I wrote an article for Griffith Review a few years ago (and before the wonderful Maeve Binchy died) where I explored the novelist's right to write about war and social unrest, even when she knows little or nothing about them. It also speaks of Northern Ireland politician David Ervine, one of those rare examples of someone who opens his heart to the fears and sense of injustice his 'enemy' feels. Ireland and Britain lost a hero when he died far too young. If only others could learn from him.

The essay is available in full on the Griffith Review site (see below), but here's an excerpt:


The closest I have ever been to civil violence is
about one kilometre. That is not very close, comparatively speaking. I happened
to be in Dublin during the bombings of 1974, when three arteries out of the city
were blown up during peak hour. Meanwhile, up the road in a country town just
below the border with Northern Ireland, the same thing was happening at the same
moment.
Like most writers, I wasn't involved personally ....

... What about the creative writing teacher's maxim: Write What You Know. Like Jane
Austen, for example. Maeve Binchy swears by it, and tells everybody else to
swear by it, too. Having lived in Ireland for more than thirty years, I have all
the time in the world for Maeve, one of the great characters in Dublin (there
are a few). And I love her best books, as it happens. And actually I agree with
her in principle. But still ...

 War creeps in. Creeps into the consciousness of the writer, prowls around, a
dark, mesmerising presence. Calamity is recommended by Aristotle, not as a
general rule for life maybe but more as a handy tool for the poet. Perhaps it's
as simple as that. Writers are the ultimate users.

I have used "the troubles" to trouble my conscience into working out the plot
of a novel. Some years later, The Rhapsody of Sweeney was produced. Its
writing caused me to bring into the light my own tribal prejudice, my quiet
assurance that, though we liberal types didn't in any way condone all that
dreadful killing and maiming, we were right in the first place, the only problem
to convince the other crowd of their wrongness. I probably still believe it,
truth be told. So much for catharsis. Yet now and then something happens and a
little bell gongs, far away maybe, somewhere up in the hills while we're busy
down in the valley, weeding or something, but we hear it dimly, pause for a
moment as it sounds inside us.

There was once a Loyalist terrorist picked up and tossed in jail for a rather
serious offence. He was "the enemy". While in jail, he met a few people, one man
in particular – another Loyalist – who spoke different words to him. And he came
out with a question growing in his mind. It might be that he was a pretty
spectacular type of a man, not your common or garden terrorist. He wanted to
make peace. He read and he thought and he listened. He could see that life
hadn't been rosy for "the other crowd". This understanding didn't turn him into
one of them – no, not at all. He remained loyal to his Britishness, loyal to his
own people, until the day he died. He died early this year, far too young.

It occurred to me his heart might have broken. I can't say. The peace was
hard, and a long time coming. He was John the Baptist crying in the wilderness
for a long, long time. Many of his own side didn't like what he said, or
disclaimed his terrorist past. David Ervine died before the final agreement
came. But he was a bell that sounded. The voice of the true man, the genuine
hero. A sound that has a way of echoing. He touched my consciousness many years
ago, watching him move among the enemy, make forays into alien territory,
speaking his piece to curious audiences in the Irish Republic. He got our
respect. It would be too much to say I transferred anything of his fineness to
my little oeuvre, but I can say he was one who taught me to hold back
my pen from vitriol. ...

SEE FULL ARTICLE HERE
http://griffithreview.com/edition-17-staying-alive/the-unblooded-author
 


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