about the book
Get That Boy Home falls into the genre of historical fiction and sets out to capture the mood and experiences of the times leading to, during and beyond the Troubles.
The story is told from the perspective of Dan Feeney, a fairly typical young Derryman of those times.
The book begins with Feeney as a middle-aged jogger, full of cynicism, sarcasm, self-effacement and lack of self-control, struggling his way along the banks of the River Foyle. His observations of life at jogging pace are likely to be shared only by those who travel at his velocity. The pace of the book, I’m glad to say, is much quicker!
From that point, the narrative goes back in time and the reader is taken on a journey through Dan’s life, beginning with his education at the hands of nuns, Christian Brothers and priests.
It was an experience that was to mark him physically in the short term as well as mentally and emotionally for many years to follow.
Dan’s love of the movies saved him back then and provided some understanding of life, and also gave him particles of knowledge that compensated, to some extent, for his academic failings. His experience was perhaps typical of many of his contemporaries during the late 1950s and 1960s.
Home life in those days was very different from today, and Dan’s formative years were more about how to stay out of the house than how to blend into family life inside it. The nearest he got to a Playstation was running wild in the old railway line near the GNR train station!
In many ways, it was an idyllic childhood from an activity perspective, but one that also had sufficient trauma to shape his personality and feed his insecurities for decades to come. Add to that a remarkable and hilarious first date with the lovely Fiona at the age of fourteen, and the reader will intimately sample the offerings of innocence, simplicity and a competing complexity that blessed and bedevilled Dan’s childhood and youth in equal measure.
Drifting through his mid-teens full of ideology, pleasure-seeking and almost biblical acne, he eventually found dual escapes in alcohol and gambling that were to dictate the direction his life would take.
On top of that, the State’s response to the civil rights campaign metamorphosed into what became known as the Troubles, and the 15-year-old Dan was ripe to be lured right into the heart of everything.
Dan’s story during the Troubles follows him into the IRA, Long Kesh and beyond. Full of humour, pathos and tension, Dan Feeney is certainly not the freedom fighter or terrorist depicted by politicians and the media.
But then, did anyone actually fit their narrative? There was no mileage in telling stories about normal young men and women caught up in what became a horrible, bloody and deadly conflict, or about the normal things they still did in the midst of all the mayhem and chaos. That would have meant that they would have needed to focus more urgently on the causes of the conflict.
To the media and political classes, each horrific incident caused by republicans or loyalists was the despicable work of callous perpetrators, devoid of humanity or compassion. Unless, of course, they wore uniforms.
The passage of time has shown that nobody came out of all this, clean. All conflicts are like that. The fact that there was no outright victor in the North’s Troubles means that there will always be conflicting narratives. Get that Boy Home provides just one perspective.
It’s difficult to say much more about the story without spoiling the book for readers. My intention in writing it was to capture those times as they were experienced by me and people like me.
I believe that lends authenticity to the book, and the fact that it’s a fictional tale allowed me to indulge in some (but not too much) embellishment and enabled some totally creative meanderings too.
If you are taken back, or taken into, the '50s, '60s and '70s and beyond in a way that makes you think, laugh, cry, debate, agree, disagree, swear or empathise with Dan Feeney and the political and social system he encountered, then Get That Boy Home will have been worth writing.
And, hopefully, worth reading.