Tuesday, 11 February 2014

For Folk'd's Sake.


Yes I know, What a title. Sounds like someone from Castleblaney swearing but it is actually the title of a book by a fantastic first time author Laurence Donaghy. Which is not to say this is first thing he ever wrote, I am quite sure judging by the quality of the writing it is a skill as natural to him as speaking, but it is his first book published. This is the sort of story telling my da used to enthrall me with as a kid. Stories in which he would mix the very ordinary with the unusual and even the terrifying. Oh yes my da used to believe in the slow build. Layering detail upon detail building towards some nightmare imagery. Relaxing you with the certainty of the familiar before breaking the fourth wall to convince you that the rules that govern our lives are writ in water. Toss in an event of sufficient weight and the bobbing waves ripple and distort everything you believe to be real. One story in particular had him cycling across darkened country roads and built to an absolute shocker that had me laying in my Paddington  Bear pyjamas staring at the bedroom ceiling afraid to close my eyes. I remember sitting bug eyed as he related the tale of how this mysterious pale figure of a tall man would keep appearing at different places along his route home through unfamiliar countryside with no light other than the one attached to his bikes handlebars. Yet it was getting closer each time he glimpsed it on the periphery of his limited vision until he passed it standing at the side of the road, almost within touching distance. He said he got the impression of a featureless face turning to witness his passing. He paddled even more frantically before turning his head to look back over his shoulder and saw it running along after him silently. He only lost his pursuer as he flew over a bridge close to home which ran over a river. He never saw it again because he never went back to the job which caused him to take that route thereby dodging whatever fate the mysterious figure signified. An entirely sensible solution to my young impressionable mind.
                    For heavens sake what a story to tell a wee boy about to go to bed.
                    I was there for the publisher Blackstaff's launch night for Folk'd and was struck by the enthusiasm of Stuart and Michelle (The Blackstaffers as I came to think of them which makes them sound like an elite troop from Middle-earth or Game Of Thrones).It felt as though they leaving their first born to school for his first day YOU BELONG TO THE WORLD NOW GO TAKE YOUR PLACE confident that that world would love it as much as they did. The Belfast Lord Mayor was there too climbing onto a small foot ladder to hold the room in the palm of his hand displaying an easy verbal eloquence I would not have previously associated with his office ( blimey he even referenced Kurt Vonnegut at one point).I opened the evening introducing everyone and thanking them for coming and reassured the Lord Mayor we did not judge him for arriving late at the party that most of the real world was only now catching up with us. I was mindful that someone recently had described me as looking like an old  tree struck by lightning which convinced me the room felt it was being addressed by a camp Ent. What can you do, it is not as though like Worzel Gummidge I can switch my heads depending on the occasion. I had not read the book at the point of introducing the author, in truth I was just trying to help another writer on this his first time before a crowd. If I had I would have been fueled by something both Stuart and Michelle knew; Laurence Donaghy was not just a good new author he was a wonderfully talented new first time author.
                    Folk'd is that good.By turns witty and absolutely heart achingly touching, Laurence Donaghy has done something more than create a fiction to sustain an entertaining narrative, he has recorded a series of real life truths, observations he has most likely absorbed in his own daily life which he has wove into a Belfast tapestry. One that perfectly illuminates for all who reads it the Belfast of the here and now. The characters of the book are on no quest for a golden fleece or a nest of phoenix eggs. It is about the demanding ordinariness of everyday life that can crush as well as reward. The need to fill a food cupboard or even half fill a tank of oil for heating, the luxury of a cuddle with a loved one or the holy grail of rumpy pumpy, it is all beautifully recorded here.
                   It took me back reading this book, back to a time before mortgages, before osteoarthritis, before anyone ever used the words binge drinking, when I had a gang of mates, the best of mates. I was reminded of the way we used to speak to each other, the terrible, terrible things we would accuse each other off and the many pervy things we would suggest about each other.Nearly all of which I was gleefully guilty off. Boy I made a terrible catholic. You say things to your best mates you would not say to your worst enemies. Laurence Donaghy captures these speech patterns just right on the money. It is quite literally the best Belfast speak I have ever come across in a novel. Our wee Rosetta stone so to speak.Although the novel is peppered by many many ubber-geeky references none of my mates would have got which betrays many of the science fantasy genres that must have sustained the author through the many grey years of real life he must have endured to this point. They would have put this boobie babble down to an unhealthy interest in Doctor Who, Which again is probably true, wise boys.I will not single any of these out as the reader must cross that particular no-mans land on his own and feel the blasts go off behind them as they go. I make no maps you just have to experience the journey on your own.
                   The learned citizens of Dublin may well have their Strumpet City the people of Belfast just got Folk'd.