|A cameraman filming a masked IRA gunman, 1972 (courtesy of the BBC)|
I’ve recently been rereading and editing my first novel, The Province of the Imagination. It’s set in the mid-1980s in the thick of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It draws on my own brief experience in Belfast as a journalist at that time, though the heroine – Sandie Gillespie – is much braver and more successful than I ever was.
I wrote the novel around the time that Senator George Mitchell was bringing together the warring parties in a peace conference that culminated in the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. By the time I sent the novel out to agents and publishers, they turned it down because “the Troubles are old news” and “people are tired of hearing about it.”
So now, more than 15 years later, I am getting ready to send the manuscript out again, but this time as a historical novel. Yes, the 1980s are now officially history. And it shows in the smallest details in the novel – the need to find a phone box, the unlocking of each car door separately with a key, the typing of a script on a bulky typewriter, and the total absence of computers, cell phones, the Internet, social media – all the technological changes that have revolutionized the world in the 30 years since 1985.
Journalism was a matter of old-fashioned shoe leather and face-to-face interviews with no DNA matching or worldwide information databases. Looking back, I remember I didn’t even own an answering machine, even though I was getting calls from Cabinet Ministers and other senior politicians at my home. This is the low-tech world in which TV reporter Sandie Gillespie, nursing a broken heart, and her over-protective producer Bob, who’s in love with her, try to find out who assassinated the leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. As they weave their way through the labyrinthine and violent political world of the Province of Ulster in the never-ending rain, no one will give them a straight answer and they discover that nothing and no one is quite as it seems.