signatories to the 1916 proclamation. He was executed by the British army in May 1916, about 6 weeks before my mother was born.

    I found bits and pieces of your book a little close to the bone. Like the description of the IRA as terrorists (yes, I know that’s what they were, but they were also freedom fighters), and your comment that the Irish had been a thorn in the side of the English for centuries. This last comment I found particularly ironic, given that our country was invaded by the English in the 12th century and the indigenous people were treated brutally, through the penal laws, by those invaders ever since. My own view of the Provos changed radically on the day, in 1972, when they exploded a bomb in the Abercorn Restaurant.

    I think on balance you managed to avoid most of the mines in the minefield. And I admire your courage in taking on such a sensitive subject. I see you’ve decided to risk a fatwah in your lext book 🙂

    • JJ Toner says:

      Typo above: Tomas MacDonagh

      • Joe McCoubrey says:

        JJ – I enjoyed reading your up close and personal view. Yes, there were a lot of things happened and, depending on which side of the fence one stood, there were diametrically opposite opinions on just about everything. As I said in the blog, I tried not to gave political or religious ascendency to any side, although I did make a number of references about how each side viewed the other – this was nothing more than to provide an understanding of how deep some views were held. For my own part, I came from a mixed background, though, like you, I was brought up and remained in the nationalist tradition. As a journalist I learned how to interpret and balance events in a way that would not alienate readers. It was probably an idealistic stance, and I’m quite sure it never worked on many occasions! Thank you for adding to a serious and important subject.

  5. Kim (KD Emerson) says:

    Excellent article that brings the reader a bit closer to knowing you. This just added to the respect and admiration I already have for you.

  6. seumas gallacher says:

    Superb post, Joe, but I ‘d expect no less, that man … have a great week, my friend .. :):)

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