Tony MacAulay, in his debut novel ‘Paperboy’ recounts his experience of hitting his early teens and all the changes that come with it. What makes Tony’s story stand out is that his growing up took place on the Shankill Road at the height of The Troubles. ‘Paperboy’ sees Tony recount his memories between the ages of twelve and fourteen, when he obtained the sought-after role of paperboy for Oul’ Mac’s corner shop. National issues played second fiddle to questions of cologne, fashion and females, but nothing got in the way of his paper route. Tony spoke to writing.ie’s Kevin Massey about his book, his writing and about Brad Pitt.
‘Paperboy’ owes its origins to an Open University creative writing course. ‘While I was writing about childhood memories I noticed that the common thread during this period was that I was a paperboy, so I decided that this would be a good framework for a book’. Tony decided to use his first job as the Shankill Road paperboy as the central column, a structure for book. He absconded to the County Down coast for a week to map the story out and begin writing. His return home to Portsteward saw a nomadic approach to writing, with various coffee shops and quiet spots around the town serving as his office. Tony seized every opportunity to get a few words down. ‘I wrote a large part of my favourite chapter on a journey from Dublin to my home in Portstewart, on the Dublin to Belfast train, and I even stopped off in a car park between Belfast and Portstewart to finish it’ .
Tony had experience in writing poetry and radio scripts in his work with the BBC, but memoir was a new departure. His most important piece of advice is to ‘visualise the era’. Tony used old photographs and home videos his father taped to ‘trigger memories of events, clothes, music and culture’. These old videos proved invaluable to Tony, sparking memories that became chapters, such as the ill-fated Westy’s Disco trips. Tony recommends this approach to budding memoir writers, citing visual stimuli as his main inspiration. Setting a scene is crucial to the authenticity of a memoir, old photographs and video footage will jog the brain and help you see what the lens did not capture but that your memory did.
His second important tip is to assume the mindset of the period in which you are writing. ‘I would advise a memoir writer to find their own authentic voice for the period of time about which they are writing’. For his memoir to sound authentic he had to invoke the national mindset and, more importantly, recall his own views and thoughts. Tony’s aim was to become absorbed in the world of his twelve year old self. Reviewers have commended the results of this approach, stating that ‘MacAulay gets behind the stereotypes to give a fair representation of growing up in Belfast’. MacAulay taps into his innocence of the political situation, despite violence and hostility being the norm, residents in Belfast faced the same daily challenges that occur in all Irish households.
Tony faced the same issues as all young boys becoming young men; the desire to grow up too quickly, the sudden appearance of girls. He admits that disproving stereotypes was not one of his aims with the book; he simply wanted to tell the story of ‘growing up in that place and time from the point of view of a 12 year old boy’, and acknowledges the social divisions that extended beyond sectarianism show the complexity of living in such a situation ‘The written history of the Troubles has often focussed on politics and paramilitaries, and that is only a part of the story’. ‘Paperboy’ goes beyond the black and white view of Belfast to show the class divisions that existed in each community.
One obstacle for a memoir writer is that memory is subjective. People’s accounts of the same event may differ on key points. Tony decided to focus on his recollection of events, bar the odd bit of fact checking with his family and the history books. With the exception of his family, Tony changed the names of all who are featured, to protect their privacy, but insists that most people will be able to work out who they are. He has had a positive reaction from friends and family to the book that as they have proved invaluable to his work, acting as consultants and primary sources throughout.
The publication of ‘Paperboy’ will give hope to all unpublished authors. As it was his first book, Tony was not confident of its success and was preparing himself for a spate, or possible years, of rejections. His fears were unfounded as one of the first publishers he approached, Merlin responded almost immediately.
With the book completed, thoughts turned to promotion, something Tony had never considered when writing ‘Paperboy’. He thoroughly enjoys this new aspect of his life, giving him the opportunity to read to audiences both at home and abroad. Harper Collins has since bought the publishing rights for the UK, Canada and Australia so Tony is eagerly awaiting a new chapter in the books development.
And Titian Red Productions gave a clear indication of ‘Paperboy’s’ international appeal by snapping up the film rights. Naturally, the first question is who will play young Tony MacAulay. ‘Well, of course, I wanted Brad Pitt to play me, but then I was only 12 years old in 1975!’ While Brad Pitt may be a little outside the age profile, open auditions will be held in Belfast for the lead role. Tony has been involved in the development of the script and is delighted with screenplay that the producer and screenwriter have created. Recently, Kris Kristofferson has been added to the cast as Oul’ Mac.
Tony admits that the film has come as a shock; at no point in writing did he envision a movie adaptation. Despite the effort he went to in creating the scenes for each chapter, he never expect them to make the leap from his memory to the silver screen. Perhaps the most promising news from Tony is confirmation that a follow up to ‘Paperboy’ is in the works. ‘Breadboy’ is currently being written in various coffee shops and quiet spots around Portstewart.