Phew! A load has been lifted. The opening chapter of my novel Tough Love snagged joint runner-up position in the recent Linen Press Beginnings Competition for its ‘multiple layers, depth, political backdrop, and vibrant, rich Irish dialogue’. Hearty congratulations are due to Kate Farrell for her wonderful winning entry Or The Cat Gets It and fellow runner-up Jay Merrill for Reality Show.
And the prize? A pep-in-my-step Linen Press critique by Judge Rebecca Brown. Here it is below if you’re interested. Otherwise, it's back to work for me and I'll see you on the other side.
* * *
I love the opening in which a mum, with her child in a buggy, sets off at a run down a hill, pretending to be a pilot while above them a plane comes out of the sky preparing to land at Dublin airport.
‘Brace for impact!’ I order, heaving the buggy forwards in to a running trot.
‘Faster mammy!’ Sarah’s brown eyes laugh back at me. ‘Faster!’
Barrelling down the hill, Sarah’s squeals get louder and louder, the wind catching the hood of her purple anorak, releasing a mop of curly hair darker than her eyes and so different from my own.
There’s so much here - the setting of Dublin, the nice parallel between the real plane and the push chair plane, and the hint of concern about a child who does not look like her mother - a theme that is developed in the next paragraphs when they almost collide with a woman who says:
‘She’s not yours, is she?’
And the response:
‘She’s mine,’ I toss back. ‘All mine. Not that it’s any of your beeswax.’
And so the stage is set and we wonder. Ciara delivers Sarah to her parents while she goes to work. Dialogue drives this narrative, and it’s brash and energetic and real, the Irish brogue adding warmth and colour:
Throwing open the door, Dad reaches down and swings her into his arms. ‘Sarah Moloney is it yourself?’ He kisses first one flushed cheek, then the other. ‘Jayney mackers you’re freezing.’
The domestic narrative is layered against a strong political backdrop, giving it depth and context. Ciara’s father is reading about the Sands hunger strike while Ciara’s mother’s heart strings are tugged by photos of tragic starving children in faraway continents, seeing starving brown-eyed-brown-skinned Sarah’s everywhere. And there’s more politics with Ciara’s volatile, troubled son, Finn, who is off to protest yet again:
I pick up the megaphone and place it on the table. ‘What is it this week? Liberate Palestine? Ban the bomb? Free Nelson Mandela? Animal and vegetable rights?’
Dominant in this first chapter is the theme of maternal anxiety. We’re left with Ciara’s recounting of her interview about Finn with the psychiatrist, her maternal angst and guilt, and her absent partner’s heaping the blame on to her:
‘You’re far too soft on him Ciara. What Finn needs is a kick up the arse out onto a football pitch five times a week.’ Tilting his head back, Gerry exhaled a steady stream of white smoke into the damp air. 'This is all your fault anyway. None of this would be happening if it weren’t for you. None of it. Next time Finn’s in trouble, I’m coming down on him like a tonne of bricks. No more discussion and no more pompous gobshite quacks costing an arm and a leg.’
What will Finn do next and how will Ciara cope?
Indeed. Of greater concern is how Caren's going to cope. I’ve still got another 50K or so words to cobble together before Tough Love can start doing the rejection rounds of the publishing houses and it’s slow going I can tell you. Still, there’s nothing like a bit of praise for ramping up the typing speeds.
Cheers Linen Press!