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Interviews

Terry Brankin Has a Gun by Malachi O’Doherty

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Malachi O'Doherty © 17 February 2020.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Crime · Interviews ).

When you are a child who wants to grow up to be a writer there is little you can do about it. Your friends driven by similar orientation towards music or painting can get on with their practice but for the child writer there is little yet to write about.

I wrote wee poems when I was at primary school. I compiled them in a special notebook. And from that early stage the clear dream was to hold a book of my own in my hand.

Wanting to be a writer was not much about having something to say. It was more about the hope of having something impressive to say when i grew up, with little idea then of what it might be.

It was an empty yearning.

When I was older I found my way into journalism despite having scuppered a prospect of a training course and a job by declaring on the application that I saw journalism as a route to being a writer.

Journalists sneered at what they called ‘literary pretension’ and the literary world retuned the disdain by using the word ‘journalese’ to describe writing that was shallow and trivial.

Still, in time I took to both, wanting to be a journalist and a writer and my first books were extensions of the journalism that I worked on for a living.

I have eight books of non fiction published so far and another in process.

Some are memoir, which has a place in both literature and journalism now.

But I always wrote a little fiction. I just didn’t get far with it.

I published short stories in an English small mag called Ostrich, in the Honest Ulsterman and, when i lived in India, in The Hindustan Times and the Illustrated Weekly of India. I wrote several novels which I am happy now to dismiss as practice pieces, though I self published one on Kindle. Iscariot is a retelling of the life of Judas, a challenge that had appealed to far too many writers already.

I later published short stories in The Erotic Review Magazine.

One was anthologised by Mariella Frostrup in Desire: 100 of Literature’s Sexiest Stories (Head of Zeus).

My first novel to be accepted by a real publisher is Terry Brankin Has A Gun (Merrion).

It tells the story of an IRA bomber who has settled down into a peaceful life as a solicitor until the Cold Case Review team comes to question him about an atrocity for which he was indeed responsible.

Now life is disrupted. His wife is appalled and other threats gather round them. Brankin needs to be strategic in his dealings with threats and challenges, and the old provo awakens in him. There will be blood spilt before this is over, if it is ever over.

The novel comes out of my career in journalism, writing about the Northern Irish troubles and the peace process. Had I been a better and luckier novelist at the start of my career, and not gone into journalism, this book would never have been written.

But I doubt that that would have worked. Sitting at home and ‘being a writer’ would not have provided me with the material I needed.

The troubles in the North were such a preoccupation for me that they would inevitably determine what I would write about.

The same is true of Iscariot (on Kindle) which, though set in Biblical times explores terrorist strategies and asks how decent people come to do horrific things.

But, in Belfast at its worst there was more to life than violence. Those who say they grew up ‘knowing nothing but violence’ are not reflecting honestly on their experience.

And I try to make the city of Belfast a character in the book to show how colourful it was and how it has changed.

Now I find myself reflecting on the differences between writing fiction and non fiction.

You would think that the memoirists and non fiction writers give more away about their lives and thinking than the novelist does but suddenly it doesn’t feel like that.

The fictions that we contrive are like our dreams and tell more about us than we can know.

You really should never tell your dreams to anyone.

I don’t think my novel takes a clearly definable political view. The characters disagree vehemently with each other and each has to be credible for the book to work.

But friends who know me might wonder where all that violence came from.

After my experiments in erotica I was disinclined to put much sex into this book. I learnt that the close description of intimacy feels very unintimate. Not so with the killing. That may suggest a thesis idea to someone. Maybe the writer is more interested in the details of violence because most, like me, have never actually killed anyone.

The reader, one hopes, will be engrossed and appalled.

(c) Malachi O’Doherty

Terry Brankin Has a Gun will be launched on February 18th 2020 at PRONI (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) in Belfast by Wendy Erskine.

About Terry Brankin Has a Gun:

Terry Brankin loves his wife, but it’s a bloody nuisance that a cold-case investigator is trying to pin him for a long past IRA bombing that killed a young girl. His wife Kathleen can’t take it.

He tells her that things were different then. She tells him he must confess. He’d only get two years under the Belfast Agreement and she’ll stand by him, but she leaves him to give him time to mull it over.

But then Kathleen is attacked. Every house in the Brankin property portfolio is petrol-bombed on the same night. Something is going on that’s even bigger than they reckoned.

And Terry thinks it’s to do with the cold case, the bombing and the dead child. He reckons old friends in the IRA are telling him to keep quiet. It’s time to talk to old comrades. And Terry still has a gun.

Fast-paced and thrilling, this powerful Troubles novel explores significant legacy issues of the northern conflict and how past deeds can never truly be forgotten.

Order your copy online here.


I was born in Muff, County Donegal Ireland, to a barman and a nurse who had met just after the war. I grew up in Belfast, on a housing estate to the west of the city, in the shadow of Black Mountain and as a child played in fields and on building sites. School taught me to read and write but had few attractions for me. A pity that, since I might have thrived under a decent education and saved myself the trouble of going the long away round to a sense of being educated. Still, a life that was more ordered and purposeful might have deprived me of the chance to learn more about myself through the challenges of travel and the need to work in different areas. I have been a teacher to Libyan soldiers, a ghost writer for an Indian guru and a freelance journalist in Belfast for the BBC and several newspapers. My books reflect that diversity in my life. Much of my writing career coincided with the Northern Irish Troubles and I have written two books about that period, The Trouble With Guns - a critique of the IRA - and The Telling Year, a memoir of working as a journalist in the most violent year, 1972. Two of my books address religion. I Was A Teenage Catholic recalls a Catholic upbringing and compares it to the years I spent in an Indian ashram. Empty Pulpits is a more analytical book about the decline of religion in Ireland. More recently I have written about my father in Under His Roof. This was an effort to get to know and understand a difficult man. One thing I inherited from him was a love of cycling and that is the theme of my book, On My Own Two Wheels. I have written some short fiction and my first novel is a self publishing venture on Kindle. Iscariot is a retelling of the life of Christ, in which he is two different people who are confused with each other, one a zealot revolutionary , the other quiet mystic.