Wednesday 18 September 2019

Not my usual type: Authors turn talents to new genres

John Boyne
John Boyne
Louise Phillips
Joseph O'Connor
Sinead Moriarty. Photo: Ronan Lang

We asked four of Ireland’s finest novelists to experiment with a new genre of writing by penning the first chapter of a book imagined especially for Weekend readers

Novelist and children's writer John Boyne writes  Crime Fiction in The Sixth Child

First, the sound of crows. One after the other, speaking in harsh, throaty combat. They stand on the guttering over the Granville farm, their talons wrapped around the channel drainage, black eyes darting back and forth across the landscape.

The snow has stopped falling. And beneath the beams, the family have stopped screaming.

Jim Granville sits upright in his favourite armchair, a hole in his forehead marking the place where the bullet entered. He was asleep when his life ended. It wasn't a bad way to go, all things considered.

Sarah, Jim's wife - not to mention his first cousin, although no one ever spoke of that - had a worse time. She had leaped up and made for the bassinet where Adam lay, but a shot to her back felled her before she could reach him. Still alive, she wondered whether she would find herself in heaven or hell for the things she had done as the man strode over, placed one foot on her back and shot her through the neck, severing her spinal cord.

The twins, Alice and Ben, were already in bed, reading Anne of Avonlea and The Coral Island respectively. The man reloaded after shooting them, grunting slightly as he placed more bullets in the cartridge, which was when the two older girls ran from their room, howling like banshees and the oldest boy, William, charged towards him, head lowered like an enraged bull, but his fist flew out, connecting with the boy's chin and when he fell back against the wall, it was an easy kill.

"Stop screaming," said the man to Jane and Rose as he turned his attentions to them. Both girls were hysterical, knowing there was nothing they could do to save themselves. "Can you stop screaming please?" he asked irritably before silencing them forever.

He checked the other rooms. He knew there shouldn't be anyone else there but it was worth making sure. The house was empty. Seven people were dead. He made his way back to the front room, where Adam was kicking his arms and legs in the air, making the sounds that babies make when they want attention.

"Come on then," said the man, lifting the baby up and wrapping the blanket tightly around his body, taking great care to support his head. "You're safe now."

They went outside. A car drove up and the crows scattered noisily. A woman inside shouted something as she rolled down the window but the man wasn't listening. He had got what he had come for.

"That's him?" the woman asked as he settled himself in the passenger seat.

"That's him," he said, nodding his head.

"You know who he looks like, don't you?"

He turned to look at her; he had warned her before about saying things like this.

"Just drive," he said.

John Boyne's latest novel A History of Loneliness has been shortlisted for the 'Eason Novel of the Year' in this year's Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. In addition, his short story, Rest Day has been shortlisted for the 'Writing.ie Short Story of the Year'

Crime writer Louise PhilLips writes Romance in  Falling for Mr Wrong

No matter what way I dissect it, last night's conversation, the throngs of people at the party, or even the copious amounts of wine, I'm pretty sure that he chased me and not the other way around. I do remember seeing him walking in - my staring habit isn't an attractive attribute - but then again, I was on the lookout for someone else, the main reason for the new black dress to add to the dozen already hanging in my wardrobe. I mean, you can't have too many little black dresses? Note to self - yes you can. That someone else, soon forgotten about, was also the reason for the long glittery earrings, the new suck-in body lingerie, the three hours spent at the hairdressers before buying a cinnamon scented lip-gloss at YSL, earning me a free makeover. I was so focused on the guy I was looking out for, that when the other one snuck up beside me, I was taken unawares.

"You've done something different with your hair," were his first words.

"Sorry?" I replied, only half-listening.

"Your hair, it was darker before."

It was only then that I realised it was Jack. The guy I had had a crush on at school, the one who had never spoken a word to me, the one I had conjured up all sorts of conversations with, conversations that would never happen. And that's also when I noticed the way he looked at me, like I was the only person in the room. Which was why, when I blushed, I hoped the professional make-over would camouflage my reaction.

I had heard plenty of stories about him in the last 10 years. He had a reputation, and not a particularly good one, a bit of a drifter, and for all I knew, he probably only came to the party for the free drinks. He was friendly with some guy from Marketing, and no, he didn't say who, and no, I didn't ask. I was already analysing all the reasons I shouldn't be interested in him. He wasn't my type, not even at school, too skinny, the wrong hair colour, a bit of a risk taker, but there was something about his aloofness that drew me to him, and last night when I was drinking large gulps of vino for the want of something better to do, a spark or sparks had already begun to do somersaults, and before I knew it, I was laughing at his jokes, thinking there was also something about his voice, wondering what it would be like if he kissed me, which is why I gave him my actual mobile number. He said he'd phone me at midday, so now I'm looking at my mobile and registering that it's 11.55, and I'm already telling myself that he isn't going to call, which partly explains dropping the phone when it rings, seeing to my horror that it's my mother, and knowing I need to get her off the line fast, so I say, "Mom, I'm expecting a call from work, I'll have to ring you back."

Another minute slips by, and a part of me feels guilty about lying to her, but another part of me feels like an idiot, so when the phone rings for the second time, and I register that it's him, my voice comes out breathless, and he asks if I'm okay, and I tell him I'm just back from a run, trying to sound all matter-of-fact, knowing I've told two lies in less than two minutes, and that isn't a good sign.

Louise Phillips' latest book, Last Kiss, has been shortlisted for the 'Ireland AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year' in this year's Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards

Novelist Joseph O'Connor  writes Children's Fiction in Dumb Things My Dad Did

You should meet my dad, seriously. The lamest guy I know. Like, I love him and everything. It isn't that.

It's more, you give him a chance to do something right and he'll always do it wrong. He's like the government. You need him, but he's useless.

