Celtic Illumination, part 360, Caught in the headlights of history.
It’s all your fault. Yesterday I started off by saying that I was about to give you lot an award and then you went and got me all side tracked so that it ended up with me not saying what the award was, nor even awarding the award. I know you probably didn’t do it on purpose, so I’ll think about forgiving you. I suppose it would help if I had a name for the award, something along the lines of the mile high club, but more literary. The half mill marker, I’m not sure, let me think about it. Anyway, all that needs to be said is that you will all be given an award and it will have a name, so give yourselves a clap on the back. No Clancey, I’m not calling it the Clap Club; sound too much like the special clinic you have attended far too often.
So what was happening in the real world, oh yes, I was still waiting to hear from one, or any, of our fantastic celebrities and it was driving me around the twist. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to have spent so long becoming a writer, even securing the services of a top London literary agent, to constantly be told that it didn’t matter how good a writer you were, you needed something to sell your book and that unfortunately in this day and age was normally the badge of celebrity. So this is where decisions have to be made, is Jeffrey correct, do I simply give up and go and work in a supermarket for the rest of my life? Actually I can’t go and work in a supermarket as I upset them all. I have always said that I would love a job where I could get paid a lot of money and not have to do a lot of work, well; I suppose we all would. The big supermarkets were having a recruitment drive for store managers and I saw this as an easy job with plenty of money so I applied.
When you have successfully passed through the officer and aircrew selection process at Biggen Hill for the RAF, as I had, there’s not many job interviews that worry you. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. The application forms arrived and I had one of those moments. I knew that I didn’t want to work in a shop; I knew that I was a writer, it was something I had to do and, despite Jeffrey’s warnings I knew that many people had broken through the barriers and succeeded. Here I suppose is where the Celtic bloody-mindedness comes in to play again. I know many people despise him but Jeffrey Archer was someone I had respect for. He wrote his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, to make money. Admittedly he did have a bit of a name for himself as a politician but he needed to make money and rather than turn to the stock market, or gambling, or dealing in art, he chose to write books.
Archer had nothing to say, no message to get to people, he was your standard greedy, little, conservative, Englishman, but he went on to sell over two hundred and fifty million books worldwide. And yes there were the libel cases and the insider trading, the prison sentence and the misappropriation of millions from the Kurdish aid charity, but how interesting would a life be without a little colour. And please do not think that I am in any way taking a swipe at, or making any sort of judgement, about Jeffrey Archer. I actually wrote to him and asked for his advice, his help and his support against the thief Paul O Grady. I got a lovely reply from him where he apologised and explained that he would not have the time to help me out but wished me luck in my venture. I got the feeling from his letter that he may have thought I was taking the mickey out of him, but I wasn’t.
Now; you did this to me yesterday, side tracked me and you’ve done it again, I’m supposed to be sat sitting here talking about filling out application forms for major supermarkets and here you have me talking about Jeffrey Archer. Behave yourselves. I had one of those days because I realised that I wasn’t destined to work in a shop so I decided to fill out the forms in a not so professional manner. You should have a go at it sometimes because it is quite a relief. When the question, “Why do you want to work for….” was asked, I wrote that I had heard all their existing managers were rubbish and it was about time they had someone decent working for them. This was the sort of attitude I maintained through each application which I then sealed up and sent off. Surprisingly enough not one of them wanted to process my application any further and I am sure if I even walk in to any of those stores an alarm will be sounding somewhere. It is what we would call in Ireland as a bit of ‘divilment,’ and it does you a power of good now and again.
Life, on the writing side of things was becoming much more serious for I knew I was leaning toward my Magnus Opus. To sit yourself down and concentrate on writing a short story that will hopefully make people cry is a hard enough task, now I faced an even greater task, I wanted to write a book that would bring about lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Some of you have just mentally ticked a box beside the statement that says, ‘This fellow is most definitely mad.’ But think about it, most books have a reason for being written, most mainly to make money, but some have messages or other specific reasons like my short story for crying, so why not a book for peace. It wasn’t going to be as easy as sitting down and saying, ‘You are all stupid eejits,’ five words does not make a book, not unless you are Peter Andre and Jordan.
The history that is bandied about so readily in Northern Ireland has been so corrupted that it would be near impossible to correct. People believe what they want to believe so I was going to create my own version of history. I wanted to resurrect the Victorian three volume novel format, mainly because Oscar Wilde had dismissed it so thoroughly, so I knew that there would be three books in my project. To get people interested the books would have to be funny, no sex and no bad language, maybe. I wanted to show that there was no difference between a Catholic and a Protestant, none whatsoever and I knew that this would be a tough job as the bigots were as thick as bog oak. I would start at the Battle of The Boyne and follow two families through to the present day. One Catholic and one Protestant, with membership of their secret little societies and weird ceremonies I would show that their ‘conflict’ was ridiculous.
In order to get a feel and a flavour of the time I began reading anything that could get my hands on regarding Irish history and that is where I began to uncover something that up until then I had been completely unaware of. The more I read and uncovered about it the angrier I became, not just at the event that happened but that such a major event had never been taught to me at school. I am of course referring to the Irish famine, two words which any proper Irish person will never use to describe what actually happened. George Bernard Shaw coined the phrase An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger, and that is the only way to refer to what happened. During this period there was enough food produced to feed everyone on the Island of Ireland but the British shipped it out, under armed guard, to their colonies. The British prime minister stood up in their houses of parliament and said that the potato famine was an act of God and if they were to step in and try to save the starving Irish they would be going against the will of God. So it was God’s will that these people should starve to death. Most of Europe had been affected by the potato blight, but only in Ireland were people allowed to starve to death.
It was bad enough learning that the British would send soldiers to scoop up a thousand children and sell them as slaves to plantation owners but to learn that they had allowed one and a half million innocent people to starve to death was something that, as they say, once learned cannot be unlearned. I wasn’t sure with horrific incidents like this haunting the past that it would be possible to write anything funny about Irish history. In fact it affected me so much that I started to feel embarrassed that I had served in the British armed forces, I had let my country down. The barbarity of the British as they stampeded across the globe became very clear to me and why Republicans refer to the union Jack flag as ‘The Butchers Apron,’ did not need explaining to me twice.
Once again my Magnus Opus was placed on the back burners and I immersed myself in Irish history. Luckily many of my books that I had brought back from Ireland were history books and provided me with such detail that I knew I would have to write about An Gorta Mor. This wasn’t to make people cry, this was to make people aware. Once again how can you approach such a subject, how can you produce a story that will entertain and inform? It had to do both, as not many people voluntarily sit down to read a dry old history book. And of course once you have researched and written the thing, how will you get it published. For the moment the celebrities could go and whistle, I had something important to write about. I found myself in Liverpool in the grounds of the bombed out church, Saint Luke’s, staring at the famine memorial. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you why I was standing at the famine memorial in Liverpool, well; perhaps I’ll try to, but God only knows what I will end up talking about.