Today I am delighted to welcome Deirdre Quiery, the author of Eden Burning (which I review here), to my blog. Like me she grew up in Belfast during The Troubles. Unlike me she lived alongside the inaccurately named Peace Line at the heart of the escalating conflict. A wall dividing the communities still exists to this day. It is on the tourist trail for visitors to the city.
When considering the content for this guest post I asked Deidre if she could share her experiences of growing up in Belfast and how this inspired Eden Burning. I am both moved and humbled by the powerful piece she has provided. Thank you Deirdre. I hope that my readers feel as motivated by your concluding thoughts as I have been.
First of all a big thank you to Zeudytigre for reviewing Eden Burning on Amazon. I know how generous this is in time and thoughtfulness. Feedback is life blood for a writer. I am very grateful for your post and also for this opportunity to share how real life experiences growing up in Belfast during the 1970s influenced the writing of Eden Burning.
On reading Eden Burning, several people have looked at me with a shocked expression and asked,
“Did you experience anything like that or did you make it all up? How did you write those graphic brutal torture scenes?”
One of my teachers at school read it in one sitting. She sat up all night and told me that even though she lived in Belfast, she had no idea how bad it really had been.
I remember the summer of 1969. I was twelve years old, living in a house in North Belfast which was in a “mixed” area – Catholics and Protestants. My parents had bought the house before they married and like most people in the 1950s they bought the best quality furniture, put lacy curtains and pull down blinds with little tassels on the windows. My father built a little wall around the garden and made metal gates with scrolls. Every two years he would wallpaper and paint the house from top to bottom. My parents were always improving it – getting rid of the cockroaches with fine white power squeezed along the wood skirting.
A coal fire burned upstairs in my parents’ bedroom and another downstairs in the sitting room. If I was sick, I was allowed to lie in my parents’ bed and my Mother would light the fire. She told me that an old woman had died from pneumonia in that bed. During cold winter days, I would wonder whether I too would I get pneumonia and die. There were two bedrooms. I normally slept in the back one with my two sisters. We would screen cartoons with a toy projector onto the wall at night. I remember nothing sinister until the summer of 1969.
Then my parents started talking to one another at night in hushed voices which I wasn’t meant to hear. When Aunt Muriel came to visit, she was less discreet and talked openly about the rumours that people were setting up machine guns on a high area of waste land overlooking Ardoyne. She said that they were going to machine gun every street and that everyone could be killed. I remember having nightmares of planes flying over Belfast dropping bombs on the city and of seven tornados sweeping down the mountains destroying everything in their path. As a child I couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t do something to stop it all. How could they let people die?
The British soldiers arrived in the summer of 1969. Everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief. I clearly remember that day. As we walked to 7.00 am Mass in Holy Cross Church, soldiers lay on the ground catching up on the sleep they had lost during the all-night rioting on the Crumlin Road. I had to step over the sleeping soldiers with their guns lying beside them like teddy bears. I stepped gently – like a cat placing its paws carefully between the spaces on a grill on the ground. These men were heroes. They had answered our prayers. They were here to save us. The world returned to a world of possibilities.
Two years later a gang of armed rioters walked up the street where we lived, shot through the windows of our house and told us that we had 24 hours to leave or we would each have a bullet with our names on it. The next morning we left with the cat, a radio and two suitcases. We slept on the floor of a school where someone made a communal barbeque in the playground and blankets appeared from nowhere. There were scouts out looking for houses which had been abandoned and we were told that they had found one for us to squat in on the Crumlin Road – the Peace Line. It was empty because the Doctor and his family who had lived there had the sense to leave.
We moved in to what was to become a sanctuary and a prison. The Crumlin Road was the duelling point for the warring sides. My father covered the front windows with chicken wire. He put a bar on the door to give us a minute to exit the house if anyone tried to break in. Two car bombs were placed outside the house and the IRA entered and held us hostage in an attic bedroom. A cousin was killed in the crossfire from that attack. Two Uncles were murdered. One died trying to save his son. His last words were “God save you son.” The son survived.
What made it more frightening than Eden Burning? Many things. Eden Burning takes place over two weeks and then there is reconciliation. I lived in that house until I went to University at Leeds, returning after each term until I was 22. That is eight years. Every day there was rioting, shooting, petrol bombs. The Good Friday Agreement Referendum which brought a kind of peace was only held in 1998. There were 30 years of war for people who continued to live there.
In addition inside the house there was no Tom, Lily or Rose. My parents constantly argued. I think that they never really got over losing their house and all their possessions. My father never fixed anything in the house on the Crumlin Road. He never wallpapered or painted. My sisters and I did that. There weren’t even carpets on the stairs. I would go to bed with my fingers in my ears to blot out the fury inside and to blot out the outside – the screams, cursing and rioting with its rhythm of crowd violence, petrol bombs and the unmistakable eerie silence that preceded the snipers.
People have asked me why my parents didn’t leave and take us somewhere safe. That’s another story. My mother was 16 when she was left alone to bring up her four brothers and sisters. The youngest brother was three. When we were growing up during “The Troubles” my mother said to me that she was growing up with us. That she had never grown up before. My father hadn’t grown up either. We sat around the table in 1971 and my parents asked us – the children – “What should we do?” I remember responding, “Stay here.” I needed the security of going to the same school and being with my best friend. That security outweighed the horror of living with extraordinary levels of violence. They say that you only need one significant other to survive a trauma – my best friend was that one significant other.
Some people may say that it is too extraordinary in Eden Burning to imagine such levels of forgiveness given the evil perpetrated. I would reply that some authors like to write Science Fiction or Fantasy or about Vampires or about 50 Shades of Grey. These themes seem quite extraordinary to me and I would prefer to explore the possibility of infinite forgiveness and unquenchable good in the most hardened hearts. If you can’t imagine it, even in a story, it can never happen. If you can dream it – there’s a possibility that it could come true.
Eden Burning is published by Urbane Publications and is available to buy now.