Hello and welcome to my website! I write mainly historical fiction, my particular interest being World War One and recent history. I have a burning desire to rip through the saccharine, sentimentalised, packaged narratives of this era, and tell powerful stories that will keep any reader enthralled.
My first day walking the Irish leg of the E8 (the bits I hadn’t already done) started at Carrick-on-Suir. As mentioned in the previous post, I’m relying a lot on public transport due to the linear nature of the path and the car being needed elsewhere. But that’s a plus as far as I’m concerned – public transport is less conducive to climate change – and not having a car means you don’t have to worry about where to park it. And I wanted to explore the lesser appreciated and worthwhile parts of our train network.
I reached Carrick-on-Suir by travelling north by train; the line starts at Limerick Junction so it can be reached from Dublin also. The Waterford to Limerick line has been neglected by Irish Rail, limiting the service to twice a day Monday to Saturday, even though only one of the stations I passed through had no passengers. This neglect extends to not even including its stations on the booking machines, which led to awkward situations when I couldn’t get a ticket! (Booking online probably a better idea.) That said, the trains themselves were pleasant, modern and comfortable – though slow, probably due to restrictions on the line. The train leaves Limerick Junction at 9.40 a.m. and arrives into Carrick-on-Suir at 11. Google Maps recommended a place called Cafe West on Bridge Street. It was simple, friendly and unpretentious; I had beans, tomato and potato cakes washed down with a mug of coffee. Then I went to SuperValu next door and loaded up on calorific nibbles before hitting the path at 11.55.
This stage of the East Munster Way follows the River Suir as far as a town called Kilsheelan, then turns inland through forest paths, adding a bit more variety to the path. I made a mistake, misread a sign and kept following the river to Clonmel – but the mistake turned out to be a lucky one. Had I taken the way marked route, it would have been 25km rather than 22.5km – walking the shorter route gave me ample time to catch the 5.15 evening train back to Limerick Junction. And it was pleasant to walk along the river valley, passing the Gothic follies, ruined churches castles, mansions and watching a goldfinch surf the gusts of wind while herons stalked the banks like the magnificent bosses they were. The river is parcelled up between various angling clubs who hang out their heraldry of “STRICTLY PRIVATE – CATCH AND RELEASE ONLY”. At one point I saw a little bower made out of willow branches:
(I will mention here that the route was paved all the way, which did not do much for my feet or legs! But the scenery was very lovely.)
There is something so tranquil about exiting the constant urgency of life and the barrage of events, news and normal daily routine just to put one foot in front of the other. I enjoyed the walk right up to the end, which was marked by a flood barrier in Clonmel town. To be fair, the people of Clonmel have the right not to be flooded, and the barrier did not intrude on the river at all, or its varied life.
Once again relying on Google Maps, I walked from the end of the river track to Clonmel train station. Just before reaching it, I saw a sign for a bar called Coopers and wandered in hoping to get a glass of wine in before the train back. I was greeted by a roaring fire in a stove and a full dinner menu. With half an hour to spare, I ordered a falafel burger and chips with the wine. It was absolutely delicious. I can recommend dropping in here if you follow my route. I was served promptly, was finished by 5.08pm and in my train seat at 5.15.
Coopers Bar and Restaurant
Last Saturday I started a long-term quest to complete the Irish leg of the E8. This is one of eight routes that join up waymarked trails throughout Europe. Having already completed the Wicklow Way and part of the South Leinster Way (the first two trails) I started the East Munster Way and will continue heading west to Valentia/Dursey. I don’t have the time to do this all in one go, so it will be done in sporadic bursts of daily or weekendly hiking throughout the year(s).
Since the route is linear, and therefore unconducive to driving, I will be using public transport as much as possible. I believe it’s important to describe how I do it in order to promote car-free travel as much as I can. Some of the routes are remote so taxis may come into play for those ones.
Many of these tracks are underused so I hope I can encourage others to give them a go! I would like to thank the bloggers and hikers at Tough Soles for providing the inspiration.
Pleased to announce that White Feathers is out on Audible today
Click the picture below to listen to a sample! Or go here to listen / purchase on Amazon. Also to be published on Borrowbox for those who have the app.
2019 will be special – more will be happening throughout the year – but this is an excellent start.
Published in paperback by Hoopoe Fiction, August 2018
The recent shenanigans over red paint being thrown over a war memorial soldier made out of scraps of tin in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, highlight how much pearl-clutching is still happening over memorialising WWI. To my mind, it’s unedifying to wring one’s hands over paint on a statue when WWI was an unrelenting, unrestrained, bloody, horrific, unnecessary sh*tshow from start to finish. This desire to sanitise, make decent, something that is indecent both in conception and execution – I don’t understand it. Thank God, then, for Ruqaya Izzidien’s debut novel which reminds the reader of exactly that. The Watermelon Boys explores the effect of that war on a family in Mesopotamia (Iraq, as is) and a young boy growing up in Wales and it is heartbreakingly beautiful and sad.
Through the eyes of Ahmed in Baghdad and Carwyn in Wales, we see how imperialism in its ultimate form – the war to end all wars – destroyed (destroys) societies, lands, peoples – as well as the souls of the men it coerces into fighting on its behalf. This poisonous legacy is the grandfather of the Gulf Wars and the great-grandfather of terrorist movements and protracted wars in the region. Izzidien paints an evocative picture of society in Baghdad, where Jews and Muslims live together as friends, before the Arabs are betrayed by the British after the war is over. Carwyn, forced into volunteering by a brutish English stepfather, is beaten by his schoolmaster for speaking too many words of Welsh. Their plights are not the same, but neither are they are altogether different.
Ahmad is in many ways a quiet hero, retaining his values and integrity in spite of the viciousness of war around him and the losses he suffers. He is sustained by his wife Dabriya, a courageous woman, but even she cannot banish his memories of war. The battle scenes in which he is involved are impeccably described and Izzidien’s hard work is clear to discerning readers. There are moments of sharp humour and observation among the tragic arc.
The novel, although powerful, is not to my mind perfect. The younger characters felt interchangeable, and the romance between Amina and Yusuf didn’t move me that much. Also, the author has an understandable tendency to over-editorialise in the last section when the English are selling out the Arabs and demanding to be thanked for it. Allowing the abominable facts, and the characters’ reactions to them, to speak for themselves would strengthen the outrage, not diminish it as Izzidien seems to fear it might. But those caveats aside – and some of the best-written books I’ve read have greater flaws – this is a powerful, beautiful novel, demanding to be read by anyone interested in WWI fiction, and those who are not.
I think it should be OK to announce this as Amazon have already put it up on their links for pre-order (though only for an audio CD.) White Feathers will be coming in audio format early in the new year, projected time end of February. The novel will be read by Amy de Bhrun and I am very excited to hear Eva’s story being spoken rather than just being on the printed page. I’m excited, also, to see White Feathers reach a new market and hope it fills the ears of many listeners.
In the meantime, if you are stuck for Christmas ideas, why not order your loved one or friend a copy of a novel which, according to one of the reviews, “was so intense and addictive that my tea went cold and unnoticed – rain lashed the windows as I read and read and read”. Now as WWI passes deeper into history, it’s all the more important not to sanitise it. Stories can keep the past alive. I am working on more of them.
I will update here once all audiobook formats are available for ordering or pre-ordering.
100 years ago today.
I post here just as I have before, the inscription on the Bomber Command Memorial on Beachy Head:
Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth;
Lead me from despair to hope,
From fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love,
From war to peace
Let peace fill our heart,
Our world, our universe.