This one day we're in town, my dad and my brother Max and me. It wasn't long after my mum went away. It was close to Christmastime and all. Tinsel. Fake One Direction posters. We'd gone in to look at the lights and walk up and down Grafton Street, which my dad loves doing, though I've never known why. I was upset about my mum leaving, and so was Max. And my dad was, too. But I don't want to go there. Anyway, we're done, and we're about to head home, when he stops right there in the middle of the street and stares at me.

He's like, "Where's the car?"

And I'm like, "Dunno."

"I can't remember where I left it."

"Huh?"

"Was it Wicklow Street or Drury Street?"

"Dad, I'm nine! I don't know!"

This policeman comes down the street. On a horse.

And my dad's like, "Sorry there, guard, I wonder if you could help me. I'm after losing my car."

"You're what?"

"Not losing it, exactly. I'm after forgetting where I parked it."

"Where did you leave it?"

And my dad's like, "I haven't a bogging breeze."

"You're after losing your car?"

"I know. It's ridiculous. Can you help me to find it?"

"But where did you last see it?"

"Well… If I knew where I last saw it… it wouldn't be lost."

And the horse makes a snort. Like it's laughing.

And dad's looking at me weird-like. Dumb klutz.

Another annoying thing about my dad, he fancies himself as a storyteller. If my friends come around for a play date or something, he won't leave us alone to do something educational like play Xbox or Minecraft, he always has to tell us a story. And it's always the same one. He's been telling it for years, at every birthday party, every chance he gets, the same ridiculous story, 'til you can't stand it anymore. It's the story of a boy who bought himself a goldfish. It's SO lame. You probably heard it. No?

This kid buys a goldfish. You SURE you never heard this? Obviously, you never met my dad, in that case. Well, one day the kid puts his hand into the bowl and takes the goldfish out for a second or two before putting it back in the water. And it doesn't die. The next day, he takes it out for five seconds. And it doesn't die. Then six seconds, then seven, every day another second. And still the fish doesn't die. And over time, he trains that goldfish to stay out of the water for 60 seconds, then five minutes, then nearly half an hour. And it doesn't die. Then one morning, he's taking the fish in its bowl into school because he wants to show the teacher this remarkable thing: a goldfish that can stay out of the water for three full hours. But as he's walking along by the canal, he trips, and drops the bowl, and the goldfish falls into the water. "Where it drowns."

And my dad falls around laughing. And all the kids look at him. Lame.

It's just one of the 50 million dumb things he does: tell the same story over and over and swear that it's true.

And I've been putting them all in a book. Called 'Dumb Things My Dad Did'. The first one was marry my mum.

Joseph O'Connor's latest novel The Thrill of It All has been shortlisted for the 'Eason Novel of the Year' in this year's Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards

Women's fiction novelist Sinead Moriarty writes Crime Fiction in Urban Angels

Siobhan held the pillow up.

"Go on," Trish urged her.

"Just do it already," Janet hissed. "He's only a vegetable. He's no good to you."

"We need you to be focused Siobhan. Coma-man here is a distraction. Go on now," Trish said.

Siobhan placed the pillow over Tommy's face and held it down. Trish checked his pulse. Janet watched the monitor.

"I think he's gone," Trish said.

"Yeah, he's brown bread," Janet pointed to the monitor showing a flat line.

Siobhan pulled the pillow back. "Good riddance, I was sick of having to come in here pretending to care."

"Good girl. One down three to go." Janet picked up her handbag.

"Elmo and Aido are muppets, we'll get rid of them no problem. Nidge is the only diffcult one," Trish said.

"Don't you worry hon, we'll get that bastard tonight," Janet assured her. "Come into me in the club at seven and we'll get set up."

The three brunettes walked down the hospital corridor, high heels clicking. "We're like the Dublin Charlie's Angels," Trish said

"Urban Angels," Janet laughed.

"Angels you love to hate," Siobhan grinned.

*****

Nidge strutted into the club swinging his car keys.

"You're in a good mood," Janet smiled up at him.

"Just heard the shipment came in and Elmo is on his way to the meeting place. I need a shag to calm me down."

"I'll be right with you hon. Here's a beer for you. You get naked there, I'll be back in a sec."

Janet went into the stock room and signalled to the girls.

Nidge was lying back on the red satin sheets when he saw the gun. He sat bold upright. "What the f***?"

"Now hon, where were we? Oh yeah, you wanted sex. To be honest, I'm not in the mood. Me hip is killing me as well as me knees."

"Janet is this about me not talking to Aaron, coz I will. I'll talk to him."

The door opened. "Hello husband, fancy meeting you here," Trish stood to one side of Nidge holding a knife.

"Hello uncle," Siobhan came in holding a baseball bat.

Nidge began to stutter, "Now hold on… wait… I'll… what do youze want?"

"I want a husband who isn't a cheating bastard," Trish said.

"I want an uncle who doesn't beat my boyfriend into a coma," Siobhan answered.

"I want a man who will talk to my Aaron, two knee replacements and a new hip," Janet explained.

"I can sort that out, no problem. Ladies, I can fix this, yeah?"

They all shook their heads. "You're going nowhere Nidge. You've lost your touch. The business is going down the tubes. You need new management," Janet said.

"We're the new management," Trish added.

"And we don't need any... loose ends," Siobhan hissed.

"So hon - bullet, bat or knife?" Janet asked.

"You shower of bitches, I'll get you for this. I'll personally spray paint your faces with acid."

The three women laughed and took a step closer to the bed. Nidge was going down, but who would administer the fatal blow... ?

Sinead Moriarty's latest novel The Secrets Sisters Keep has been nominated for the 'Best Popular Fiction Book of the Year' in the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2014

For further information, please log on to the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards website, bgeirishbookawards.ie

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